We were sitting eating chocolate fondant - of all things - at a cosy enoteca in Bologna when it happened. I managed to tear my face away from the plate of gooey chocolatey mess and I saw bits of snow drifting past the window in determined, impatient flurries. It wasn't sleet or hail or anything like that. These were proper snowflakes - the kind that stay on your nose and eyelashes - the kind that whip themselves up into determined, impatient flurries and fall so thickly from the sky it's almost alarming. I was stopped in my tracks, the fork of cake frozen in the air. Sure, it was cold outside, and we had donned beanies in the morning as we left Ravenna and her lovely Byzantine mosaics behind, but it wasn't that cold. Doesn't it have to be freezing to snow? Well, what would a girl from Paddington, Sydney, know about all that.
We ran out of the restaurant and onto the street, joined by hundreds of other people who, only moments before, had been taking touristy photos in Bologna's main square - posing by the mermaid fountain, perhaps, or pulling open the old door to the cathedral for a glimpse at the vaulted ceilings, the famous Foucault pendulum. But those people had abandoned those pursuits - just as we had abandoned lunch - at the sight of snow falling so thickly, so determinedly, so impatiently onto the square. It was a sight I wasn't quite prepared for in Italy. Sure, in Austria, where they have (as Maria sung so beautifully!) silver white winters. Sure, in Germany. Sure, even in Paris, which, as the fashionistas have discovered, can turn on 'la neige' like it's nobody's business. But in Italy? She of the pizza and the seafood and the late lunches that turn into early dinners? She of the tomatoes and the basil? She of the perennial ballet slipper and flippy skirt a la Audrey in Roman Holiday? Who would have thought it. And certainly this wasn't the kind of serious snow that you get in Austria, or Germany, or even Paris, but boy was it it determined, and impatient, and oh so beautiful.
In preparation for our trip to Vienna - which I have never visited before and I am loving right now!! - I had read Graham Greene's novella The Third Man. The people I am with are big cinema buffs and they love the film version starring Orson Welles that Greene wrote the screenplay for. I wish I had seen that coming into Vienna too, but the book has been enough. One of Greene's earliest descriptions of Vienna recounted the "thin, patient snow" that covered the city throughout winter. Maybe snow in Vienna is a little more well-behaved than in Italy. Because this snow in Bologna was neither thin nor patient. It was excitable, ebullient, giddy as a schoolgirl (somewhat like me, actually, in the snow). It brought smiles to the faces of everyone in that square, everyone in the courtyard of the library - once the site of the world's oldest university - where we sought shelter, shivering and wet but with grins that covered our faces. It was like a treat that you don't deserve, a gift that you don't expect, something that comes up unexpectedly that takes your breath away. After what seemed like hours prancing about and taking photos and trying to catch flakes in our hands ("this is the kind of snow that makes you fall in love with winter," my friend said) we ran back to the car and thawed out. Boy it was cold, and we were cold. But that determined, definitely not patient snow was so worth it.