Being in fieldwork in Italy during the winter enters you into a different world. The town is quieter and most of the hotels and restaurants are closed. This year we arrived at the end of an unusually late Indian summer that had continued until mid-November. Even if the clouds started to circulate around us almost immediately, Week 1 was relatively warm, even if the rain during the night between Wednesday and Thursday meant that the long grass was wet and we went through a couple of pairs of socks while mapping. The storm winds began to blow on Friday evening and on Saturday the rain was heavy and the clouds hang low. Sunday was suddenly bright and sunny but bitterly cold in comparison. The Italian winter has finally arrived.
Because it is winter, our small group that had diminished from three to two at the last moment flew to Rome and made the long drive from Rome to Volterra. When one is normally Rome-based or works near Rome, it is easy to forget how long the distances are and how long a 50 kilometres really can be in time in the countryside. Optimistically, I planned to fetch some minor necessities from the Finnish Institute and make a fleeting visit to the Swedish Institute to see a colleague who will spend the winter in Rome as a storstipendiat and exchange a couple of words with the director Kristian Göransson. This looked fine on paper but turned out to be slightly more complicated.
Getting the hired car took longer than expected, since their new software did not function particularly well and we had to start from the beginning. Then the car was not parked in the spot advertised and I had to go round the garage to find the correct register plate. We had a GPS in the car, but it seems to have a mind of its own, avoiding the most obvious routes along the big roads and we were invited to a scenic tour of the lesser roads along Via Portuense from the Nuova Fiera di Roma onwards. The roads got narrower, the bumps and holes got bigger and we hit a roadwork as well. Then suddenly, we came to the Via Aurelia and found ourselves from the western side of the Vatican. We managed to get to Villa Lante but decided that I went in and grab what was needed while my assistant guarded the car and then we moved to the Swedish Institute as soon as possible.
I had sent an email to the secretary without knowing that the institute had been without Internet and telephone connection for several days. The financial administrator was puzzled when I suddenly turned up and ran up the stairs towards the attic and came back my hands full of graph paper, drawing board and other smaller items. The director said welcome, but I could only say that actually, I am going now. Only the secretary was left nodding that I had actually informed them about my sudden and short visit.
The drive to Valle Giulia had been painless unless the GPS had wanted us to turn to the other side of the Tiber and take some mysterious route there. We did switch it off in the end. At the Swedish Institute everything went smoothly, we discussed with the director and his wife before having a coffee with our colleague. Then it was getting dark and we started the drive up north.
The GPS continued to torment us by wanting to take every single exit out of the toll road from Rome to Orvieto when we finally snapped. My assistant read the paper map and defined the exit we needed for Volterra and we had an easy drive with relatively little traffic. Naturally, the cash toll point closed exactly when we hit the toll area, but we were soon out and on our way towards Siena. Now the GPS was priceless in the many roundabouts around Siena and the windy road to Volterra. I drove and the assistant warned me of the crossings and turns to come on the long, dark drive. Of course, everything was closed when we arrived, but at least we got to our hotels. It takes five hours to drive – no matter any map service says.
After three intensive days on site we hit the road again in order to meet the sick funzionaria at her office and learned more about the quirks of our GPS. It seemed to take original view to routing, but at least we took the historical road to Florence. However, it seemed not to take into consideration the ZTLs, the areas of restricted driving and parking, so we found ourselves in the historic centre with a big car. Finding a parking spot after escaping the ZTL was far from easy, so we started an unsure hike through the centre. At least the trip was worthwhile and we could have a tasty lunch and spend a little time passing the Duomo and Uffizi.
Now we wait Week 2 at the mercy of the weather. Apparently, we will be flooded on Monday, a day that may be spent making courtesy visits, but the midweek should be better. Will we get all done? We will know in seven days.