Years ago before visiting Florence for the first time, I remember thinking that it was probably some Mediterranean wonderland—balmy, blue skies and all that stuff. After all, if you take a spin around the rivieras from Spain, across France and down through Italy, you’re enjoying some of the world’s most spectacular weather in a huge and dreamy arc of beaches and rocky coastlines. I remember when we traveled through Europe on a Eurail pass some 40 years ago (kinda hate to admit that, but it’s true). It was the middle of winter, and we ended up trashing our itinerary, heading back to Barcelona because it was so beautiful there—even in January! So, logic would suggest that if you travel due east across the Mediterranean to Florence, you might just find some of the same blissful weather patterns. Not so! The fact is that central to northern Italy (that would be from just above the ankle up to the top of the “boot”) gets pretty darn cold that time of year. It even snows on Rome and the Holy See once in a while, so why should we be exempt!
Some years back, our son Aaron came to visit for Thanksgiving. That special day of celebration for us Americans is but a vague concept in Italy—no time off and no 20-pound Butterball turkeys to be had anywhere on the entire peninsula. It was a cold, rainy night at about 10 pm when we drove down the hill, on our way to the airport to pick him up. On our return trip, the weather got nastier and nastier as we climbed back up into the mountains. By the time we got close to home, everything was covered with about 3-4 inches of beautiful white fluffy snow.
It was then that we first understood the significance of the ominous road sign with a snowflake graphic and curious reference to catene, chains. Hmm! I guess we just never really believed them. Maybe that makes us “chain, chain, chain”-less fools (a little nod to Aretha Franklin.) Sliding precariously to the side of the road, but not quite yet in the ditch, the three of us got out of the car to assess our chances of continuing onward. The assessment: no way!!! Without putting up much of a fight, we started walking, Aaron with his rolling suitcase in tow (it actually could have used tiny little skis instead of wheels). An hour later, we were home after a delightfully crunchy climb up the hill. We encountered no cars, no animals— just us and the moonlight. That was our first real introduction to Thanksgiving in Italy.
Now, 10 years later, that “fluke” snowfall has proven to be seasonably predictable. Consistently, there seems to be a first snow storm that covers the Tuscan landscape with a fresh white coat every year on or around Thanksgiving day. This year was no exception as we sat by the toasty radiator looking into what used to be the green garden only days earlier. We’ve grown accustomed to getting snowed-in at least once before our scheduled return to California.
Maybe one year, we’ll stay through the winter. Surely, the long cold wait makes springtime there even sweeter, if that’s possible. But wherever we may be, we’ll just enjoy eating our turkey sandwiches and giving thanks for the surprising beauty of nature. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, isn’t it? Despite the popular press, it has little to do with Pilgrims, black hats and buckle-shoes. Although we think of Thanksgiving as a particularly American holiday, being appreciative and grateful everyday is certainly celebrated the world around.
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