Trying to Stay Cool in Florence’s Inferno Summer Heat

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I bet they’re tempted to just jump in the Arno

Alright, so I have about a a half dozen half-written blog posts and an even longer list of topics to write about. The problem is, now I’m not only overwhelmed with material, I’m also stunned by this killer heat wave that has hit Florence like a ton of bricks! Aiuto! (HELP!) It’s been a long time coming, but I finally sit down to write, and all I want to do is sit in a tub of ice.

My students were reading this story in Italian that spoke of

My students were reading this story in Italian that spoke of “Mrs. Gina who became a hen.” Not far off from going wild in these temperatures.

Now that this school teacher is finally free for summer, all I can do until we escape the city like everyone else does in August, is close myself up like a vampire in a cave. The only moderately sane time to open windows and shutters is in the evening when the temperatures ease up somewhat! People seem to think that because I’m Canadian, I’m immune to cold. This is completely untrue, especially for a Vancouverite, but I won’t argue that I have yet to acclimatize to these Mediterranean heat waves. Even Vancouver has temperatures that rise well above the 30s in summer (sorry Toronto) but the Pacific ocean breeze gives mercy, along with the many lakes and rivers around to leap into. I honestly wish right now that I could tell you that, yes, it’s true, this Canadian lives in an igloo.

Here in Florence, we live in a top-floor apartment, that much closer to the sweltering sun. The city, set right in the heart of a valley with only the non-swimmable Arno in sight for a water source, is a cobblestone oven.

As tempting as it looks, jumping in fountains are both illegal and dirty!

As tempting as it looks, jumping in fountains are both illegal and dirty!

When in a small town in southern Tuscany this past weekend, I heard a group of locals raving about how much worse the heat was in the “buca di Firenze” (the hole that is Florence!). It’s unhumanly hot. Buildings stand close together to wall out the rare possibility of a forgiving wind flow.

You genuinely start to believe there will be no relief, and you just might be, seriously, no-joke, melting to death like the wicked witch of Oz. My husband came to bed, already perspiring himself, to find me with ice packs strapped to my feet, a cold rice bag on my neck, and two fans blasting my way, pouting and whimpering. He laughs at me, but now he’s on to getting crazy (desperate) inventive himself. He’s on the hunt for a large box, which he plans to insulate, pierce a bunch of holes though, and place a big bowl of ice inside. Then he will run a fan into it so as to create a sort of DIY air conditioner…I hope my mad scientist’s contraption works, because I’m going mad myself. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Nighttime temperatures in our apartment.

Nighttime temperatures in our apartment.

Air conditioning. Italians “don’t believe in it.” In fact, they believe it makes you sick. The ‘hit of the air’ will give you a cold, a stiff neck, or worse. Not to mention they just like to kick it real old school around here. Personally, if it weren’t for my fear of further dehydration or heat exhaustion from the effort, I just might start crying for want of air conditioning so darn much.

So be warned if you’re traveling to Italy in summer months. I actually would encourage you to avoid August if at all possible. Locals slap signs on their shop windows that say “Closed for holidays” and flock to the sea and mountains. Mosquitoes and humid heat are the strong presence left behind. If August is the only time that you can get holidays and you’re headed this way, understand that it’s not as common as you might think that accommodations have air conditioning, so be sure to confirm this before booking! We just had a night away in an agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside. We reserved a charming apartment last minute for cheap, but realized it didn’t have air conditioning. The owner assured that it was “abbastanza fresca” (fairly fresh). I believed her (sort of); temperatures really do change when you get out of the valley and you’re up on a breezier hillside under trees. Sleeping inside a cave-like room with walls and ceiling of brick, you would imagine that perhaps it would be at least slightly cooler. While cooler than our fiery Florence apartment, I would not for the life of me have labeled it as being “abbastanza fresca,” sorry signora. I did not, however, have any other complaints about our overnight adventure between countryside and seaside of our bella Toscana!

Refreshing reinforcements.

Refreshing reinforcements.

Back to our forno house in Florence after a momentarily revitalizing visit to the seaside. Alessio and I debate on whether or not to keep the windows open for a little airflow at night, or to shut them to keep early morning light and sound out, and also those pesky mosquitoes. We compromise on closing the shutters but keeping the window open. We even tried hanging a wet sheet from our curtain rod in order to try to bring the temperature of the room down a bit. I started out skeptical but willing to try basically anything, and whaddoyaknow, it worked! Or at least I think it did. Let’s say it did, because it’s all about mind power too, isn’t it?

Do we have mosquito nets? No. Those, like air conditioners, are expensive and not really an option for renters such as us. We are extremely fortunate, especially in this furbo paese (cunning country) Italy, to have excellent landlords. Any time something has failed on us, they promptly got on to taking care of it. We’ve needed a new dishwasher, washing machine, they put in a double-paned window in our bedroom at no extra cost for us, and even had to rip apart a wall to fix a leak from our shower, all of which was done in a miraculously efficient manner, especially for this country! But, particularly after they have been so kind to us repeatedly in the past, we can’t exactly push it for something that is more of a want than a need for their property. “But, it’s an investment for them!” I protest. And while that is true, spending hundreds more euro on mosquito netting isn’t exactly on our dear landlord’s to-do list. All this to say, we have become crafty at not only the way we keep heat out of a place as much as humanly possible, but also mosquitoes. We literally hand-cut and push-pinned netting to our wooden shutters. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s practical! We’ve tried those plug-in mosquito repellent things and the citronella coils, but I really don’t like the scent they omit, nor do I like the idea of what nasty chemicals are in them. So I go natural and use a diffuser with various scents in them that mosquitoes are apparently not fans of, lavender for example (I don’t like citronella either, mosquitoes!). The lavender helps to keep me mentally cool too! Or you could give a nifty contraption like this a try.

