In Florence, it’s pretty customary to get hit with air when the seasons change. Don’t talk to me about viruses and bacteria. After a decade of getting hit with air when the wind shifts slightly, I can attest under oath to the fact that the Italian phenomenon il colpo d’aria is real. Before I opened my eyes this morning, I felt the tell-tale burning in my throat and said a little prayer to Saint Sebastian, the patron saints of plagues, that this had better not be one of those exotic varieties carried in on the winds across the Mediterranean.
Bundled up in a scarf, even though it was 65 degrees outside, I was determined that the air would not hit me again. Lest I be so careless a second time! I was determined to find a cure.
Entering the market, I vaulted myself over the crowd which had assembled 3 people deep around a deli counter at Sant’Ambrogio to grab the precious number from the holy wheel. Lucky number 12, I watched with great amusement as the family of four sliced crumbling cheese, scooped cloudy honey, wrapped hunks of bread in paper bags, and weighed heaping mounds of fresh pasta. It was a symphony. 10 . . 11. . . 12. “Io sono qui!” I yelled quickly waving my little golden ticket like Charlie Bucket. “Dimi,” she said as she danced lightly to my section of the counter. Preposition pronoun combinations already calculated in my head, I wished her a good morning and asked for a small packet of spicy Sicilian olives to drain my head, Tuscan ribollita soup because I can’t get it right in my own kitchen, and some soup with farro for lunch tomorrow because I’m lazy on Sundays and yours is so good. Rather than turn to grab a spoon, she clapped. Full on applause and a “brava.” As I realized what was happening, I ducked into the many folds of my scarf, and turned the color of a tomato. Her unwavering smile got the best of me. Mumbling “f it, why not since everyone is already staring?”, into my gargantuan scarf, and I took a little bow, causing the guy next to me to laugh and clap along. She remarked that she didn’t mean to make me turn red, it’s just that most Americans bark at her in English every day and she doesn’t know English. “No problem, really,” I responded sheepishly. “This is Italy, I should be speaking Italian. But I really appreciate it.” While I associate ovations and shouts of “brava” with the moment when the soprano comes to the stage for her final curtain call at Teatro Verdi, this alto got a standing ovation at the olive counter.
On the way home, I walked through a French market. These visitors from over the alps peddled craggy mountains of soap from Marseilles and overflowing baskets of faded purple lavender which was spilling into the pigeon filled Florentine piazza. There were endless rows of macarons in colors that I didn’t know existed. It was impossible to decide, so I stood there mesmerized like a little kid making the biggest decision of her life. The apricot macaron looked like a little sun. That’s the one. I asked the attendant, “how do you say it in French? If I say mac-rone it sounds like I’m asking for the French Prime Minister, and I don’t think he’s going to fit in that tiny bag you are holding.” She laughed, “I’m Italian, I don’t know either.” “We probably just need to use our noses, or we can just call them biscotti.” An ephemeral biscotti.
In the States when I get sick, I go to CVS. I’m lucky if I can get the cashier to say hello, while I dig for the ID that I have to show to buy expensive poison that will probably kill me while it drains my head. In Italy I might get hit by mysterious, cruel air, but who needs CVS when you can cure yourself with a bag of crispy Sicilian olives as green as the sun scorched fields of volcanic earth that bore them and a delicate pig pink bag containing my own little sun filled with apricot jelly that tastes like the first warm day of spring. If the day was gray and my throat was on fire, I assure you I didn’t notice. I had found my armor against the air.