From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 41
Water, Water Everywhere
Dante must certainly have been inspired by the dramatic thunderstorms that invade the Garfagnana from time to time - sometimes without warning. The sky can be cloudless, crystal clear and intensely blue, with barely enough of a breeze to stir Dina's freshly washed laundry hanging out to dry on the garden terraces across from my parents’ bedroom window in the Palazzo. Suddenly, rolling thunder echoes from the heights of the Apennines and black, boiling clouds practically blot out the sun. Within a matter of seconds, windows and shutters begin to slam back and forth, Dina's laundry is blown unmercifully in the strong gusts, with sheets, blouses, pants, and other items losing their grip on the line being thrown into the grapevines on the upper terraces. At first, a few massive drops of water fall from the sky followed by rain and wind of such intensity that it is unsafe to be outside because heavy roof tiles are often blown off of the houses and come crashing down to the pavement.

Adenaco would always warn us to "closa da window" when we left the house, even for a 15-minute trip to Leo's Bar and back. I would argue with him. "Adenaco, look at the sky. The chance of rain is zero. I don't want to waste my time running around shutting every window just for a short trip down to the valley for a cappuccino."

Needless to say, my hardheadedness had to prove disastrous only once to teach me a lesson. We had gone down the mountain under the sunniest and clearest sky, when fifteen minutes or so later the sky had turned black and the deluge began. If Adenaco and I had both been alive back during the Great Flood in Noah's day, it would have been Adenaco who would have helped to build the Ark and thus would have been safely aboard as a crew member or animal tender. I would have been left clinging to a board until consumed by a whale or a man-eating shark.

When we got home we found that 50 mile-per-hour gusts of wind and rain can do a great deal of mischief to the interior of a house when the windows have been left open. Just as a child touches a red hot burner on an electric range on purpose only once, we now close the windows, even if leaving Casa Giorgio-Rosina in order to work at Palazzo Margherita just 200 feet away. You don't even want to have to run 200 feet in a temporale (thunderstorm) which may be accompanied by a tornado. Your umbrella will definitely be destroyed, and you might end up with a cracked skull from a falling roof tile, or worse yet, be struck by one of the gigantic bolts of lightning that accompany the storms.

“Are these temporali a curse or a blessing?” you might ask. The truth is that without the abundant rainfall, the surrounding mountains would not be cloaked in green velvet during the heat of August, but would resemble those parts of Tuscany that are parched and dead looking. The abundance of water allows for irrigating crops during dry weather, and provides water for trout farms, and habitat for gulls, herons and egrets. The water has also created marvels such as the Grotta del Vento and other amazing cave systems.

The temporali can indeed be a curse, however, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. On June 19, 1996, we were experiencing a typically beautiful summer day when suddenly a great storm struck the Garfagnana. Fortunately, Gioviano was spared the worst of the fury, but the village of Fornovolasco along the course of the Turrite di Gallicano was heavily damaged. Over a dozen people were killed during the storm. Others were missing and thought buried in the mud and debris that in some places was over 30-feet deep. In one hour alone, nearly seven inches of rain had fallen just to the west of Gioviano, and altogether the rainfall exceeded 20 inches.

At the highest elevations of the Apuanian Alps, the eastern slopes have experienced up to 200 inches of rainfall in a single year when the hot African winds coming in from the Atlantic collide with the cold winds from the Balkans that have passed over the Apennines. During these storms, it is not unusual for the winds on the mountaintops to exceed 120 miles per hour. Even Domenico's grapevines wouldn't be able to catch and hold Dina's laundry at that wind speed.

To this very day, when hurrying to leave the house to get to the bank before it closes for "siesta," I can hear Adenaco's voice, not whispering, but ordering me to "closa da windows" which I faithfully do even if I have to unlock the door and go back inside after receiving the command. At every curve in the road, I still hear him demand that I "honka da horn," and even though the road is now two lanes wide in most places, I sometimes "honka da horn" to make his spirit happy.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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