Setting: Your in-laws’ house
Characters: You, your in-laws and the ghosts of their ancestors
Scene: Despite your attempts to cough quietly on the balcony, mamma and papà hear your grave malady. Their ears prick up like deer upon a twig snap. It’s over. Here are all the possible reasons that you might be ill in Italy.
Colpo d’aria (98% chance): This is a phrase that’s used so often that it has lost all meaning. Literally, you’ve been inflicted with a “hit/whack/blow of air” — maybe it’s a chilly breeze, maybe it’s a room temperature waft from a slammed door, maybe it’s a hot gush directly from Mount Vesuvio. Whatever it is, it’s bad, and you’ve got it. Headache? Colpo d’aria. Sore neck? Colpo d’aria. Cough? OBVIOUSLY it’s a colpo d’aria.
Air conditioning (87%): If colpo d’aria has been said too many times and the person isn’t believing it, then it’s the air conditioning’s fault — which is really just another form of colpo d’aria.
Change in weather temperature and/or the transition between seasons (72%): Also a cousin of colpo d’aria.
Not eating enough (70%): I didn’t want another serving of pasta, and I really didn’t want that orange, but it has “Vitamin C, Christina.” My throat hurts and I’m hopped up on cough medicine, so I say “No, grazie,” when I’m offered a glass of wine. “Ti fa bene il vino,” (Wine is good for you) Renzo responds as he takes my glass, dumps the water in the sink, and refills it with red wine.
Eating too much (0.2%): After dinner one evening, I sat myself down on the bed to read and was promptly scolded and sent to pace on the balcony, lest I be hit with indigestion. Either that, or I should have a shot of Il Vecchio Amaro del Capo, a liquor from Calabria, the motherland. Ti fa digerire (it makes you digest) is another common phrase; you can binge on countless foods and drinks if you follow them with other foods and drinks that fa digerire.
Speaking of eating/drinking too much, I had a couple days with a bad stomach ache and needed to find Pepto Bismol’s Italian cousin, Peptino. Unlike the delightfully anonymous aisles of Target or Walgreens, in Italy you have to talk to a nonna about your innermost (literally) secrets and then she might give you something for your woes.
First, I had to be buzzed into the pharmacy (warning sign number one). Then, the nonna stares at me, deeply offended that I want to browse the options on the shelf instead of talk to her. “Tell me what you have and I’ll fix it!” she shouts (or at least it feels like shouting when a few more strangers walk in and they are also silently waiting to know what I “have”).
Public transit (65%): Okay it’s possible, they might concede, that the dozen other people coughing and grabbing onto handrails in the subway car might have infected you.
Smoking (17%): I don’t smoke, but if one did, that would not be the most likely cause of their cough. It could be that when they went outside to smoke, they caught a colpo d’aria. A cousin of an uncle of a grandma once reprimanded me for not eating walnuts after dinner. “But it’s good for your cholesterol!” she protested before going on the stoop to smoke.
When Italians clink glasses, they say “(Alla) salute!” (To your) health.