Thursday, February 05, 2009

The First Snow


When I was a student in Rome the Michaelmas term ended on 29th December, the Feast of St Thomas a Becket, to whom the college church is dedicated. You could leave after the formal lunch and had to be back for Morning Prayer on the first day of lectures in the New Year. I sometimes used to go to stay with a family in Padua. After one such enjoyable break I caught the train at 11.00am the day before classes resumed in order arrive back at the Venerabile in the early evening. Of course I hadn't reckoned on the effects of snow in Italy. What should have been a straightforward trip turned into something of a nightmare. Progress was at a snail's pace, one passenger snapped and jumped off the train, another was escorted off by the police. In my compartment there was a very nice family from the US but their little daughter was freaked out by the sight of soldiers in uniform on the train (presumably returning to their barracks): "I can't stand it mommy. I keep thinking it's the Russians coming to arrest the Americans" - these were the days of the Cold War!
Eventually we got as far as Settebagni some way outside Rome and it was announced that the train would be going no further but that they had laid on buses to take us to Termini. By now it was the early hours of the morning. Eventually I got back to the College triumphant in the knowledge that I still had a couple of minutes before the start of Morning Prayer. I left my bags in the Salone and went straight to the Martyrs' Chapel. It was empty. I waited. Checked my watch. Waited. Nothing. So I went upstairs to check the noticeboard.
A large notice from the Rector announced that it was 'Prima Nix' - the First Snow and reminded us that the custom was for everything to be cancelled on the first day of snow in Rome - including Greg lectures.
When we got up at Wonersh on Monday morning there was almost a foot of snow on the ground and I asked the students about Prima Nix. 'No, it doesn't apply here', they said sadly. I thought that somewhat unexciting. Later, however, I heard that the philosophy class had been held in the snow and that, since most profs couldn't get there, classes had to be cancelled anyway.
Fortunately the seminarians were able to make good use of their time...


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