If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

pasta noodles in italy

Today’s guest post is by Valerie Sisco.

cooking in italyOne of my greatest fears is that my air conditioner will break down in the middle of summer and I’ll be forced to sweat it out in sticky, stifling surroundings. Since I live in Florida, this fear is certainly well-founded and a distinct possibility.

I just never expected it to come true in Italy.

hotel florenceWhen I walked into my room in the Hotel Florence in Bellagio, Italy last summer, the shutters flung open to a tiny balcony instantly charmed me. The curtains ruffled in the breeze and I could see the mountain ranges of the Prealps off in the distance and Lake Como below.

I was in Italy for an art and faith retreat with our group’s accommodations spread throughout three hotels, and I was thrilled to be booked at this historic inn. I was thinking how lucky I was to have this room for an entire week when I noticed a noise I’d overlooked in my rush to admire the view.

hotel florence outsideIt was the unmistakable whir of an oscillating fan, sitting on a table beside the bed. Sweat trickled down my back and beaded on my brow and I felt panicky. Was it possible that this hotel had no air conditioning?

hotel florence windowsA visit to the front desk confirmed it. In the hundred-year history of the inn, air conditioning had never been installed. The attendant apologized, “Usually the summers here are very pleasant and there is no need for it,” she said. “But this is the hottest summer we’ve had in a very long time.”

I was in Italy in the middle of the heat wave of the century.

Apron before Italian cooking classSo much for the sweaters I’d packed for the cool Italian evenings when the chilly air was supposed to breeze in from the Alps. Instead I rummaged through my suitcase for sleeveless shirts and took cold showers just before hopping into bed, hoping to stay cool until I fell asleep.

After spending the hottest day of my week touring a villa, walking up steep cobblestone streets and sitting on the sunny deck of a ferry, I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy for my late afternoon cooking class and dinner afterward. I thought living in Florida should have made me better able to cope, but I don’t think I’d ever felt so hot.

As I walked into the Gusto Italiano kitchen for my class, the back door was flung open and the ever-present oscillating fan was perched on a tall counter beside a clock crafted from cutlery.

pasta noodles in Italian kitchenI stood for the next four hours, rolling pasta dough and cutting it into noodles. I sliced crusty bread and chopped tomatoes for bruschetta. I beat custard and dipped ladyfingers in a cocoa and coffee mixture and laid them in a pan for tiramisu.

Cooking class in an Italian kitchenI thought I would wilt after the first hour as my fellow chefs in training and I traded places with each other in the tiny kitchen. But I revived when Mama Italiano {the mother of our cooking instructor} breezed in with her exuberant energy to season our bruschetta and stir up the sauce for our pasta. She looked cool and unruffled as she complimented our efforts and directed us out to the terrace.

Rolling Pasta in the Italian kitchenI finally sat down with a glass of wine and a plate of spinach ravioli that I’d helped create. Although there was no hint of a breeze, lively conversation circulated around the table that sultry evening and I couldn’t imagine a more authentic and enchanting night in Italy than that one.

group dinner in italyAs my head hit the pillow that night in my hotel room with the oscillating fan lulling me to sleep, I dreamed of my air-conditioned home in Florida. I felt a little exhilarated for I’d survived – maybe even thrived – during a week of sweltering temperatures without the comforts I thought I couldn’t live without.

And I realized that week in Italy that maybe I beat the heat after all.

Valerie Sisco writes the blog Grace with Silk. She lives in Orlando, Florida, where she’s dreaming of her next travel adventure. Follow her journeys via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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