It’s the Wind; Always the Wind

July 15, 2022

My family heritage is half Irish and half Southern Italian; Neapolitan to be exact; from Castellamare di Stabia to be precise. My Irish side has its…quirks, but nothing…and I mean nothing, beats the Italian superstitions that came from my mother’s side of the family.

I was just in Italy working for two glorious months, from Rome to Naples to Pompeii to the Amalfi Coast and while the work was great fun, it was hard as we had no ‘off time.” Circumstances dictated that we went from activity to activity, from filming to hosting group, after group, after group.

We began our journey producing for our tv show in Rome (for the 2023 season), Naples and Pompeii, in the streets, amid the chaos that is high season in Italy in a premature, un-natural heat wave with temps soaring to 100o F nearly every day. I will say this: people who think filming on location is an easy job should try it sometime. Was it fun? Yes, absolutely magical. Was it hard with long, hot days and working amid crowds? Yes, absolutely.

From filming, we moved right into travel mode, hosting three wonderful groups back to back. Was it fun? Absolutely. Was it hard? Let’s just say that midway through the last group, I went down for the count; in bed for three days, absolutely done in.

And now the point of all of this.

When I arrived in Ravello in early June, it was blistering hot. But the evenings and nights were crazy cool, maybe even chilly. So one evening, some friends, my husband and I sat in the piazza at an outdoor café, enjoying people watching and a glass of wine. The next day, I had no voice, nothing.

“You were in the square last night?” asked Margherita, the lovely owner of the villa where we stay (who has become like a little sister to me).

“Si,” I confessed.

“No scarf?” she continued.

“No,” I confessed again.

“You’ve lost your voice to the wind,” she concluded.

And then when I took to my bed for three days, despite hosting a group of fourteen guests, she told me that it was all too much and at this point, my body just said “basta” (enough). And I would recover when my body was ready, so I was to drink lemon water and rest, which I did and I recovered in three days.

In Italy, there’s a plethora of idioms, traditions, customs, superstitions and wives’ tales that make Italian life so wonderful (and sometimes confusing but always amusing…)

While these…conventions vary by region, even by village, they permeate how Italians live and move through their world. And here’s the best part…each one of them contains a kernel of truth.

My family was steeped in religion and superstition. See if any of these are familiar to you:

  1. No hats on the bed as it invites bad luck, as evil spirits can drop from your hat (which you wore outside) and lay where you will sleep. It was also custom that a priest would lay his hat on the bed when he came to minister last rites to a dying person, so a hat on the bed invites death.
  2. No new shoes on the table (because in many cultures, shoes are associated with bringing outside energy into your home, but new shoes on the table is a new level…do this and you’ll quarrel with someone, lose your job or simply have bad luck for the rest of the day)
  3. While in many cultures, 13 is considered ill luck, in Italy, it’s 17, which is connected to Roman times where an anagram indicated “I have lived” and so 17 is considered bad luck because you know…death.
  4. When you sweep the floor be careful of women’s feet. Legend says that an if a broom sweeps over the feet of a single woman, she will never wed.
  5. Eat lentils on the New Year and on New Year’s Eve as their coin-like shape is said to bring you wealth in the coming year (and heart health since they are great for your ticker).
  6. The Evil Eye or Malocchio comes from ancient wisdom that held that eyes carry great power. You know; windows of the soul and all. The malocchio is said to land on you if someone looks at you with jealousy or envy or with bad intentions. Often people are ‘protected’ from evil intent by wearing “la corna,” a red or gold horn-shaped amulet. But…be sure that the horn is gifted to you as buying one for yourself reduces your good luck.
  7. Never open an umbrella inside your home. Most Italians keep their umbrellas just outside their front door so one can’t mistakenly be opened indoors. This legend comes from ancient Rome where umbrellas were used to protect from rain and sun. Opening one indoors was seen as disrespect to the Sun God and would bring misfortune to your home. You might lose your job and as a result, have no roof over your head.
  8. When you make a toast in Italy, avoid bad luck by not clinking a glass of water to a glass of wine, which invites misfortune. Make eye contact with the person you are toasting with to ensure good luck for you both. And before sipping tap the bottom of your glass on the table.
  9. Never celebrate your birthday early in Italy. There’s no clear reason why, but it’s said that celebrating early can jinx your chance for a year of good luck, so celebrate on or after your big day.
  10. Air conditioning and change of season can contribute to any number of maladies so great care is taken with the use of air conditioning and often aches and pains, colds and fever are attributed to changes in weather.

My mother, along with all my Italian relatives lived and died by these superstitions. Who knows? Maybe it was the wind in the piazza in Ravello that stole my voice. Maybe too much work caused my body to say “basta.” Maybe there’s a grain of truth in all of these little legends. Maybe we should heed some…or all of them.

But not all things Italian are superstitious.

Italians are passionate about food. I mean, passionate about food, like full-on lust. After a little buongiorno as a greeting, the next question is usually “what did you eat…?” All other topics can wait. Reverence for food is real and heartfelt.

And mealtimes? Sacred, baby. Long, leisurely lunches seem ridiculous to us, who race around, burrito in one hand, latte in the other, never taking the time to enjoy that moment of nourishment and respite. Italians lounge through lunch and even allow a bit of time for rest after lunch, making for a softer landing into an afternoon of work, a passaggiata (walk) before dinner and a leisurely evening meal (which will be light as Italians eat later in the evening than we do. They eat pasta at lunch, never dinner). As a result, many Italians cut what’s known as ‘la bella figura,” an innate ability to look cool and effortless as they move through the day.

And yes, even busy families take time to sit and eat lunch. Other activities, like soccer practice or other extracurricular activities wait until after eating.

But not all things Italian are charming or quirky. While our government can be frustrating with bureaucratic nonsense, Italians have turned it into an art. Dealing with the government means a flurry of papers, stamps, forms and meetings. Even simple things seem to de designed to confuse an outsider. Need a stamp? Skip the post office (where you pay bills) and go to the tobacco shop. Applying for a passport? Try the police station. Train and bus tickets can be bought at the station but also the tobacco shop. It’s part of the charm of Italian life and makes absolute sense to them.

I confess though, there is one part of Italian life that I adore and that is sadly lacking here in the States (and I have no idea why). The bidet. That little secondary commode-type sink that you use to wash after using the toilet. It’s a great way to stay clean and fresh and since 1975 is required in all new builds in Italy. A staple of Italian life and hygiene, if you have never used one, try it. You will love it and miss it when you return home.

Life in Italy, even for tourists tasting the culture for the first time is filled with customs, traditions and quirks that make Italy so wonderfully unique and so desirable. When you go…and you should go…embrace all of it as part of the joy of the Italian lifestyle and you’ll find yourself truly sampling the dolce vita.

Oh…and one last thing, if you decide to travel to Italy (with me…), the euro and the dollar are just about equal so that lovely shopping you dream about will be all the sweeter.