The word bora has its origin in the Greek boreas – north wind. Most Italians would not be able to tell you where Trieste is but when the bora blows Trieste makes the headlines. The wind takes two different Triestine names: the “light bora” (Bora chiara) is bora with clear skies, whereas clouds gathering on the hilltops and moving towards the seaside with rain or snow characterize the “dark bora” (Bora scura). In both cases it is the cold Northeast wind that sweeps down from Slovenia into Trieste and when these gale force winds arrive, it puts Trieste on the Italian map.
The sheer force of the bora gives Triestini certain boasting rights about carrying on life’s activities even when the bora is blowing. And it gives people the opportunity to philosophically declare – yes but the bora cleans the sky. There is a street in Citta Vecchia called Via della Bora. The streets that wind their way up to the Carso are very steep and so steel “cables” were attached to the sides of the buildings to hold onto as the bora can literally knock you off your feet. A bronze wind compass on the Mole Audace displays the names of the Mediterranean winds, Scirocco, Greco, Libeccio, Mistral on their cardinal points, but the Bora is off to the edge of the compass personified as a face expelling a forceful blast of wind.
The bora is so much a part of the self identity of Triestini that for about 15 years now there has been talk of creating a “Bora Museum” in Trieste. I have seen that there is no shortage of great ideas in Trieste. But as in the rest of Italy there does not seem to be any way to push past the suffocating bureaucracy and politics to actually get things done.
In the past year we had very few days of bora and the bora had quite moderate wind speeds – a night of 70-90 km winds and a few days where the wind gusted around 70 km/hour. But this January I experienced the real bora – gale force wind with gusts of 100 plus km/hour lasting over many days.
The bora had been whipping through the trees, picking up leaves and plastic bags carrying them high into the branches of the trees, knocking over parked motorcycles and trash bins for several days. I slept quite sporadically as the wind hit the bedroom windows right on and made the wooden shutters vibrate. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and the roar of the wind kept me from falling asleep again.
I felt restless all day. I walked to my Italian class as usual. There is one point on the Via del Moulino al Vento where the wind was literally pushing me up the hill. I had my coat hood up and tied with a scarf but the hood blew off as I turned a corner. I tried to turn my back to the wind and put the hood back on but the wind was too strong. In class everyone was a bit restless. We were reviewing the lesson on indirect pronouns but we were all making mistakes that we should not have been making and finally the teacher ended the class about 10 minutes early. While I was waiting on the corner for the bus, I stood beside a parked car to shield myself from the wind. The car was actually vibrating from side to side.
That night the weather forecasters predicted wind gusts of 130km/hr tonight with the probability of icy streets and even the possibility of snow. The wind gusted at 156 km per hour over night and still over 130 km in the morning. During the night I heard what I thought was an icy beating on the window, I awoke to the familiar sound of a snowplow scraping the pavement, someone was chipping away at ice on the walkway…..But I am not in Ottawa, I am in Trieste!
I looked out the window and sure enough the ground was covered with a thin coat of icy snow. Train service from Trieste to Pordenone was cancelled because of ice on the electric wires, main streets like la Via Commerciale were icy and closed to traffic, il Commune asked everyone to put salt down in front of their doorways. The bora kept blowing but at my favourite caffe-bar all the regulars were there – the caffe ritual does not stop with the bora!