Something the guide books never tell you is that Italy is a country of violent microclimates. In Scotland the weather would set in for days - the wind would blow, the rain would fall,but the frequency of storms raging in from the North Sea or the Atlantic enabled you to dress in the near certain knowledge that what you wore in the morning would be generally appropriate to the weather conditions pertaining later in the day. Here, the weather in the winter can change with a rapidity and ferocity that is quite alien to those brought up in Britain.The last two nights have been interrupted by hail storms of positively biblical proportions. A warm front sweeping north from Libya has engaged a cold front hastening south from the Dolomites in an epic climatological battle overhead in the skies of Umbria. A hail storm in Scotland would be a brief , moderate affair often occuring in the transition from rain to snow and almost over before you knew it has started. Here the hail has been the size of small marbles and the sound of it beating down for an hour at a time like a million staccato percussion beats on the pantile roof has had me transfixed. In the middle of this mornings storm I got up and looked out at the courtyard to see it glowing with a strange icey white luminescent brilliance illumintade now and then by searing lightning that lights up the skies and a basso boom from the thunder that shakes the very foundations of the house. Wilf can sleep through any gale and is apparently entirely oblivious to the thunderstorms, he remains solidly asleep by the front door unconcerned and oblivious to what is going on outside . His little brother by contrast is seized by panic at the first hint of a storm . He seems to be able to detect a thunderstorm at least twenty minutes before we see the first flash of lightning and will find his way into the bedroom and curl up in a foetal position under the bed - he must feel safe there if the sonorous snoring that follows shortly after his arrival in the wee hours is anything to go by.
The onset of bad weather makes me wary of setting out long distances on Italian roads.The most mild mannered of our Italian acquaintances seem to become transfigured into aggressive, almost homicidal dervishes when they get behind the wheel. In any other country in Europe the lack of lane discipline, the cavalier attitude to speed limits, the penchant for texting while driving,and the concept that it is somehow dishonourable to be overtaken would lead to carnage. Here however, just as the flocks of starlings that throng the local skies turn and weave but always keep in formation as if by magic , so too Italian drivers seem to drive as if they have instinctive motoring movements known only to themselves. It is as if there exists an inborn sensitivity to the thoughts and plans of other Italian drivers that enables serious accidents to be kept to a minimum - sadly, bad weather increases the braking distances needed to maintain a safe distance and the hairpin bends in the countryside around are littered with injured Fiat's and Lancia's that failed to make sufficient allowance in their speed for a layer of freshly fallen hail.