Back to Milan and it. has. been. cold.

My heat, which is included in the price of my rent, and which I thought was an absolute steal, sucks. I might as well sit outside in the courtyard with my laptop and write this blog post.


My space heater has become my own personal bitch, following me everywhere I go: to the toilet, to the shower, to wash the dishes.

And when I’m home in my apartment, I’m officially living in this:

girl in a robe

My friend who came to visit last year said he saw me in this more than he did regular clothes.

I began my new fabulous job a few weeks ago, and I won the very lucky seat in the office that is next to the stairwell, which leads to the door. Not a problem. Except that we are in Italy, which means we have to account for smoke breaks. A hundred and some odd people in the building, half of which smoke…. that door is opening every 10 minutes, at least. Again, for me, not a problem, but it did get me to thinking…

About a little “thing” here called the colpo d’aria. I call it a “thing” because I’m not quite sure what else to call it. A belief? A rumor? A myth? An old wives’ tale?

If you’re from anywhere else but Italy, you’ll call it a crock of shit, because it’s quite literally something that doesn’t exist anywhere else, or not where I’m from at least.

According to Italians and a very helpful definition on the Tanta Salute website, the colpo d’aria is caused by a sudden and drastic change in temperature, dressing too lightly, a cold current or air conditioning and is defined by symptoms such as aching of the eyes, muscles, back and shoulders. Simply put: the enemy air will get you sick. If you want to know what colpa d’aria looks like, Tanta Salute has provided some very vivid and telling imagery:

cold air symptoms

According to this theory, the daily draft in the direction of my workspace should have killed me. I should be dead right now.

It’s like when you were little and your mom would tell you to bundle up before you went outside so you wouldn’t catch a cold. Except that here in Italy, it has taken on a whole new medical life of its own. I mean, it has its own name for god’s sake.

I began to realize something was amiss many years ago when I saw people in the summer with light scarves wrapped around their necks. Mid-July 90 degrees, and they’re wearing scarves because of the “breeze.”

So this elusive colpa d’aria transcends seasons as well. We’re not talking cold air, we’re just talking air, period.

But I actually don’t even want to talk to you about this today. I don’t want to beat this subject to death, because it’s been talked about by many an expat before me, just google the term and you’ll find some witty Englishman breaking down the same thing for you.

I want to talk to you about colpo d’aria’s cousin, the mal di pancia (stomach ache). Caused by? You guessed it. Cold air.

If you’re now going back and re-reading my previous sentence to understand how you read it wrong or where you missed the connection, keep looking. You won’t find it.

I’ll be frank. Italians think that “catching the cold air” makes you have to poop.

Now. The colpo d’aria, I can see some truth in. But this? This really perplexes me.

What’s really funny is that all Italians know about it. I’ve brought it up, laughing, and was like, no, c’mon, seriously. And they look me dead in the eye, so matter of fact, saying, yea, it does. What about it?

But again, run it by anyone else in the world, and they have no idea what the connection is between cold air and their intestinal tracts.


One time I was waiting in line to get into a club in January and I heard the guy behind me say to his friends, “It’s so cold out here, as soon as we get in I’m gonna have to go straight to the bathroom.”

But my absolute favorite was the time I was in Monaco in January with my Canadian friend and her (then) Italian boyfriend. We went back and forth fighting with this guy on the subject of cold air causing belly aches while we ate a big American breakfast. He challenged us to go outside in a T-shirt and see how long it took before nature called. We opted out of that and had coffee instead. Then we went outside (in jackets of course) to smoke a cigarette.

Two drags and he urgently puts out his cig and runs into the house to go to the bathroom.

See amore? See?? I told you, 2 minutes outside!

At that point, we didn’t really see the sense in arguing with him that breakfast + coffee + cigarette = you know.

But no, no, it was the cold.

My Italian friends tell me they can’t understand how in America, we can go from 90 degree heat outside to freezing air con inside (which is always glorious to me), all the while drinking a giant iced coffee. How do our stomachs handle all these drastic changes in temperature?? They can’t understand how we’re not all running around in a big crampy, poopy-pain frenzy just looking for a toilet.

I simply don’t know how to explain that the American stomach does not acknowledge this.

Oh and I forgot. In Italy there is your stomaco and then there is your pancia…two different things, so don’t use the two interchangeably, an Italian will call you out on it. They are quite in tune with their anatomy, a country full of physicians. My friend and I were laughing the other night because somebody once spoke to her about some dolore al fegato (liver pain?)  I know you’re all thinking what I’m thinking:

Where the hell is my liver and how do I even know that it hurts?

So if you’ve had a case of the bubble guts today, don’t you dare give up coffee, cigarettes, lactose or even gluten. Just crank that damn heat!