The first experience I had with the Italian fear of wind came after a gym workout with the host mom for whom I was au pairing. We both took showers, and she emerged with her hair dry. I knew we were tight for time, but I had a case of grease-head so I had done a thorough wash. I'm accustomed to walking outside while my hair air-dries, so I grabbed my stuff and met my mamma at the door. She looked at my wet hair with a horrified face. "Go blow-dry your hair, the wind will make you sick!" So I did. I've since come to recognize neck scarves in hot July and closed air vents as signs of fear for the colpo d'aria. Literally translated, colpo d'aria means a "whack of air." Culturally translated, it is the movement of air that causes a myriad of sicknesses in Italy and other European countries. When I was working in Tuscany last summer, one of my European co-leaders, and dear friend, woke up one morning unable to move her neck. Stiff as a brick. It was severe enough that she took a train to Florence to see a doctor. The cause, he said? You guessed it: colpo d'aria! Everyone was sure. Stretch, massage and stay out of the wind!
Coming from a Missouri upbringing where we ran ceiling fans and air conditioning from June to September, this colpo d'aria pill was tough for me to swallow. You can imagine, however, that if you believe the wind causes immobile necks, the flu and colds, you're going to feel strongly about protecting yourself against it. As all Backroads leaders passing through Tuscany live together, a relentless battle began between those who believed in the colpo d'aria and those who were well adapted to an air-conditioned life. Let me just say that Tuscany is HOT in the summer. The sun sizzles, and we regularly experience temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In true Italian style, our Backroads leader apartments in Tuscany do not have air conditioning. Instead, they are well-equipped with floor fans from the local hardware store. I couldn't get enough air; I tried to point the fan directly at my face during the night. This worked perfectly when I had a European roommate who wanted nothing to do with the wind. However, when we shared a fan-less hotel room during a trip, decisions about air conditioning became complicated. I am a hot-blooded human being. I start sweating in May and don't stop until October. It's a testament to the fervor with which my co-leaders believe in the evils of wind that I adapted to sleeping in warm rooms.
By the end of the season, I found myself preferring fresh air over air conditioning, and (HEAVEN FORBID!) even felt a little off when too much air was blowing in my face. Don't get me wrong, I still love the fan on full blast when it hits July and August, but I don't mind going native and clicking off the A.C. I can't help but smile every time I hop into the driver's seat of one of our vans and see all the air vents pointed as far away as possible. I love my European co-leaders, and will continue to be entertained (and hopefully not attacked) by the colpo d'aria.