Folks in our town often have an interesting mentality. Hint: sometimes antiquated, backward, impractical, and unrealistic. Which often comes as a surprise to us. Because they are in many ways a practical and down-to-earth people. This probably stems from Italy’s odd mix of old and new. An ancient land of timeless monuments, producing the Ferrari, the Lamborghini, and the world’s latest fashions. And while proud of these achievements, Italians love and tenaciously cling to their traditions.
Like with their love of fireplaces. It’s not just that they love them, as many people do. But they have totally convinced themselves that the fireplace heats their home. And back when homes first had them, they probably did. A home with a fireplace does stay warmer than one with no heat, for sure.
But by our modern-day standards, fireplaces don’t heat houses! Perhaps we’ve just become too spoiled and pampered. But I for one, like a certain amount of comfort. Especially warmth!
Most homes in our town have a fireplace, and they keep it burning all winter.
As an ESL (English as a second language) teacher, my husband goes into many student’s homes – to sit and shiver. And when he keeps his coat on, inevitably gets asked, “Don’t tell me you’re cold! We’ve got the fire going!” As though it were the height of modern heating!
We all know fireplaces warm only what’s right next to them. Snuggle up to them, and you’ll get warm — on one side! But nothing will convince these dear folk that fireplaces don’t heat. Or that, though enjoyable, are terrible money-wasters!
Our neighbors just got a new pile of firewood. Which, according to Hubby, will last about 10 days. Wow! €160 for only ten days! And that’s not all. They also turn the central heat on in the evening, to warm the bedrooms. That’s a lot of money trying to keep warm! Trying, because their house is never really warm.
Which is why I’m so grateful for our pellet stove. Our old house (between 200-250 years old) has never had a heating system. The elderly man who lived here also roasted himself, one side at a time, by the fire.
But we like heat. Staying warm, and spending little is one of our priorities! Our little stove was both cheaper and easier to install than central heating. And since pellets are actually the cheapest way to heat here in Italy, we usually only spend around €400 per winter. But unlike our neighbors, have a truly warm house!! Plus they’re ecological — and that warms my heart as well!
But back to our paesani (townsfolk)…
Most of them still stick to their fireplaces. Even after seeing how much warmer our house is and how little we spend. They still respond, “Ah, but the fireplace… it’s wonderful!” Especially the older folks, who say it keeps them company. And I get that, as it does give them something to tend to. But I think it’s more a matter of nostalgia, taking them back to childhood memories and good times. While also keeping age long family traditions alive.
But is tradition worth it? When it costs a fortune and isn’t really working?
That’s not a mentality I really understand. I certainly don’t plan to freeze, if I can help it. We were always too cold in our early years here, and I love our new warmth!
Yet, don’t we all cling to tradition in some ways?
Like cooking our favorite meals over and over, or always buying the same brands. Or our own family’s tradition of pasta with red sauce every Sunday. In these little ways, tradition can bring ease and/or comfort.
But sitting around cold, simply because it’s “what we’ve always done”? Or refusing to abandon harmful old wives’ tales like “don’t get any fresh air at all when you’re sick.” These seem senseless, and sometimes even unwise.
Tradition, while lovely and enriching, can also steal our wonder.
Each new day is different. And if we but look for it, each has something beautiful and special to offer, as Thomas Merton reminds us. And this can lift us up and beyond the problems of this old world. Which certainly aren’t lacking these days, aren’t they?
By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet. (Thomas Merton, American Catholic writer and theologian)
I certainly don’t want to miss all that! Do you?