The four seasons on Lake Como are very pronounced each with distinctive climatic features, but also with marked changes in the social environment. Actually the social calendar is more predictably seasonal these days than the climatic one. This is why I am going to characterise the four very different periods in the year by each of their predominant social features. For September this is undoubtedly the so-called ‘rientro’ or the Italian return home from summer holidays.
Back in the 1980s and 90s, bourgeois Italian families from Como and particularly those living in the hot and humid Pianura Padana, e.g. Milan, would spend July and August either by the sea or in the mountains or both. The breadwinner of the family would continue to work in July and join the rest of the family at weekends. Then he or she, normally ‘he’, would join the others for a four week break in August. Workers would also be on a long holiday in August since almost all factories would close for the entire month. The northern cities would be deserted with most supermarkets and other shops remaining firmly shut. The poor and infirm were left to swelter in the heat and to check the newspapers for information on where to find an open supermarket or chemist. Modern economic pressures, and the need also to provide services for foreign tourists, have moderated this pattern but the ‘rientro’ is still a palpable reality.
One cannot deny that the ‘rientro’ does coincide with a climatic change – September heralds cooler evenings and a reduction in the scorching temperatures of high summer making outdoor life even more pleasurable in the continued sun and reduced humidity. However businesses have to restart, commuters must return to getting up early to go out and make a living. Students and schoolchildren must prepare for the new academic year. Domestic routines reassume their regular pattern.
But memories of summer remain – work colleagues, friends or family members greeting each other after the summer break have stories to tell and recommendations or warnings to make about where they stayed, what they saw and what they ate.
Commuters might need to make some initial adjustments to routine since the train and bus companies use this period to introduce timetable changes. In the past, road resurfacing, best done under hot conditions, would be crammed into the early weeks of September as soon as the workers returned from holiday. The ensuing confusion on the roads made for a brutal return to work for many. However nowadays, much of this work has already been done by those constrained to work throughout the summer. In the past, supermarkets found September the best time to push up prices assuming that many people may have forgotten what the original prices were before the holiday break. All in all, the rientro was often a brutal return to full immersion reality.
Como itself sees some specific changes at this time of year. The number of music festivals or other events intended for visitors begin to tail off. As you will see in our Musical Events section, popular classical music festivals such as the Bellagio and Lake Como Festival wind down. The Comune’s excellent jazz initiative ‘Como Summer Festival’ comes to an end. Instead the Teatro Sociale starts its ‘Notte’ season of operas and its chamber music sessions on Sunday mornings, both of which are of course of interest to residents and visitors alike. But events like the celebration of the local patron saint, the Fiera di Sant’Abbondio, or the associated inter-commune competition and folklore festival, the Palio del Baradello, are certainly of interest to all but have a distinctly local element to them.
Villa Erba in Cernobbio hosts the very popular horticultural show, Orticolario, at the start of October – directed at committed local gardeners. This exhibition space focuses more on international business later in the year.
Also in Cernobbio, the luxury hotel, Villa D’Este (see our article on its famous crime of passion after the last war) turns its focus from wealthy tourists to local and international politicians and business men by hosting the annual Ambrosetti Forum. It in turn will later go into hibernation closing its doors on all except maintenance staff. Back in Como instead, parents can encourage their children and young adults to attend Gioventù 2018 to learn more about the various after school activities available to them over the coming scholastic year. Sporting organisations such as Canottieri Lario go out to recruit young people onto their CAS (Centro di Avviamento allo Sport) courses.
Institutes and individuals are actively looking to recruit adults and youngsters onto cookery or dance classes, fitness sessions, or the full range of artistic courses ranging from photography to art renovation. As an example, Ester Negretti, one of our featured artists, offers personal art classes whilst the Teatro Sociale in addition to their acting and dance classes will also run a series of courses on theatrical administration this year.
The hotels are of course all still open and visitors remain most welcome. With the changing demographics now in the developed world, there is now a discernible trend for more elderly visitors to travel after the end of August. The prices are cheaper, the weather is still good and the streets, bars and restaurants are less crowded. The foursome of beautiful lake villas and gardens (Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo, Villa Melzo at Bellagio ,Villa Monastero at Varenna and the iconic Villa del Balbianello at Lenno) are all still open to the public. The hotels will later decide whether to hibernate or put their faith in initiatives like the Noir Festival to maintain sufficient clients during the cold damp days of winter.
The rientro used to be when some of the best Italian grapes were available but now they are on offer throughout the summer. Como’s vineyards are long gone but just over the border there are still many merlot vines and Mendrisio (a short train ride away) marks the harvest every year with the so-called Sagra del Borgo – a celebration of wine, food and music in the medieval streets of the town’s centre. However the main seasonal bonuses are wild mushrooms delightfully displayed in the covered market although nowadays they are as likely to be stocked from Romania as from the Valtellina. The ‘baita’ or ‘rifugi’ up in the mountains have been offering polenta dishes throughout the summer but now at least, the cooler weather makes them more palatable – but be aware that many of these mountain restaurants may only open at the weekends now that the high season has passed.
So how can we summarise this distinct but paradoxically nebulous change of season? The climate at the start of September doesn’t change as dramatically as do social behaviours. Its slight moderation may even increase outdoor activities. However, in the same way as climate change is prolonging summer and shortening autumn, economic pressures are reducing the clear distinction between leisure and work that characterised the rientro in the recent past. But there is still a distinctive communal atmosphere at this time of year marked perhaps by the return to ‘home’ and the accompanying renewal of domestic rituals and responsibilities. This contrast may be that bit more acute in Como due to the presence of both tourism and manufacturing industry here. Manufacturing tends naturally to be relegated during the summer months whilst tourism in turn goes into hibernation over the winter – more of that after All Saints’ Day which marks for me the end of the Rientro.