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Escaping the ‘afa’ – head to the beach

It’s another scorching hot week here in Italy, and with temperatures in and around 37° throughout Emilia-Romagna and northern Italy, one word that you’ll see constantly referred to is ‘afa’.

The city centres get oppresively hot when the afa kicks in

The city centres get oppresively hot when the afa kicks in

There are lots of different etymological theories relating to the term ‘afa’. One is that it derives from the greek ‘apto’ via the late latin term ‘hapha’, which means to touch or to take. The etymology towards its current meaning is more than a bit complicated – it’s suggested that hapha was used as the term for the powder which wrestlers used on their hands in order to gain a grip against their oiled opponents. From there it becomes a dust in the air, and from there an unbreathable air.

The second theory suggests it comes from the latin ‘apha’, borrowed by the greeks as aphe’, and meaning accendere or to light (as in a fire or match). So afa becomes air that is charged or lit.

The word, since the 1500’s, though has a clear and fairly precise meaning now: heat-related boredom, oppression, and discomfort.  It refers to that special heat that occurs in the cities of Northern Italy, in the po valley, where the air gets trapped between the Alps and the Appenines. The geographic conditions create a subtropical humid climate which, when heatwaves like the current one occur mean that temperatures rise to the high 30s with oppresive levels of humidity.

It’s the sort of heat that makes it impossible to enjoy the clear blue skies and sunshine, and is one of the main reasons that historically the Italians flood out of inland cities during August.

The only certain cure for the afa is to head to the beach

The only certain cure for the afa is to head to the beach

So, what’s the top tip to escape the ‘afa’? You guessed it – head to the coast, where cool winds blow in from the Adriatic and where you can take a dive into the sea.  For example, if you’re in Bologna, sweating in 38 degree heat – trampling around the city trying to find a bar or restaurant that’s open – why not just hop on one of the regular air-conditioned trains to Rimini. It’s only an hour and a half away (ticket approx €6), and within ten minutes of arrival at the station you can be bathing in the Adriatic, or sipping a mojito on the beach (there’s an embarassment of choice in terms of bars/restaurants here).

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