It is hot. Hot, hot, hot. Yesterday my husband phoned me from his car at 8.30 am to tell me it was already 30 degrees with high humidity, and warned me to be prepared. As if I wasn’t already prepared. It has been hot since the end of May. It is now the middle of August.
One of the challenges of a Roman summer, besides its length and temperatures, is that Romans don’t really believe in air conditioning. Air conditioners have only been readily available on the Roman market since the early 2000’s and until recently many apartments, shops and restaurants did not have it. Many Romans believe that air conditioning is bad for you, mostly because of an in-built and ancient fear of fever, in particular death by fever, a reality in the ancient past for many citizens of Rome. They believe that air conditioning will cause fever because of the severe changes in temperature that will result, and that it is unhealthy to have cold air blown on you.
They have a point. Going from an air conditioned location to the fierce heat of a Roman summer is not a pleasant experience. And this is part of the charm of Rome. It retains its ancient beginnings and mixes them in with its post-industrialism. So these days most public places, including public transport, will have air conditioning on AND the windows open. “So it doesn’t get too air conditioned”, is generally the answer I get when I ask bus drivers or proprietors why this is.
Rome as a city has had thousands of years of dealing with the heat without it. It is a city that moves outside to catch cool breezes and shady areas. And living in a city which doesn’t air condition the seasons away means you have to live within them. Adjust your routine, your activities, your diet and your lifestyle to accommodate and move within them. Romans have been doing this for centuries. It is only us foreigners who insist on living the same kind of lifestyle for twelve months of the year and are outraged if our productivity slows down.
Rome is not a city governed by trade and commerce. At 3.00 pm in the afternoon even if you had a million dollars you couldn’t spend it. No sane commercial trader would try and out compete his competitors by staying open during the siesta, and in fact it is mostly illegal. But why bother when there will be plenty of trade at 5.00 pm when the siesta is over? Why bother when you can make money AND see your family, make love all afternoon, let your gorgeous lunch digest, prevent a heart attack, have a nap in the middle of the day. Rome runs on the seasons and on tradition. And I love it for those reasons.
No one except me is in Rome in the middle of August. Really. My whole suburb has shut down. I have to have my coffee at home as none of the dozens of little cafes serving Romans their daily coffees are open. Why would they be? All the Romans have gone on holiday to the seaside or the mountains. I have another two weeks before going on holiday and I had a long list of things planned but instead I find that the heat exhausts me after around two hours of activity, and all the other things I had planned can’t be done because nothing is open. I have to wait until September to get my hair cut for example. Our phone handset died yesterday due to battery failure but we have to wait until September to get a new one. My work suits sit in a pile by the door as I didn’t manage to get them to the dry cleaners before the start of August. My husband can’t go shopping for T-shirts to wear on our holiday as all the clothing shops are shut for two weeks, and thank goodness one of the two supermarkets are open otherwise food would be a bit of a problem too.
But it it is peaceful. So peaceful. The quietness of an abandoned city is refreshing, and worth staying in it for. I love August in Rome. It is the only time I have the city to myself. I can wander around unhindered by traffic, human and mechanical. It takes half the time to get anywhere and I can stop and look at anything without fear of being run over. It is quiet at night and quiet during the day.
It is a time to stop, to slow down, to contemplate and relax. The cities work-a-day functions are not available so it forces you to rest in parks, laze by pools, look at flowers and bathe in the sea. It forces you to take the mental and physical break that nature is taking, a rest before the next seasons’ activities. It is a time of substituting ice-cream for lunch or dinner, for long siesta’s while outside the afternoon bakes away in silence, not a leaf stirring, as even nature tries to keep cool by not moving. It is a time to enjoy the silky evening air on your skin, to sweat out toxins and negative energy, to wear loose clothing and move languidly, in sync with the city.
Rome is a built of stone and water. Clean, free, cold water gushes continually out of drinking fountains by road sides and in parks all over the city. It comes from underground springs in the countryside around Rome and is pumped in using the ancient aqueducts built by the Romans. Now that’s something a post-industrial city doesn’t have. It is enough to rest under a tree, stand on a cold stone and drink or splash the water over you to cool down and enjoy a Roman summer. Who needs air conditioning after all?
Contact me for one of my private tours in the Tour page on this website or my Facebook page – Roman Daze
Read more in: ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’, Melbourne Books, 2013
Available at all bookstores nationally within Australia, Otherwise Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.