Our Woman In Italy

Maria Lamkin


July 1999


Summer in Italy

Italy is one of the countries characterized by what Byron termed "hot sultry climate" (Don Juan). Several things come to mind for those who visit this country in summer. The first is a warning: Italy has some 55,000,000 inhabitants and you may feel that they are all on the road as you are stuck in traffic. If you plan on driving around, especially near any seaside resort areas, give yourself plenty of time. Consider, too, that in the past Italy was notorious for shutting down all activities for the month of August. As the requirements and difficulties of economy and finances have grown, this custom has lost most of its appeal. Nowadays, a good number of factories or industries close during this month, but others do not. The Italians now take turns for their summer holidays; they may take shorter vacations or even decide to subdivide their annual leave (which lasts an average of thirty days) into more than one period during the year, so as to be able, for example, to go skiing in winter. This new social phenomenon has also made life more enjoyable both for tourists and for those who remain behind in big cities. Now, as a matter of fact, you can rely on restaurants, bars, and all sorts of shops to stay open throughout this season.

A variety of activities and shows make this time quite pleasant. There is a lot that you can devote yourself to, apart from the excursions through the geographical attractions of a country that extends for around 1500 km and the visits to its artistic patrimony. During these months you may therefore opt for the high peaks of the Alps (where the snow may not melt, even in summer); for the cool breezes of the valleys of the north and of the Apennines; for the hundreds of kilometers of coastlines, dotted with warm beaches and made renowned by such enchanting localities as Portofino or Capri; or, finally, for the irresistible, subtropical climates of the two major islands (Sardinia's Emerald Coast and Sicily - the largest island of the Mediterranean - are now at the peak of their appeal).

To complete your experience, of course, visit the art exhibits that blossom here and there in small and big cities alike; enjoy the ballets or the concerts of classical or light music organized in churches and auditoriums or in the open air, breathing the scent of history as you are immersed in such magnificent sites as the Arena of Verona (famed for its operas), the Greek theater of Taormina (Sicily), or the Greek temples of Sicily or Paestum. World-famous rock stars, too, enjoy performing in Italy during their summer tours (evidently they are victims of the temptation to combine the useful with the duty, as they say in Italy).Those who have a flair for fashion may also appreciate the beauties on promenade who (around the middle of July) add their own charm to the one of Piazza di Spagna in Rome. And, naturally, you may decide to start your tour of Italy from the Eternal City. The last jewel that has been added to this city's precious heritage is the Domus Aurea which, with its chamber constructed on a revolving platform, magnificent rooms and gilded walls, is bound to attract thousands of tourists (remember that if you wish to pay a visit to this just restored monument you need to book quite a bit in advance).

One last word about the capital: you may find the traffic much more congested than you expected. Be patient and take the tour of Rome and the sudden changes of direction (wasn't the one-way street a two-way street until yesterday?) like a treasure hunt - like a dame, the city is preparing to be as charming as possible for its encounter with the Jubilee of the Year 2000. To complete the panorama of options, remember the many sport events such as swimming or athletics competitions and the beautiful regattas and one-day cruises that are organized almost daily along the coasts.

This is also the time of the year when most cities celebrate their Patron Saint's Days ("festa del Patrono". They last a couple of days and are often characterized by processions in which the Saint's statue is venerated. For the fireworks, bright street illuminations and booths the atmosphere recalls that of country fairs, and the (warm!!!) air is usually filled with a lot of noise. In various centers - mostly agricultural - traditional harvest festivals are held in which new crops are celebrated, once again, with fireworks, bonfires in the countryside, pageants, and a variety of folkloristic songs. These celebrations are called "sagre" and are a mixture of today's profane and yesterday's sacred; most in fact have their roots in pagan celebrations for the harvest.

The centerpiece of other "sagre", on the contrary, is the preparation and offer to tourists of local recipes or of local delicatessen. In all these cases, stop, sit down, eat and enjoy!

-August 15th is the holiday noted as Ferragosto which was established by Caesar Augustus (and meant "Feriae Augusti," or "the summer holiday of Augustus") but, having then been incorporated into religious celebrations, has thus become the Feast of the Assumption. It is the major Italian holiday in the summer. Italians young and old alike abandon the city for either seaside resorts or mountain inns. Tourist areas look and are overcrowded; if you do not have to get on the road around the August 14th and 15th, do not. This celebration marks the apex of the season; soon after it life slowly goes back to normal; tourists start leaving the various resort areas and most of them return to their usual occupations within a couple of weeks. Another reason for which the summer break is now shorter than it used to be is that children go back to school no later than the middle of September, while fifteen years ago or so the school year would start around the first few days of October. The same applies to universities; a major difference of recent years is that today most enrolling students are scheduled to take admission tests at the beginning of September, and more and more faculties hold examinations during the same time frame. It is also in view of these multiple and varied personal requirements that in the last decade or less single individuals and entire families have decided to reduce their summer break to no more than three weeks.

Our most heartfelt WELCOME to all those who will visit Italy during the summer.

Enjoy yourselves!

If you would like to drop me a line or give me some feedback I can be reached at:

Maria Lamkin lamkin@uni.net