A Mandatory Episode of Sickness

It wouldn’t be traveling without an episode of debilitating sickness. However, almost all of these episodes follow an eventful and memorable day. This time was no different.

I had my first head splitting, soul numbing, ear piecing, stomach nauseating migraine last weekend. To spare you too many gory details (and fair warning … there are many to come), I’ll get right to it. This story ends with me puking in a theater bathroom.

But let’s rewind a little. And by a little I mean a lot.  April 2007. I was studying abroad in Zaragoza, Spain in my senior year of high school. Yes, I know, who does that? Surprisingly enough, my program consisted of many adventurous, my mostly, restless high school juniors and seniors.  And, before you ask, yes, I successfully took my SATs, APs, applied to and got into college that year under the siesta – loving influence and bureaucracy of Spain. Anyway, I had just spent the morning in a hotel conference room getting chewed out by the Program Director for missing my curfew, not just by an hour or two, but by five. My curfew was at 12pm. I’ll let you do the math. Despite being 18 years old and suffering from senior-itis with one foot out the high school door, for this program, missing curfew by 5 hours was a very big deal and truth be told I was scared shitless and barely functioning on no sleep. And despite that this was just another Saturday night for me at this point in the year and what I absentmindedly thought was a “good” way to spend the night before a long school trip to Seville in the south of Spain, I was highly regretting my decision, because in this program, missing curfew was grounds for expulsion. So I did what any teenaged girl would do, I cried my way through it until they felt so sorry for me that they let me off “easy” with probation. Even under these stressful circumstances, it was uncharacteristic of me to blubber. It wasn’t until I got my period on the train later that day from Seville to Cordoba and experienced perhaps the worst paralyzing menstrual cramps I’ve ever felt in my life that I realized why it was so easy for me to cry. I’m sure my lack of sleep and hangover had a lot to do with it as well. Needless to say, I don’t remember much of Cordoba, because I spent that day in bed sick and ashamed.

Let’s fast forward to the time I got food poisoning in Milan and spent an afternoon doing you know what on the toilet after a long exciting press meeting with one of my favorite writers, Tracey Chevalier, the author of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I was interning at Neri Pozza Editore, a book publishing company at the time. I’ll leave it at that.

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Last weekend, after spending a day in the neighboring town, Ascoli Piceno, known for it’s picturesque location in the Sibillini mountains and travertine walls, I thought I’d finish off the wonderful day watching a local play back “home” in Montelupone. Truth be told, I felt what I thought at the time was just a headache coming in Ascoli.

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My host family and I were vigorously museum hopping – an archeological museum here, a contemporary art gallery there – and we made a couple of stops at the infamous “Caffe Meletti” to refuel in between. This cafe was the setting of several Italian films notably I Delfini (1960) and Alfredo Alfredo (1971).

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Now, I’ve always considered myself a coffee drinker, but one shot of Italian expresso will have rethinking the concept of coffee entirely while you run circles with energy and an elevated heart rate. And like all caffeine highs and rigorous tourist activity, there’s a crashing point. I thought I could “relax” it off before the play while antique shopping in the square, or if that didn’t work, sleep it off in the car ride home.

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But when my host family dropped me off at the theater, my head was throbbing, I couldn’t see straight as all lights became blinding… and still I braved on.  I made it through intermission and even attempted to follow the discourse in Italian, laugh on cue, and tried not to wince at the loud theatrical sounds, before I found myself running to the bathroom overwhelmed by migraine nausea.

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I barely made it, but thankfully I did.  The next morning, recovered, I smiled with recognition. For it wouldn’t be a worthwhile traveling experience without the mandatory episode of sickness that follows.

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