Snow brings out the best and the worst in Italian village life


AS I write, the sun is shining and the thermometer is reading a balmy 11 Celsius. We seem far away from the northern ice, snow and wind that the family has just experienced on a welcome holiday in Ireland.

And yet, a quick glance around the garden reveals that something dreadful happened during our fortnight's absence. Geraniums, palms, the winter jasmine and many other plants are all dead as doornails. Oranges that have fallen off the orange trees prematurely and bits of missing paint work around the outer walls of the house further contribute to the sense of a minor local catastrophe.

For only the third or fourth time this century, it snowed and froze in Trevignano. The great freeze-up is the major topic of village conversation, with everyone offering an immediate "I was there" report on their own particular experience of four days of minus 3 or 4, temperatures made much more unpleasant by power cuts and a Siberian-style easterly wind.

The power cuts too seem destined to become the object of future litigation between the commune (town council) of Trevignano and ENEL, the state electricity supplier. Power cuts are a part of life in rural Lazio, especially when the weather gets bad. After two or three days of heavy rain, you can rest assured the electricity will fail.

This is so much a feature of normal Trevignano life that I had to invest in a fancy power pack gizmo that guarantees me at least 30 minutes of electricity while slaving over the hot keyboard. Up to then articles were continually being lost to sudden unannounced black-outs.

Mind you, the whole subject of electricity and the Mediterranean is one which requires serious analysis. For example, it is impossible in the average Italian house to simultaneously turn on, a fridge, a clothes washer, a few lights and a hair dryer. Try that and the central trip switch goes.

If you want to be able to run more than two or three electric appliances simultaneously in Italy, and not do so in the dark, you have to buy in your electricity in industrial quantities. For a short and expensive period, we once lived in a flat heated electrically and dependent on a 10-kilowatt supply. When we complained about the expense to a friend whose mother owns a bar in the village, she pointed out that the family bar, complete with coffee machines and ice cream fridges, required a less powerful supply.

However, the Commune of Trevignano has finally had enough and is taking ENEL to court. People here are accustomed to power failures but "local anger was aroused by the fact that even on New Year's Eve, the electricity went off.

This power loss ruined the many varieties of cenone (New Year's dinner) being consumed in some of the village's 30-odd restaurants just 50 kilometres nob Rome, Trevignano relies heavily on the custom of Roman day-trippers for its commercial well-being. It is simply not good for business if the lights, the music, the oven and everything else in your restaurant go off on one of the busiest nights of the year.

Closer to home, the big freeze also knocked out our water pump which had been unwisely positioned by the house's previous owner above ground. (Mediterranean man's relationship to the art of plumbing is also worthy of comprehensive study). Here, at least, the story had a happy ending: Graziella, who had come by to tidy the house, noticed unwanted waters flowing out of the pump and summoned Alberto, our plumber.

Even though we were a thousand miles away, Alberto wasted no time in installing a new pump and cleaning up the damage long before we had got back from holiday. Such is the cosy side of village life.