Editor’s note: Silvia Marchetti is a freelance journalist based in Rome covering Italian travel, cultural economy and politics for international media. The opinions expressed in this comment are their own. Read more CNN view here.
Here in Capina, a pretty town 15 miles north of Rome, it’s not just the unbearable heat that makes you flatten out—it’s the stench that lingers in your nostrils.
It is the pungent, suffocating scent of dry grass ready to be burned. Every time I look out of the windows of my farmhouse at the beautiful olive grove dotting the hill opposite, I fear that a gust of wind will cause a great fire to burn to ashes.
Hot summers are no stranger to Italy. But this year, the usual “solleone” (an Italian term used for the hottest days of summer) has become overwhelming. High temperatures are expected to peak early this week, with temperatures soaring above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).
It’s not just Italy that is suffering, with giant hot-air ovens spreading to other parts of southern Europe, such as Greece and Spain. Experts warn that the temperatures could shatter the continent’s record of 48.8 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit), set two years ago.
Italian meteorologists tend to affectionately and regularly call our anticyclones. This is called “Charon” – the ferryman in Greek mythology who carries souls to the underworld. But we are struggling in this hellish heatwave more than ever.
What is most frightening is that there is no escape: the hills, the coast and the mountains give some respite with their gentle breeze. But now it’s like being stuck in a city, with heat seeping off the sidewalks and bouncing off the walls. Shadow consolation is gone.
I have a vacation home along the southern Romanian coast which I’ve only been to once this summer. The beach is almost empty, and the sea water is very warm. It’s like floating in a hot tub.
Many families who would normally indulge in slices of pasta, pizza and watermelon on the sand, now come home to eat and sleep in the roughest hours of the day.
Swimming pool owners in the countryside where I live have told me they are considering investing in a cooler like the ones used in luxury resorts in the UAE.
I used to love sunbathing – now I avoid the scorching sun like a vampire. These past few days, my biggest physical effort has been walking off my front porch to jump in the warm pool, wearing a straw hat and sunglasses. I’m waiting for the pumps to start so at least the water is a little cooler.
My dog also makes me sweat. The poor animal, a huge Rottweiler with foam-like saliva coming out of his nose, required me to bathe him with a garden hose every hour.
This time of year I usually take long walks on the beach, go for a swim, and then walk again. I didn’t need to resort to an umbrella or turn on the air conditioner.
But the Italians are changing their way of thinking and their routine.
We used to make fun of the tourists who dip their feet in the city’s fountains or splash water on their arms and necks from the thousands of water bubbles called “nasoni” that are common in Rome, filling their plastic bottles.
Now the local white-collar workers rest at lunchtime by sheepishly unbuttoning their shirt cuffs and poking their wrists under the fresh running water.
Rome’s authorities intervened. There are special health units and “warming volunteers” deployed to help people who are physically suffering from the heat, and free bottles of water are distributed.
Hospitals have introduced a new emergency code for those with extreme heat; It’s called a “codice calore” (heat code) and allows sufferers to overtake other patients who have a moderate “green code”.
Now when we hear stories of desperate tourists who felt sick, fainted, or vomited exploring ancient Roman ruins, trying to make the most of their vacations, we feel sympathy and smile.
Many of the aliens have been “faded” by the heat, as Dante writes of those poor souls trapped in Hell. Many who were ready to come to Italy changed their vacation plans at the last minute, or got stuck inside their hotel rooms with the air-conditioning on full. The only view they get is the view from the window.
In little villages old Italians avoid sitting in the shadows, and have put off their meetings until late in the evening to play cards and have a glass of wine, or to gossip a little.
We only open our windows at night. People I know have regained their old habits: lying on the cold room floor and sleeping in wine cellars or cave rooms.
Housewives go to the supermarket very early in the morning. Cooking twice a day, handling hot pots and ovens, is a no-go.
We take turns with friends and relatives on missions.
Kids may stick to their party routine, but I’ve seen a few ditch the group to stay at home, or take shelter under a sun canopy.
This is the new normal in the Italian summer. It will only get worse.