04 May 2009

Keep your shirt on

First sign of decent weather in Britain and the clothes come off. We had a few warmish days in April, and immediately a large chunk of the population had stripped down to shorts and flip-flops. Some men were even walking around shirtless (not a pretty sight at the best of times). The temperature was perhaps 18C but you'd think it was 28C the way they were dressed, their pale skin goose-pimply in the weak spring sunshine.

Contrast this to Sicily, where the summer temperatures hover around 40C. We had been there for a walking holiday in late April a few years back, and revelled in the relative warmth. Temperatures were about 22C, great for walking around in a T-shirt and thin trousers. The locals, however, would have none of it. May was soon on its way, but they were still wrapped up in fleeces and body-warmers. They might catch the colpo d'aria otherwise. This dangerous "hit of air" was to be avoided at all costs, at least until summer had officially begun and one could begin to peel off the layers. And only then could one think of swimming in the open air.

Fausto, the owner of the hotel residence we were staying in, had put in a little plunge pool, which would have been lovely to enjoy after we returned from our walks. We hadn't been able to swim in the sea because of an extraordinary invasion of jellyfish that turned the shores a dull shade of red. But open the pool in April? And catch the colpo d'aria? La Signora should know better. No, the pool stays closed until 23 June. I can't imagine being in Sicily on 22 June without being able to swim to escape the heat. Let's hope the jellyfish have disappeared by then.

I find both attitudes to hot weather hilarious. The British are so desperate for warmth that they want to expose their skin as soon as possible. But if they're wearing their thinnest clothes in April, there's nowhere to go if temperatures really hot up in July or August. The Sicilians, on the other hand, know the value of taking each layer of clothing seriously. If it's 25C in April and you've got temperatures of 42C to look forward to, you have to acclimatise your body more gradually. This makes sense, but I'd still much rather have a springtime dip in Fausto's swimming pool.

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