The thermometer reached unspeakable temperatures and Italy has been sweating hard. Watermelon sales sky rocketed: the ruby and green fruit is the ultimate Italian way to get rid of the heat. That, and air conditioning, of course.

But, alas, il Bel Paese and its people are well used to high temperatures, especially this time of the year, and there is a beautiful little word to define this specific type of all-Mediterranean heat, the one coming with a side of early afternoon stillness and the sound of cicadas lulling you into a light, yet necessary post-lunch rest.

We call it canicola (cah-nee-coh-lah). While we commonly use the word to refer to the Summer heat, the term actually indicates the period when high temperatures are reached.

This little difference in meaning is explained by the very etymology of the word. Canicola comes from the Latin canicula, which means “small dog.”

Canicula was the ancient name of Sirio, the brightest star in the Canis Major constellation. Now, the skies and their eternal movements want that, between the 24th of July and the 26th of August — that is, at the peak of Summer — Sirio rises and sets with the Sun and so its ancient name ended up becoming a synonym with sweltering heat.

Being out and about during the canicola can be dangerous. If you have the luck to live by the sea, however, you may like to slather yourself in sunscreen and jump in the water, because popular knowledge never tires of telling us the best way to beat canicola is to take a cooling swim.

Canicola is uncomfortable, sticky and we all curse it when it arrives. Yet, when the chillier evenings of the Fall reach us and the carefree days of Summer holidays are behind us, we miss it a tiny bit.

No one will be ready to admit it. But we do.

Che caldo insopportabile: il mese della canicola è iniziato!

La temperatura è stata piacevole fino a ieri, poi è scoppiata la canicola. 

I medici consigliano di non stare al sole durante la canicola. 

Doctors advice against sun exposure when it gets really hot.

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