Living in a Snowglobe February 2, 2009


February 18, 2009 I didn’t grow up with snow. In Chandler AZ, snow was something we read about, not something we played in. My first experience with the stuff was not promising, In the 8th grade as a paperboy for the Phoenix Gazette, I won a day-trip to Mingus Mountain for a day in the snow. At this time, I had two pairs of shoes, one for church and recitals, and tennis shoes for school. After a three hour drive in the back of a truck, we were dumped off at the snow-covered mountain and were told to meet back at noon for lunch and again at 4:00 p.m. to return home. Within 20 minutes my tennis shoes were soaked through and I was frozen. There was no adult supervision, no shelter, no fire–I can’t remember a more miserable day in my childhood.

My second experience was only slightly better. At the University of Arizona on a Sunday morning, we woke up to a blanket of snow, definitely a rarity in Tucson. All of us piled out of the ΣΑΕ house and ran around for three hours engaging in snowball fights and general mischief until a hangover and no breakfast caused me to seek refuge on a sofa in the ΚΚΓ sorority house after almost passing out. Food at some point would have been a wise choice.

My third experience with snow could have been tragic, but instead was rather funny. Jim Fleming and John Armstrong, two members of a local rock band named The Casuals, came by my fraternity house and asked me if I wanted to go on tour with them. They were losing their bass player and were scheduled to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. I was a jazz bassist at the time and had hardly even listened to rock and roll. But since I was flunking zoology I said that I would be happy to go hear the group at the club where they were playing. Three weeks later, after switching from standup to electric bass, solving playing, singing, and dancing at the same time, and learning two hours of repertoire, we were on the road to Philadelphia for our December appearance on Bandstand. We were somewhere in the midwest in the early evening and It was my turn to drive. We were coming up to a Y intersection, and I asked the map reader which way to go. It didn’t matter what he said. When I went to turn we hit a patch of ice and just continued going straight through the intersection and into a field. Mercifully nobody else was dumb enough to be on the road at that time, and the farmer had long ago given up on a fence. After we finally came to a stop, I put the car in reverse, we got back on the road and continued on. (And yes, we did appear on American Bandstand, but that’s another story.) After that, my existence was relatively snow-free, except for the “San Antonio Blizzard of ’85.” (13.5 inches in January that paralyzed the city for a week.)

Then I moved to sunny Italy in 2001.

The altitude of Sarnano is 539m or 1,768 ft. The latitude is approximately the same as Portland OR. With the Sibillini Mountains and the ski resort of Sassotetto a short drive away, I can count on getting some snow at some point between the middle of November and the middle of February. Given my winter-deprived childhood, this was not the first time that I have had to learn something new about cold weather. In San Antonio I encountered frozen rain. I thought frozen rain was either snow, sleet, or hail. Wrong. Snow floats down, sleet stings, hail bounces, and frozen rain sticks to whatever it lands on making every horizontal surface dangerously slick. Before I came to Sarnano I mistakingly thought that a snowstorm implied a storm with howling winds, freezing temps, and general nastiness. Instead, after the wind stops, the flakes begin to gently flutter down, transforming the landscape into a winter wonderland. The previsione states Debole neve, (weak snow). Two winters ago this “weak snow” continued for a full week, non-stop. Last week it lasted only four days with intermittent clearings before commencing yet again, and again, and again. Mercifully, the forces controlling my snowglobe choose to stir rather than shake since I do live in earthquake country.

This morning I woke up again to the grinding of the snowplow. My Citroen C3 sits in the parking area, covered in its white blanket. I will not venture out on the road again and replicate the experience I had when I was 20, steering wheel in hand but having absolutely no control as to where I was going. At some point I will walk to the frutta e verdura for some veggies. And no, I won’t be wearing tennis shoes.