After having a bit of a rant about politics and economics yesterday, I thought it’d be good to get back on safer ground today, with that perennially popular topic for us Brits: the weather. And, specifically, horrendous weather – il tempo brutto.
Before arriving in Rome, we’d heard that the city occasionally experiences massive storms, but it’s been hard to conceive of even so much as a heavy rain shower here as most of the past 6 weeks have been clear and sunny, and only slowly dropping from utterly scorchio through much of September to temperate now, with many days featuring my favourite kind of weather – cool, verging on the crisp, in the morning, warm, verging on hot later on. (Weather that always reminds me of my favourite part of the world – Golden Bay and environs in New Zealand’s South Island.)
Anyway, today was different. We woke to the sound of the rain rattling on our exterior metal shutters, and frequent claps of thunder (tuono). It was just past dawn, but the sky was still dark as night, lit only by flashes of lightning (lampi). My wife was freaked by the prospect of getting to work, but not because of a soaking during the 10-minute walk to the station, but because of the lampi, being one of those types who believe she is destined to be struck, every time there’s a storm.
Me, I was more worried about the soaking, and with good cause. Despite a raincoat, a brolly and Gore-Tex-lined shoes, my 25 minute walk to language class left me decidedly soggy. It was pretty exciting though. We live up on a hill, Monteverde, and there are a lot of stairways. Usually benign, sun-dappled steps transformed into raging cataracts were an impressive sight.
As Rome is generally dry, presumably it’s not a priority to keep the drains clear. They’re all doubtless rammed with spazzatura (rubbish), mozzicone di sigarette, merda di cane, polvere (dust; one of those great words with a built-in mnemonic ¬– ie pulverised), e cose. Oh, and lots of leaves, as it’s autumn. Ergo, my normal walk involved dodging torrents and wading through various temporary lakes. A Gore-Tex shoe lining ain’t much good when the water comes over the top.
The Tiber, meanwhile, was threatening to flood the cycle track and path alongside it when I went over Ponte Sisto at 8.40am ish. When I came back after midday, lo and behold the tracks had disappeared in the brown swirling murk. It’s no surprise that after Rome became the capital of the new republic in 1870, the powers that be were keen to sort it out this soggy beast, then without embankments, properly. Apparently it used to flood so badly, via del Corso – the equivalent of say London’s Oxford Street – hosted a sailing race in 1878*.
The flood waters in the streets have subsided fairly quickly, but it’s interesting to experience this kind of weather. It rains a lot in Britain, certainly, but historically – at least in my lifetime – it was always more a case of lots of middlingly-heavy rain, endless days of grey and drizzle. So us Brits are arguably less used to this kind of tempesta. That said, the past few years in England we’ve been increasingly experiencing massive, tropical-style storms, where unusually large levels of rain fall in a short period (Thank you climate change.) So you’d think I’d have worked out the best way to handle such weather. Nope. I didn’t even bring my Wellies to Rome. They would have been perfect this morning.
* See Whispering City: Rome and its Histories, RJB Bosworth (Yale University Press, 2011), p114.