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Sunlight and snow

After spending two weeks staying with friends near Lyon in France we have now returned to the apartment in northern Italy. Over the next few weeks we have visits here from friends and family to look forward to but already we are thinking about and making plans for when we return to the UK at the end of March.

It is warmer here than in Lyon but not warm enough yet to manage without some form of heating in the apartment. Our stock of logs for heating has dwindled but of course every day the sun rises higher in the sky giving us a little more warmth and soon will come the day when suddenly, between one day and the next, we will have an extra couple of hours sunshine up on our roof terrace. This is because the village lies to the north of a rounded hilltop which is just high enough to keep most of our village in shade through November, December and January. February, however, is the month when, depending on where in the village you live, the sun is high enough at midday to pass over the hill for the first time. Every inhabitant is affected; generally the higher above the ground you live, the sooner the sun will skim the hilltop and transform your life.

Some people take this very seriously and they mark on the calendar the exact day when the extra sunlight is due to arrive so they can be out of doors or up on the roof terrace to witness the event. To some it is a significant moment in the year, the day that some spring-like warmth, if not spring itself, begins to return.

Until that day arrives we take other pleasures where we can. One evening we saw this rather alarming fire in the western sky but took comfort in the knowledge that it was merely sun shining on cloud.

Out on the hills, some early signs of spring make a showing. There is a type of orchid that is quite common here and the sun brings them popping out of the ground underneath the olive trees where the ground is often fertilised; horse manure from the local equestrian centre is a favourite enrichment material.

Making such an early appearance does carry considerable risks, however, and this year many of those early flowers will by now have been well and truly clobbered. A sudden burst of north-westerly winds has brought cold air down from the Alps and, unusually for Torri, a layer of snow right down to the bottom of the valley with frost quickly following which puts a crust of ice on our world. Dependant upon who you speak to in the village this is either a once in four-year event or once in a 70-year lifetime. The village might nestle amongst mountains but the reality is we are only 80 metres above sea level and at this latitude snowfall is an extreme event, lying snow even more so.

Of course we know that a few degrees of frost pales into insignificance when compared with what those in the UK have put up with this winter but somehow we expected more warmth when we first decided to to live on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. It serves to indicate, perhaps, that weather is not necessary just a local phenomenon. We all live in the same atmosphere, after all.

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