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True Winter Tales

Hibernal by Paul Mitchell

To celebrate the holidays and give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition, we are presenting seven of our favourite stories from last year's True Winter Tales challenge. 

In today's story, we are taken to Rome during the first snowfall in 45 years.
It was the silence. Every morning for three years, since moving to Rome from Canada, my day had begun with a soundtrack—the screech of rolling shutters as the local shops opened; the chatter of passersby under my windows; the roar of engines as cars ran up my street—a street so narrow that I had to open the door and check for traffic before stepping out into via dei Neofiti.

But on this mid-January morning—silence. Opening the shutters I was confronted with an unbroken blanket of blinding white snow—the first snowfall in Rome in 45 years. I donned my so-far unused winter boots and set off to work along the powder-covered streets that led from my house to one of Rome's main streets—the via dei Fori Imperiali—linking the old Forum and the Roman Coliseum.

The air was bracing and I thought, "Winter, my friend, I have missed you!" Winter was blowing me a brief kiss today. Kicking snow, I remembered childhood winters. This snow was damp, clumping. I reached down and packed a hard snow ball and let it fly. For the first time in more than 2000 years Julius Caesar took one directly to the head. The snow splattered over the statue, cleaner and more transient than the pigeon droppings that were Caesar's daily fare.

Breaking trail as though I confronted a vast wilderness, I walked through the pristine snow-covered ground to my Metropolitana stop. Echoing in the silence, one bus creeped hesitantly along near-empty streets. I was content—the silence, the familiar bouncing glare of snow in bright sun, the crisp air.

As I exited the subway, a single set of footprints led from the Metropolitana and disappeared up the street. The prints left a deep wavy tread in the pristine blanket of snow and I followed them, as if tracking a deer in the wilderness. The trail preceded me through the streets, finally ending at my office building. Now the single track joined the tracks of a small herd heading towards my office building.

Once inside, these transformed to wet boot prints on the marble floor. I followed them to the cafeteria—normally full of morning coffee drinkers—but now almost silent.

One brave lonely barista labored at the espresso machine to produce coffee for the mere handful of people who made it through the historic snowfall. I surveyed the scene—one Finn, one Norwegian, one Swede, one Minnesotan, and one winter-clad person from Northern Michigan. The trail led to my Canadian colleague from Saskatchewan.

"I tracked you from the subway Michael," I said.

"Yes I broke trail coming here," he said proudly and his gaze swept the empty cafeteria. "A snow day," he said. "I never dreamed I would have a snow day in Rome."

Find out more about our creative nonfiction competition.

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