Those who have been to sun-washed Tuscany, close your eyes. You see the sunflowers, the fields of lavender, the grape arbor where you had lunch. You wandered around Florence, drinking in the art and savoring the gelato and were so grateful to return at the end of the day to your air-conditioned room.
I know that when I say we are spending one weekend a month in Florence while we are living here in Italy, that’s what you’re thinking.
Change your mind’s eye instead to Chicago in January.
Imagine that your train gets into the station and there is chaos. One hundred smokers are lined up waiting for taxis that do not appear. All the city buses have gathered at the station with their LED signs blinking “Fuori Servizio” (out of service). All flights are canceled.
The wind is whipping in your face. The snow is falling at a rate of more than one inch an hour. It started as rain mixed with snow; then everything froze. You have no choice but to tramp carefully through the slush and ice for the two miles to your hotel with your luggage. Between stopping to wipe your nose, clean your glasses, and re-up the balance on your cellphone, it takes you 75 minutes.
There is not a plow to be seen, nor a shovel. People are cleaning their windshields with index cards. Restaurant owners are fighting the snow with cookie sheets. The cobblestone streets are filled with 4” of slush. Abandoned cars, motorcycles, and tourist buses on all the bridges have paralyzed traffic. The road to Sienna is closed. Later you learn that in beautiful sunwashed Tuscany, people spent 20 hours in their cars waiting to be rescued.
So when “Biggest snow since 1985 blasts Florence, Italy,” mio marito and I felt fortunate that our hotel was in walking distance, that our room was warm, and that we had dry clothes. Unfortunately, congregants who lived out of town couldn’t get in, and congregants who lived in town couldn’t get around. Most of the museums and even the churches closed. The restaurants were open. After all, this is Italy.