Perhaps it is just my coldblooded, rain drenched Irish genes but in my experience the body does some peculiar things when it is violently shaken from the damp breezy chilled European climes to the horrendously hot and humid Tropics. The first sign, for me at least, is that the backs of the hands and even the palms begin to sweat profusely. Everything that you touch instantly becomes wet, which is quite a pain when you are trying to write on what was once a perfectly fine copybook but can now only be recognised as a soggy paper towel. Following the palm sweat, the appetite flies out the window for about a week during which time I can expect to be getting quite well acquainted with a particular servicing room. But I think I will leave the rest of that story for another time.
What I really want to talk about is the forgotten 50% of Tropimundo (Tropical Master’s programme), and that is of course the non-tropics. Although in Florence for semester one we spent all our time learning and dreaming about warmer climes, the fact of the matter was that Europe just experienced a winter that will be going down in the history books for its absolutely atrociously cold January. Luckily we missed the deepest of the low depression but by just taking a look at the pressure charts for Europe you could see how close Florence and Italy was to getting hit. Anywhere north or east of Italy was plunged into a bitter cold which dipped well below zero. The most insightful evidence of the central European cold spell which I found came from an old colleague from Galway. I was complaining to him about the -7C that was outside in Florence and was trying its best to creep through my window and closed curtain and freeze me in the night, when suddenly I was put in my place; This colleague of mine had been making a Christmas visit to Lithuania and had to endure a whopping -27C when the only toilet they had was an outdoor toilet. But now it seems I have digressed again to this distasteful humour, so let me get back to the point.
On January 17th Italy saw snow; even Florence saw snow. It was a great privilege to witness Meenakshi Poti‘s first time with snow. She swung open the wide kitchen windows on the second floor at night, letting in a god-awful breeze and hooting her heart content to the flakes of powder which swirled past they window and pirouetted beneath the streetlamps.
To the east or west of Florence there were sights to behold, from places where the roads wiggled onwards and upwards to the Apennines in the east or the Apuan Alps in the west. What was seen in Florence was really just the final wheezing cough from the heavy snow clouds of the previous week. The clouds true belch had occurred on the mountains, where the snow was even too deep to walk in, and branches and twigs of trees were caked in it as if it were a crunch icing. On the lower reaches of the mountains little kids would come hurtling down walking paths, bee lining straight for you in their sleds before slamming on the breaks or just rolling out of the way but somehow never hitting you. Further uphill the slope became steeper, skiers would fly by at cracking speeds and as a walker this high snowy zone became like a hamsters wheel; for each upward step there were two steps backward.
At the top of Monte Falterona there was a most unexpected and welcome guest. As all the hikers sat down on the icy snow one opportunistic wood mouse ran to and fro, whizzing between peoples legs, looking for any sandwich crumb or other morsel that might hit the floor. Upon finding one of these little gifts the rodent would dance as fast as he could into the undergrowth, presumably adding to his collection of crispy bits. This wood mouse was the only wildlife we actually saw on the snowy mountains; he was in some way forced to
act extra bold due the harsh conditions on the peak. But animal tracks were caught like a snapshot in time. The snow we walking on was only 6 or 7 days old but there were already extensive networks weaving through the white forest floor. A jack rabbits tracks would hop off in one direction followed keenly by those of a fox who was most likely on the hunt. The snowy floor was a gift for the fox but a curse for the rabbit. Occasionally there would even be sported a pile of wild boar droppings. So with mention of poo we have come full circle back to the unintentionally recurrent theme of this post, toilet humour.
Until next time folks, when it surely will be a more tropical post,