Being really, really cold in Naples: A Memoir

Of course it’s possible.  I think that many Americans are under the impression that Naples is in a somewhat tropical zone.  Well, it isn’t so at all.  There are four distinct seasons, though it’s certainly a much milder climate picturethat we experience in the North Eastern US.  But, people, I’ve been damn cold in Naples, to the point of spending my recess at school perched on the radiator, with my arms wrapped around myself, frozen in one position for fifteen minutes.  Gets worse.  Now, my apartment building in Portici was built in the early sixties.  When we were touring it, we realized that it was lacking radiators.  Non fa niente, my mother said dismissively (completely enamored with the mesmerizing vista of the Gulf of Naples from the fifth floor balcony), doesn’t matter, it’s not that cold in the winter here…All right, she hailed from Modena in Northern Italy and often mentioned the dreary snowy and foggy days of her childhood, but you don’t need frozen precipitation to feel cold. The gray, wet and drizzly days in December and January, seeing your breath form little clouds before your eyes, as amusing as it was for a child, it meant it was frigging COLD!  I remember the rides in the family car, the dark green Simca Mille, the heater going full blast, filling the car with delightful warmth with its strange smell of engine (yes, slightly nauseating, but a necessary evil).  We kids would be all bundled up in our wool coats, hats, gloves and thick socks, cocooned in a steamy cloud of comfort in the back seat.  Then we returned home.  Alarm!  While my father searched for an available parking spot (always time-consuming, and the later in the evening the worse – no assigned parking spaces there), I began dreading the exit from the car.  Out of the heated paradise, into the gloomy ‘wasteland’ of our dark, frigid apartment.  No, my friends, not a pretty experience.  I remember refusing to remove my coat at times and my mother saying impatientlynon fare la stupida, mettiti la vestaglia, poi ti scaldi, mica abitiamo al polo…In other words, don’t be silly, put your robe on and you’ll warm up, we don’t live at the North Pole…And I did, gingerly taking off my outdoors gear, whining to my sister (slightly more stoic than me), getting into my so-bloody-cool-to-the-touch flannel pajamas, then swaddling myself with my long, insulated pink robe, tremblingly working on each miniscule pearly button.  My father would plug in a couple of space heaters and I would practically move inside one.  It was always a joy when I had to go to a friend’s house.  Simply because, everyone else I knew lived in a heated apartment!  Oh the pleasure of that blast of warmth when I entered their foyer!  All my bones would exult, my fingers would resuscitate…and my cheeks would turn cherry red!  Yeah, a picturelittle issue I developed with the heat.  Everybody always asked me if I was okay, since I looked so flushed, which would of course increase my color. I suppose it was the fact that I wasn’t accustomed to a heated environment and it somehow caused havoc with my system, I don’t know…Fact is, that the condition of super-flushed cheeks would last quite a bit and, when I got back home with my flaming face, my mother always reminded me thatthis was why artificial heat wasn’t good for people, vedrai che ti ammali con questi sbalzi di temperatura! You’ll see you’re going to get sick now, with these sudden unhealthy changes of temperature…Oh but it was worth it.  Wearing a stylish coat over a thin sweater and a short skirt, walking on the Viale Leonardo da Vinci in late January, on the way to meet someone, my toes semi-frozen in my fashionable high-heeled boots, insisting with my mantra of ‘looks before comfort’ (still struggling with that subject!), I moved quickly, focused, rubbing together my un-gloved, shivering hands which were holding a fabulous purse.  And then I’d see the few winter tourists, tall and blond Germans or Scandinavians, striding down the damp sidewalks in their Birkenstocks and t-shirts, smiling and content in ‘sunny Southern Italy’.  Allora, maybe it’s simply a matter of perspective, no?  No.


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