After more than ten years of residing in Rome, I have had the chance to observe and reflect on a number of the cultural quirks that truly set Rome and Romans apart from the rest of the world. Coming from an Italian family like mine, I am accustomed to the warnings that go along with some activities that you might consider completely harmless but to Italians if not headed could surly result in death! The following are an idea of some of these “dangerous activities”; drinking anything with ice, going out with wet hair, or being given the “malocchio” (evil eye) to name a few. Generally, I would disregard these superstitions and write them off as old wives’ tales from Rome, especially the one about avoiding ice-filled beverages… I mean, how, exactly, am I supposed to have an iced coffee without any ice?
The dreaded “colpo d’aria”(gust of air) which would have Italians wearing scarves in the heat of the summer out of concern for a creak in their neck used to amuse and endear me, but it has since turned into something of a talking point. Because of climate change and global warming, Rome experienced one of its warmest Mays in recent memory. Because no one had anticipated the heat, as you might imagine, very few shops and other establishments had begun to turn on their air conditioning. Meanwhile, I had begun to work out at my neighborhood gym to get in shape for the summer and was getting ready for my bikini.
You may think that Italians’ use of air conditioning is quite advanced, but it is actually quite commonplace today and is not just a luxury for the wealthy Americans. Though it was a different story when I first moved to Rome during the Lira era, air conditioners were hard to come by, so I have survived without it and I’m sure I will again at some point, but one thing that I absolutely cannot live without, especially in a hot, sweaty gym while working out, is a FAN! So intending only to endanger my own life, if you are to believe in the fear of the “colpo d’aria”, I go to a quiet area of the gym and find a machine close to the ceiling fan. At this time, no one else was there, so I was able to exercise while enjoying the cool breeze from the fan. A woman I recognized from my step class quickly stopped my sweaty workout; she strode right up and turned off the fan without pausing to think it over. Even though I was annoyed, I didn’t feel like engaging in a confrontation so I simply turned off the machine and reactivated the fan to continue my workout. At that point, things really heated up—and not just because of the exercise!
(From this point forward, we will refer to her as PSBOLAQ) Paranoid schizophrenic but otherwise gorgeous aerobics queen: Excuse me, you can’t do that!
Funny how I don’t recall you asking permission to turn off the fan before you did, and given that I arrived first, perhaps you could return in ten minutes after I finish my workout if you’re so concerned about it.
PSBOLAQ: Its danger is well known! All I have to do to contract bronchitis and spend a fortnight in bed is get on that machine when a gust of air hits my neck!
ME: (trying to be nice) No, of course you don’t need that, but I came over to this abandoned corner just so that you and the rest of the people here would not have to take that fatal risk
PSBOLAQ: Yes, it stands to reason that I can’t spend the entire morning using the same machine because it’s not a regular part of my workout routine. I need to use a variety of machines.
ME: Yes, I am aware of your desire to have the ideal gym physique; however, if you want to use the equipment nearby, you will have to put up with the fan. For the past 15 years or so, I have worked out while using a fan, and lo and behold, I am still here to tell the tale!
PSBOLAQ was over it….before Before I knew it, she had left to find the gym manager to report my attempted mass murder of the gym’s patrons by exposing it to the tiny amount of fresh air that a ceiling fan can produce. In any case, returning to the story, the manager obviously attempting to avoid an all-out cat fight in his gym tried to appease the both of us and chose to turn the fan to its lowest setting in order to find a happy compromise. To think that 2 grown women could not resolve the issue of the fan still annoys me. Back to our workouts we went, and as promised 10 minutes later I had left the area. However, on the way out I did get to see PSBOLAQ dash off her stepper to turn off the fan before some other ‘crazy lunatic’ tried to kill her with some fresh air! I’ve yet to figure out the purpose of the fans if we aren’t allowed to use them without a hassle.
While this scene was unfolding in the gym, I tried to scan the room to see how the other Italians reacted to it (Italians seem to enjoy getting involved whenever there is a “situation”). I witnessed a range of responses…a few sympathetic smiles, a few pretending not to listen, and a few looking at me as if I pretended to be the mad hatter.
My question is this: If modern science has taught us anything, it is that colds and flus are spread by the spread of a virus or bacteria. Why then do people continue to insist on riding the magic carpet created by a gust of air? At that gym, the summer will be very long and hot…