Thursday, 23 August 2007

Fuoco and Scirocco- the wrath of mother nature...Fires and African winds

It was going to be my day off today however mother nature had different plans for me.

The island of Sicily has been hit by the dreaded scirocco which have in turn done nothing to held the forest fires across the island.

Let me explain what the scirocco is, as before living in Sicily I had never experienced these winds. The scirocco is the southeasterly to southwesterly wind over the Mediterranean Sea originating from North Africa. The winds come from the desert and vary in strength. Often we get mild dust and sand storms - the sand literally being blown from Africa to here.

The worst thing about the scirocco is that you know it's coming. It's a bit like the calm before the storm when all you want to do is runaway and hide (preferably in an air conditioned place.) The skies become hazy, you can no longer see Mt Etna which is normally looming in the background. An oppressive blanket like heat spreads over the town, and people will go a little crazy. It's true! We have had 2 scirocco periods since I have been here. Mostly they last a few days, but last time it was close to a week and was unbearable. It reached 54 degrees at one stage, however mostly the week was in the mid to high 40s. I was working at the airport that day, welcoming guests to Sicily and what a sight I made.

The poor English guests were horrified when they saw me, with sweat dripping off every part of my body, my hair plastered to my face as I tried to smile. This was when we were in the air conditioned airport. We stepped outside into the gale force scirocco winds as I escorted them into our oven like bus.

'Sorry about the heat in the bus,' I said, wiping more sweat and dirt from my brow. 'The bus has been sitting here in 45 degree heat for a few hours, but hopefully it should cool down soon.'

'What do you mean 45 degree heat?' one slightly overweight and terribly white lady asked me.

I gave a little lighthearted laugh when really I wanted to scream. 'Well it is summer time, in Sicily and at the moment we are experiencing severe weather conditions. It was 43 at 9am this morning, and now it is 45 degrees, and will most probably get a little warmer as the day progresses.' I could not resist saying this last part. And sure enough as these words escaped my lips the customers faces, all pink and sweaty from the heat turned white.

English people, as I have learnt, do not like to cause a scene, they do not like to make a fuss, and they do not like to research their holiday destination. (sorry to all my nice English friends - this is just my customers I am talking about...not all English people.)

But back to the present day, and the scirocco heat. It is here again, and now there are fires raging in Sicily, but due to the winds the planes cannot collect water to drop on the fire. The roads were blocked, and lots of people have been evacuated from their homes. This morning my colleague Luisa drove to Cefalu as we have many customers in a hotel that has been evacuated. She has reported back that they are all fine, but the fires however are still burning.

We are hoping that this scirocco will blow back to Africa.

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