Dangers of Italian wind

It always struck me as strange that for a coastal city,  wind was considered such a mortal risk in Naples. I’m not talking about howling winds, tornado winds or hurricane winds. I mean breezes that might just flutter summer leaves. Careful mothers in the south would not bring out a bundled baby in such conditions. What would people say?

Such wind could give a healthy child bronchitis or pneumonia in a flash, I heard over and over. God forbid wind on the stomach. No end of the trouble. I woke up once with one eye bright red from a burst blood vessel. The doctor’s first question: “Were you in wind?”

On boiling hot nights when a fan (I thought) would be so nice, maybe an overhead fan, my neighbors recoiled in horror. Wind on your face at night? Wind on the stomach? Don’t risk it. Wind when you’re sweating? That leads straight to chills and their natural sequelae: bronchitis, pneumonia and early death. Thus the oft-heard admonition to children running about in parks in the summer: “Don’t run. Don’t sweat.” You wonder how so many boys survived to be superb soccer players.

All this wind phobia reminded me of The Secret Garden. Remember Mary Lennox at the start of that wonderful book? Thin, sallow, unpleasant, contrary, selfish. What fixed her right up, brought color to her face, gave her appetite, improved her mind and disposition, even thickened her hair? Brisk Yorkshire wind and plenty of it. Globalization might bring depressing similarity to grocery stores of Yorkshire and Naples, but living with wind is quite a local matter.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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