Un’Estate Al Mare

It’s been about 6 weeks since my first reflection and now the end of the season is just around the corner.

In Italy, where I am from and where I currently find myself, summer is a big deal. Summer pop hits become soundtracks for the season and they are not only continuously listened to, but actively recognised as a symbol for the warm, long days ahead. This has been true since my grandparents were young and often the same songs they used to listen to are replayed and remixed for kids today. As the years go by the formula for these jingles is the same: love (transitory like the season), nostalgia (end of summer), the corporeal experience of summer time (salty bodies, darker skin, wet hair). One of the most famous hits, Abbronzatissima (1963), whose title literally translates to something like ‘Very Tan Girl’, is about, you guessed it, a girl who loves to tan her skin.

Like music, literature also enjoys its moment in the sun during the Summer, and bookstores tend to operate ‘Summer opening hours’, closing at around midnight. The typical reader will choose a summer Giallo or murder-mystery novel to thrill them through the season. Marine or seaside gadgets are also a prevalent topic of conversation from June to September and you will often find groups of men or children admiring a speedboat as it cuts through oncoming waves. Talks of differing motor powers, models, knots per minute are always on heavy rotation during these sightings. For those who can afford it, a trip on their private boat across the Med is always on the cards.

Season specific health precautions are a big part of the summer in Italy as well. In the south of Italy, in spite of the torrid midday temperatures, families still gather for lunch time (often directly onto the sandy shore armed with a plastic table and chairs) and enjoy wonderful portions of home-cooked dishes; however, where I have spent most of my summers, mangiare leggero (‘eating light’) is expected for self-preservation. One of my least favourite memories of my childhood in the Summer is being the only one allowed to swim right after eating and having to wait the dogmatic two hours for my friends to join me. Even then, you are constantly reminded to cup the seawater in your hands and bring it to your stomach before fully diving in, to acclimatise your guts. As you get older, you pass these long two hours reserved for digestion by playing cards: Tressette, Scopone, Briscola, Burraco are but a few popular card games played in the summertime here and they are also very big with teens and twenty-somethings.

Speaking of games, my favourite summer-time tradition in Italy is the Settimana Enigmistica (a quick, loose translation of this could be the ‘Enigmatic Weekly’), a weekly journal with crosswords, riddles, rebus and sudoku. Though it is published year-round, the Settimana Enigmistica re-emerges every year when it is time to go to the beach and in these crowded periods, new copies are hard to come by. I find it incredible how the journal has retained its popularity (it is so popular that there are innumerable copy-cats trying to steal its formula) in spite of the internet constantly being at finger’s length. The Settimana even helps you make new friends because just trying to crack a riddle or crossword in public will provide you with a gravitational pull usually only reserved for A-list celebrities and black holes.

All of these things, and of course many others not listed, create the concept of Summer in Italy (I haven’t even gotten into the ascent to the Alps at the end of August). It is an amalgamation of specific products, behaviours and activities which feed this shared, implicit understanding and fuel the mythology of something as abstract and transitory as a season. Of course, it is also made possible by the fact that culturally speaking, working in August is an anomaly here. In Rome, there’s even a saying which goes something like ‘Rome in August is not a nice place’ (it rhymes in Italian…) because apart from the heat, public services like transport, garbage collection, government agencies, basically stop. This phenomenon, I suspect, is changing and writing off almost an entire month will soon be seen as a luxury here too. Until the 80s or 90s, it was still customary for many to take about 90 days off in the summer – good times!

Having moved away from Italy 10 years ago, I find these behaviours and rituals surrounding the summer almost alien and it is only because I was able to take considerable time off that I have had a chance to practice them. In London, with seasons often blending into each other, it is sometimes hard to experience being in one place at a specific moment in time. Now, with the end of the season here fast approaching and September around the corner, everyone is getting ready to pack up and repopulate the urban centres. Soon, it will also be time for me to head back to reality and get back to work. In the days
leading up to the grand finale, I can’t help but hear the famed summer hit for 1985 play on repeat in my head:

L’estate sta finendo e un anno se ne va
Sto diventando grande lo sai che non mi va
In spiaggia di ombrelloni non ce ne sono piú
É il solito rituale, ma ora manchi tu

The summer is finishing and a year goes by
I’m getting older you know I don’t feel like it
On the beach there aren’t any parasols left
It’s the same ritual, but now you’re not here
Top Italian Summer Hits of All Time (personal ranking):

Abbronzatissima, Edoardo Vianello (1963)
Sapore di Sale, Gino Paoli (1964)
Azzurro, Adriano Celentano (1968)
Gloria, Umberto Tozzi (1979)
Un’estate al mare, Giuni Russo (1981)
50 Special, Lunapop (1999)
Tre Parole, Valerio Rossi (2001)
Roma-Bangkok, Baby K & Giusy Ferreri (2015)
Riccione, The Giornalisti (2017)
Mille, Fedez, Achille Lauro, Orietta Berti (2021)
Italodisco, The Kolors (2023)


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