I noticed the change on Saturday, a full forty-eight hours before it began. As I went on my morning walk with a prescription in my hand, each of the half dozen pharmacies I passed displayed a “closed” sign. On Monday, two vacant parking places waited directly in front of my building’s front door. Another one invited a car to enter just two spaces down. Usually people circle for some time before they find a spot.
And then I remembered; it was August 1; Italy had closed for the month.
Americans find it difficult to understand that businesses close their doors for vacation. But here, most people prefer to spend their free time in the summer when the weather is warm. Some businesses require their employees to take the time off even if they would prefer another time. So in August, most people flee to the beaches or the mountains, both abundant in Italy, or even to some exotic location like the Red Sea or the Seychelles or Las Vegas.
Over the weekend, and even Monday morning, I noticed police cars parked all along the Tuscolana, the major thoroughfare near my home. They were keeping traffic moving, sending double parkers scurrying to get out of the way of the hoards of cars on their ways out of town.
It’s like that everywhere. At the local market, where there are approximately sixty stalls, about two-thirds have closed, many for the entire month. Those that aren’t taking all of August are taking time to include August 15—ferragosto, arguably Italy’s favorite holiday.
People begin saying Buone Vacanze by the end of May to make sure that they wish you well before you depart. You have about a month of small talk because people talk about where they’re going beforehand and what they did afterwards.
The pharmacies have posted notices for all the stores in the area. Their closures are timed to make sure that some are always open. The shoe shop, the jewelry store, the computer repair shop, even the realtor. All have signs up warning you not to expect to find them there during le vacanze.
My friendly neighborhood drycleaner (pictured below) has had her sign up for a couple of weeks. She’s closing shop on Friday. But now, she’s working overtime and has enlisted the help of her daughter to make sure all her customers have their clothes ready for vacation.
And I must admit that I’m getting into the spirit by squeezing in a two-week visit to the U.S. between ferragosto and Labor Day. I’m going to do some book signings, meet with other mystery writers, visit my mother, attend a mystery writers conference, and spend a couple of days in the mountains. When I get back, I’ll need a vacation.