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  • Italian Rx
    The paesani have a cure for all your ailments
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    After a prolonged summer, the autumn chill arrived two days ago. Since the colder air arrived - from Canada, I think - in the northeastern United States, I've had the sniffles. When I complained about a tickle in my throat, my father Pasquale started heating up some olive oil. He always applies it to my throat with his pointer finger and in the shape of a cross. Then, he ties a scarf around my neck, which I must wear to sleep. All over Italy - or at least on the island of Ischia, where he's from - people continue to do this whenever someone has a cold. In fact, they have all sorts of wacky remedies for the sick and injured. Here are some others:

    My grandmother Concetta and my mom Regina often make a paste with lettuce and salt when someone is swollen. Twisted your ankle? Whip out the lettuce and salt and blend 'em to a puree. Then put the paste on the swollen area and hold it there with a paper towel. I've always found ice to work just as well - and it's less messy. But I appreciate their thoughtfulness and care. And if you're hungry, the paste isn't half bad.

    Whisky is what my grandfather Rocco prescribes whenever one of us is coughing. "Hold your nose and let it go down easy," he says. If I ever follow his orders, I just vomit. I guess it works because that usually makes the cough go away.

    I still remember one New Year's Eve when my cousin had just learned she was pregnant for the first time. She had terrible, painful gas. I had to drive across town in the holiday traffic to get a bottle of fennel seeds to her, so she could make fennel tea. Fennel tea cures gas, apparently. I find that it just makes people toot more, which eventually relieves them. But relief is relief no matter how you get there! The only problem with this cure is that it causes those around you to suffer.

    Whenever you have a rash or an itch, say from a bug bite, you must pour rubbing alcohol on the affected area. If you don't have rubbing alcohol (which they rarely, if ever, had in Italy when my father was a kid), you should use vinegar or wine. My father prefers it if we use the vinegar rather than wasting perfectly good wine, he says. I'm pretty sure his father, Nonno Giovanni, felt the same way.

    By the way, Italians don't starve fevers or anything. You feed everything from the flu to a broken leg. If you're experiencing the messiness of a stomach bug, Italians will either give you plain rice or pasta with oil. Sometimes, they'll give you pasta with lemon, olive oil, and Parmigiano cheese. I like it so much that I sometimes eat this dish when I'm not even sick. To be honest, I had it yesterday for lunch. Delicious!

    If all the other remedies fail, then my relatives turn to chamomile tea, the panacea for all ailments. You feel nauseous? Drink chamomile. You have a headache? Drink chamomile. You can't sleep? Drink chamomile. Your boyfriend left you? Drink chamomile - and find another boyfriend quick. You get the picture.

    Even though my relatives always make me feel better - no matter what's bothering me - I still suggest seeing an actual doctor. Your Uncle Gino might know how to make you laugh, your papa might make you feel loved while he's rubbing the oil on your throat and praying for your health, and your dear mamma is probably the best chef you know, but nowadays there are doctors who can prescribe real medicine and fix you up real good, as they say. If all else fails, you'll always have chamomile!

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