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If you’ve ever been in Italy during the summer months, you’ve undoubtedly noticed those foreboding signs posted up in nearly every shop window–the ones that say “Chiuso per Ferie/Closed for Vacation.” Welcome to Italy in August–the shittiest or the best month of the year, depending on where you fall on the socio-economic spectrum.
So what’s all this ferie business about, anyway? Well, listen up America, because Italy has got this one right. Every year, Italians take their paid 3 weeks of vacation time sometime during the month of August, or more specifically, around the 15th/16th of the month which is known as Ferragosto. Because it’s hotter than a witch’s tit in the summer here (especially in the cities), almost everybody hightails it out of town and hits the seaside during August. Despite the massive traffic jams on the way out of town, it’s the one time of year where most people expect you to do nothing but sit on your butt eating fresh watermelon and seafood and turn an abnormal Oompa-Loompa shade of tan.
Unless you’re one of the unlucky ones who have to work throughout the summer like me, obviously. In which case you’ll be shut up inside your air-conditionless house until you have to go to work at the bar, serving cocktail pitchers until 3 in the morning to drunk, obnoxious Australians who roll into town on their Contiki tour buses. Don’t worry, I’m not bitter or anything (can you SMELL the sarcasm through your computer screen??).
However, I will say that Ferragosto is actually one of my favorite times of the year due to the massive drop in population in the city center. Despite the fact that it’s almost impossible to get anything done during August since no one is working, I still harbor a secret nostalgia for this time of year that has kept me in Florence for a record-breaking 7 summers in a row. I very rarely take my vacation time during August for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s one of the busiest times of year for tourists (and therefore very easy to make money) but more importantly because summer in Italy is one of my favorite times of year.
Even as a kid, summertime was the one period of the year I looked forward to the most, where the biggest obstacle in my life was figuring out which flavor of popsicle to eat that morning for breakfast and where I was going to ride my bike that afternoon. Italian summers are no different–because I usually spend my summers doing odd jobs (i.e. bartending or waitressing) it means that I have my days free to indulge in whatever my heart desires, whether that’s meeting up for a leisurely lunch with old friends, impromptu barbeques on someone’s terrace, taking long walks along the Arno with Zola, and so on. Because my school year is usually so hectic with work trips and late nights at the office, Ferragosto reminds me to slow down and enjoy the things you can only do during lazy summer days, like drinking prosecco at noon or watching an entire season of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix (yes, these are my summer priorities and I’m sticking to them).
So if you’re planning a summer vacation to Italy or you already happen to be here during Ferragosto, don’t panic at the thought of all those “Closed for Vacation” signs. There are still plenty of beautiful little alleyways to stroll down, and that cafe around the corner will still be open in the morning so you can sit down, read the paper and enjoy an iced coffee before escaping to an air-conditioned museum or the cool enclaves of the nearest church. And if you’re lucky, you might just get a glimpse of that bella vita vibe that makes Italy so irresistible.