I recently visited the States for a late summer holiday. Upon my return, the weather had cooled off slightly here in Madrid -- from the early-September temperature of around 33 degrees Celsius (91degrees Fahrenheit) to around 27 degrees Celsius.
Still warm and sunny! But in Spanish weather terms, we’ve suddenly gone from Jamaica to Siberia.
As I walked through the airport last week, I saw the first signs: Closed-toed shoes, jackets, scarves, proclamations of “Hace fresquito, ¿eh?”
When I turned onto my street, sweating as I dragged my suitcase behind me, I saw it – the true sign that autumn and/or the apocalypse is nigh – a woman wearing a fur coat.
In mid-September. In Madrid.
I have learned over the years that Spanish clothing is not dictated by the temperature, but by the calendar. If there is an unseasonably hot day in March? Doesn’t matter. Keep that coat buttoned. It’s a fluke. It’s not spring yet.
There’s even the Spanish saying: “Hasta el cuarenta de mayo no te quites el sayo.” (Loosely translated as “Don’t take your heavy coat off until the 40th of May.”)
Photo taken in Plaza de España, MadridThis little refrain refers to the ‘unpredictability’ of Spain’s weather, which just goes to show that it’s all relative. Right now the Brits and Americans are saying: “What unpredictability? It’s hot and sunny from April through October! It’s one of the reasons we live here!”
(And yes, I know Madrid is cooler in the autumn and winter than the coast, but I come from western Pennsylvania. We know cold. I once told my Spanish flatmates about the many fun ‘snow days’ I had as a child, when school was cancelled due to a blizzard and us kids spent the day sled riding. They laughed and said that they thought such things only happened on ‘Los Simpson’, not in real life.)
Just last March, a friend and I saw the by-the-calendar clothing phenomenon in action as we walked through Plaza Santa Ana, where a few tables had been set out in the early spring sunshine. It was the epitome of stereotypes: four Englishmen were seated at a table -- obviously on holiday -- dressed in t-shirts, flip-flops and sunglasses, sipping their cold beers. Seated next to them? Three elderly Spanish women, each in a fluffy fur coat and thick tights and sipping a café con leche.
In some Spanish apartment buildings, the heating is controlled by one main unit rather than in each individual flat. And often the Powers That Be do not turn on the heat until 1 November as a matter of principle. It doesn’t matter if the end of October is suddenly frigid – throw an extra duvet on the bed and wait it out.
As much as I may giggle at the fur coats in the blazing sun, I learned on my recent holiday in the States that I’M BECOMING ONE OF THEM.
After sweating through one of the longest, hottest summers in recent memory here in Madrid and growing used to life with no air-conditioner, I was perpetually FREEZING in my mother’s air-conditioned home in the States for 10 straight days. She kept looking at me oddly as I curled up on the sofa with a blanket, commenting that my “blood sure has thinned since moving over there...”, as I zipped my hoodie a little higher.
The thermostat was set at 23 degrees Celsius.
Kristen Bernardi / Expatica
Kristen Bernardi is an American journalist living in Madrid. She has contributed to various travel publications including Fodor's, TimeOut, The Insider's Guide, Spain Magazine and InMadrid, and most recently assisted in 2008 Spanish presidential election coverage for CNN International. She is on a constant search for the perfect tortilla española, and will consider returning to US soil once the Pittsburgh Pirates make the World Series. Kristen writes a blog, Oye, rubia, on a wide range of topics for Expatica on fortnightly Fridays.
Photo credit: cesarastudillo