Back on the site some of our fellow campers seemed genuinely alarmed to hear that we had been going for a daily dip in the sea, as Italians, as a rule, do not dare to take their first dip before June at the very earliest. Yes – It was so very intrepid of us !!! – when some days the temperature had already topped the 30 degrees centigrade mark !!!
What on earth would they make of documentary clips of eccentric Brits taking their annual Christmas morning plunge in the murky, green sea, or of crazy cross-channel swimmers, plastered in goose fat, wading bravely into the icy British waters? It was clear that Italians are just not as hardy a breed as us northerners, and can’t possibly comprehend why we don’t tend to suffer from the cold. In the evenings the Italians would wrap themselves in weighty woollies, to ward off the cool, night air and the treacherous “colpod’aria”.
Yes the “colpo d’aria” is an extraordinary mysterious Italian phenomenon. Literally it translates as a “hit of air” – a treacherous draught that can swiftly strike you down with a nasty chill.
I first came across this phenomenon in my youth when my parents and I visited an aged aunt and cousin at their home in Milan during the dreaded month of August. We found Milan’s steamy, sultry weather to be insupportable, so we threw open up all the windows in an effort to encourage a breath of air to circulate the stifling apartment. “Zia” Filomena, however, was horrified by our actions. Madly waving her arms about, “C’é un corrente !!!” she exclaimed, and swiftly came along behind us, banging both the shutters and windows firmly shut. There followed a fiery argument, which served only to add to the unfavourable ambient temperature. “Zia” was loath to even leave a window slightly ajar, for fear of the potentially fatal consequences. As a result we were left to swelter with the perspiration literally trickling off us. Hence we vowed NEVER to go to Milan again in August !!!
Some Italians, even in the midst of the summer heat also exhibit an aversion to air-conditioning, cooling refreshing fans, or travelling in a car with the windows wound down, for fear of being laid low by such an invisible current of air. My mother used to tell us a tale about an elderly Italian neighbour who lived in a flat in London’s “Little Italy”. For months she complained that she was being tormented by a malevolent “colpo d’aria”. The old dear convinced herself that the source of the “draught” was a neighbour’s refrigerator in the flat upstairs, and would regularly stomp up there to vociferously express her grievances. I will leave it for you to imagine the response she generally received.
Strangely it seems that it is mainly only the older generations that seems to be affected from this dangerous peril. During the months from October to April they take extra special precautions by swathing themselves in copious layers of clothing including: woollen vests and long-johns, chunky, high-necked jumpers; thick socks and tights, padded, fur-trimmed coats; hats; scarves; gloves and boots, you name it, and seem to us to be ratherly overdressed for the relatively mild ambient conditions. Similarly anxious mothers bundle up their babies and toddlers tightly like little Eskimos.
However, curiously enough it seems that the genes of Italian teenagers have remarkably evolved to give them considerably more robust constitutions, especially the young females who can to go out in the worst of the winter weather wearing just a teeny mini skirt and a skimpy top, leaving their pierced belly-button midriffs wide open to the elements.
If my dear Italian grandmother was still living today,
I wonder what she would make of it all !!!