Even my rings are too tight now. Had to wrench the wedding rings off my swollen fingers with soap. No I’m not pregnant, nor am I fattening up on the gelato fixes (I would be ok with that). Just unfathomably hot! I did lose weight last year and had to size down the rings, put the weight back on and they were already snug, but still! It’s madness I tell you. Overheated madness.

Let’s try to keep our cool by exercising the power of positive thinking while trying to beat this heat, shall we?

Don’t Sweat this Heat Stuff Thoughts:

  • The hunt for cool rooms will lead you to play tourist in your own town again. You can find mercy not just in a saintly sense but in breathe-ability in old churches that sit peacefully in the heart of the city. Funky new cafes are popping up everywhere, and new usually means a/c. Hiding out in one called Docli Pensieri down the street from my house is the only way I was able to finish this post.

    Problem now is, how will I resist from eating all those sweet treats and dehydrating even more?!

    Problem now is, how will I resist from eating all those sweet treats and dehydrating even more?!

  • In Italy it’s rare for people to have clothes dryers. Clothes are hung out on a line to dry. This typically takes for-ev-er. But with this toasty heat, our clothes are drying in record time!

    Better eat it quick before it melts!

    Better eat it quick before it melts!

  • As if I need an excuse, gelato rations have doubled. Granita, sorbetto, ghiaccioli (Italian popsicles or “ice lollies” as you Brits say) are also tasty, cooling summer treats!
  • Summer fruit. Best served cold! I’m tossing it in iced tea, blending it up and freezing it, or just freezing it fresh and munching on it like candy!
  • Expanding the wine palate: I’m much more of a red wine girl, but summer makes me crave crisp white wines and sparkling proseccos. It’s like my own little novice summer sommelier school training.

    Prosecco with aperitivo is a bonus: no cooking dinner!

    Prosecco with aperitivo is a bonus: no cooking dinner!

  • Less cooking! While I like to cook, it’s certainly not my favourite thing to turn an oven on when it’s already 40 degrees in my house. So you’re either heading out to eat in air conditioned restaurants or in the later evening when it’s cool enough to enjoy a meal you didn’t have to slave over a hot stove for (God bless the one who did!). That’s not always a positive one when it comes to the wallet, but it does welcome more simple, fresh plates for the table at home.
    Greek-style quinoa concotion served chilled!

    Greek-style quinoa concotion served chilled!

    Today I made a very refreshing and healthy Greek style salad with quinoa in it. The husband actually loved it too. I’m having fun playing with different flavoured-water and iced tea recipes.

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    Mango Mint Tea

    Strawberry Cucumber Lime Green Tea

    Strawberry Cucumber Lime Green Tea

    I just made pina colada style popsicles (minus the alcohol in this batch) by simply blending pineapple, banana, coconut milk and vanilla. I keep the caffeine and alcohol to a minimum to avoid further dehydration, but an evening cool-down with prosecco never hurt anyone, nor a morning caffe shakerato.

    Caffè shaken, not stirred.

    Caffè shaken, not stirred.

    Go Bond-style to start your day with coffee shaken up with ice in a chilled martini glass.The best one I’ve had so far was shaken with orange peels along with it. The hint of citrus was actually quite nice.

  • Let’s siesta, baby. Set your alarm and get some things done in the earlier, more temperate hours of the day. Then, close all the shutters, blast that fan, and snooze your afternoon away. You know it’s too stiflingly hot to do anything else anyway. Even sleep is a challenge. You’re in the Mediterranean now, so do as they do and DON’T “get’er done” in the afternoon.
  • Do as the Romans did and have a tepid bath. Tepid means lukewarm, not cold. Having cold showers and baths will only make you more hot and balmy after, So I steep in my tub and imagine I’m in the height of Pompeii’s time, in the tepidarium decorated with rich marbles and mosaics.IMG_9342
    Pompeii's thermal bath ruins

    Pompeii’s thermal bath ruins

    While I personally am a lover of steaming hot baths (calidarium if we’re staying with the ancient Roman theme) with a glass of red, I’ve shifted to cool baths (still with bubbles!) and maybe that prosecco flute…or, again, mocktail-style H2O that keeps my hydrated but gives me the illusion that I’m drinking a mojito in a glistening pool somewhere exotic.

  • Water cleanses and you’ll have glowing skin, with or without a tan! Drink plenty of water, even when you’re not thirsty!
  • Heat commands commando. Enough said.

How do you stay cool (and keep your cool!) in the summer heat? I’m signing out for another siesta. Buona summer sera a tutti.

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5 thoughts on “Trying to Stay Cool in Florence’s Inferno Summer Heat

  1. This was a fun article to read. I do have two thoughts, however. I have quite a few Italian friends in Florence and they all have air conditioning; they put on their sad faces when I complain that I do not. I made my own mosquito screens very inexpensively using narrow strips of wood as a frame; they are removable and I can fling open my shutters and get mosquito protection at the same time.

    Like

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