Wednesday, June 20, 2012

If you can’t stand the caldo, stay out of Italy

Yesterday I went to lunch in Orvieto with my friend Susan Morgan, who writes a wonderful blog about her life in Italy. I told her in advance that I didn’t care about the quality of the food, so long as we found a place that had air-conditioning. 

We stopped at one restaurant that we thought was a sure bet, but the front doors were flung open – a sure sign of no a/c, or at least that the owners were too miserly to turn on the a/c. 

Today's weather map for Italy. Notice the great range
of weather, from hot to hotter to really, really hot.
Still, I went in to check it out. The dining room was not quite sweltering, but nowhere near the level of comfort I was looking for. “We have a garden terrace,” the host said. “Is it cool out there?” I questioned. “It’s a little cool,” he said, weakly, clearly squirming under the screws of my interrogation.

I checked it out. Ha! A sun baked terrace surrounded by four high walls, with a few tables and umbrellas and not enough breeze to flutter a leaf. “We’ll come back on a cool evening,” I told him as we exited.

Our next stop was Taverna del Etrusco, a reliable restaurant that seems to draw more tourists than locals, but does have pretty good food. Best of all, when we approached, the doors were closed – a great sign.

We went in, and while it was kind of cool, it wasn’t really, really cool. So when the waiter motioned us to a table, I asked if it was fresca (cool). “Yes,” he said, “and we can turn the air conditioner on if you’d like.”

I nearly wept with joy when I saw the a/c unit on the wall next to our table. It soon began humming along, and by the time our meal was done, I was nearly chilly in my sleeveless dress. Beautifully, blissfully chilly. It is a rare pleasure during summertime in Italy.

When I first moved to Italy, Paolo, at my urging, had air-conditioning installed in his small apartment. (Oh, I remember those days, back when he would do almost anything to please his new American bride-to-be…) We were definitely in the minority in Italy, as air-conditioning in homes, stores, and public buildings – and even in hospitals, is rare.

When I’d exit the apartment, our neighbor, who sits on his balcony every afternoon, binoculars in hand (he uses them to check out women’s asses as they walk down the street, but that’s a story for another blog) would always wave to me and offer a rhetorical, one word weather report. “Caldo” (hot), “piove” (rain), “freddo” (cold), as if this would somehow enlighten me.

We’ve since moved to a home just outside town, so I see that neighbor less often, and when I do, it’s usually to wave from the car as I pass. But if he were to offer his one-word weather report this week, it would be caldo. Really, really fucking caldo, like so caldo you can hardly talk about it caldo.

I moved to Italy from Southwest Florida, where summertime feels like sauna-time. I should be used to caldo, right? Except that in Florida, as I so often explain to my Italians, everything is air-conditioned. Cars, stores, houses, banks, doctor’s offices, malls. And as much as I know the evils of carbon footprints and freon admissions and all those decidedly un-green things, God do I miss it.

We don’t have air-conditioning in our new home. We moved in during the winter, so we put off having it installed. Then we put it off some more. Now, summer has arrived with a sweaty roar, and we don’t have the several thousand euro lying around that we need to install a/c. Next year, we say.

We do have air conditioning in the car, but with the price of diesel, I can hardly justify driving around the Umbrian countryside aimlessly, just so I can cool off. 

Besides, air conditioning is a battle in our marriage. Italians have an aversion to air conditioning, breezes, fans, and ice. They also fear sweating, but mostly because they’re afraid of sweating and then getting caught in a breeze, which will of course give them a sore throat, a cough, a cold, influenza or the Black Plague. So you will see Italians, male and female, old and young, wearing neck scarves as they work out in sweltering gyms, ride their bikes, or walk across sun-parched piazzas, all to keep from a breeze touching their necks. About the only place they won’t wear scarves is to the swimming pool, and I’m sure, if there were a waterproof scarf available, they’d wear it.

So if Paolo and I get into the hot car, I blast the air conditioning at full tilt, and let its sweet breeze blow back my hair. But as soon as I turn up the fan and turn the air to the full “blue” zone, he inevitably turns down the fan and moves the temperature dial to somewhere between hot and cold, and punches the precious “AC” button off so that we are cooling the car with outside air. He says that he immediately feels a sore throat coming on if too much cold air blasts on him.

Daisy and her new best friend.
I try to be polite and understanding, but it’s hard to yell “What the fuck do you think you're doing?!” while waving my armpits in front of car’s the a/c vents, and do it with a smile on my face. My argument that germs and viruses, and not a cool breeze, are the cause of colds and sore throats and flu and Black Plague falls on deaf ears.

After witnessing how much poor little Naomi is suffering in the heat, Paolo has finally relented a bit. We dug our electric fan out of storage, and positioned it so it was blowing steadily on all three of us – her crib is still in our bedroom – last night. We all slept better last night, and even Paolo allowed that it was due to the fan.

Next year, before the caldo arrives – it comes earlier each year and stays later – thanks, global warming – we’re investing in air conditioning in the house. And until then, Susan and I have decided to hang a framed photo of ourselves over that table at Taverna del Etrusco, so that we might seem like VIPs and always be guaranteed the same spot when we return, which we’ve vowed to do weekly. At least until the caldo breaks…


  1. In honor of your Caldo, I have graciously turned our AC up to 78 as to not be TOO comfortable.

  2. This, along with those damn pappatacis (no see ums) are the primary reasons I escape Italy in the summer. America might have a lot of faults, but freezing your ass off at home in air conditioned bliss, when it's close to 100 degrees outside is NOT one of them....

    1. There REALLY aren't that many things I miss about the U.S., but a/c is one of them...

  3. Hello from Southwest Florida (Fort Myers), where yes, it's very, very caldo!

    1. Yes, but tell me you're not writing from the comfort of your AIR CONDITIONED house! ,> Thanks for reading, BTW!

  4. Ciao from Roma! I think the Romans gave up their neck scarves this week. This is our first summer in Italy, so our mantra has become "What the H are we going to do in August if it's this hot now?" Grazie a Dio, we have A/C at home and work!

    1. Eh Laurel...I've vowed to stay out of Rome in July and August, but I have a young nephew visiting so will have to suck it up and come down anyway...I think our first stop will be your apartment! A/C! Music to my ears!!!! :) Thank you for reading!

  5. I have pulled the pregnancy card, and we are getting A/C in our bedroom by the end of the month -- then we'll see how often my Paolo complains about its ill effects on him because it WILL get a workout this summer. I feel your pain.

  6. Oh God do it. You'll be so glad you did. Just tell Paolo to sleep with a hat and scarf on. And that pregnancy card is meant to be played, whenever and however often you need it. ;)