Beating The Umbrella Brigade In Northern Italy

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Winter in northern Italy brings about oversized jackets and matching accessories. In fact, the weather doesn’t actually have to be cold—if it’s officially winter by the Gregorian calendar, then it’s time for winter fashions. Winter in Udine was dark, drizzly and cold.

And I mean COLD…! And long… Six long months!

The cobbled streets, charming as they were, became an unflattering dark grey, and the locals matched their clothes accordingly. Yet plenty of colour was to be found: You might imagine that red leather gloves and Burberry scarfs were the must-have accessories brightening up the dreariness, but actually, the streets of Udine became awash with umbrellas of every colour, stampeding and pushing their way forward.

I spent my first winter trying to avoid being poked by these oncoming colours!  And I came to realize that the umbrella was more than just a tool for defending against the rain; it was a dangerous extension of the Udinese will…

But wait, umbrellas are just umbrellas, you say? Please indulge me for a moment while I explain. You see, Udine’s narrow streets don’t allow much room for two umbrellas to pass by seamlessly. So common sense tells us that at some point or another, one passer-by has to bend, extend, lift or change their position entirely to allow for a comfortable transition.

Well, I was always the ‘give-way-er!’ Why wouldn’t anyone else give way? Surely, one glimpse at this mother fumbling, sidestepping and zigzagging along the cobbled streets (charming as they were) while holding an umbrella and a pram would have raised some pity from on-coming foot traffic, right? Not so. Grrrrr…!

By mid-winter, I was well aware of the implicit control that locals have on the streets of Udine, and I decided that I would not yield to the pressure to give-way. So I started to walk like the locals do – steadfast, silent and direct, with little emotion on my face. My umbrella was an embodiment of my inner-strength, and with it I could exert my own brand of attitude and defiance.

One particular umbrella showdown must have really affected me because I wrote about it in my diary: One day, I was walking towards a young man who was well dressed and looking well beyond me. I, though, decided to be equally unbending and ruthless. As we got closer and closer, his upright gaze did not alter. In fact, I could have been wearing a green leprechaun suit and dancing the Macarena and he still probably wouldn’t have flinched! Anyway, with only seconds until contact, I succumbed and bent my umbrella sideways.

Damn! The man hadn’t missed a step or tilted his umbrella in the slightest! What, did he think he was a New Yorker strutting down Wall Street?

Oh well.  Besides, delicious smells from a nearby pasticceria provided some comfort from narrowly losing my eyes during an umbrella collision.

By the end of winter I realized that I would never be a true local until I learnt to hold an umbrella with conviction. My lack of umbrella prowess made me stand out like a blonde-haired Aussie during a game of briscola for the over 60s. But perhaps developing critical umbrella survival skills only comes when feeling comfortable in one’s environment…

Hmmm, looking back, who would have thought that an umbrella could reveal so much?

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