European Diary

Retreat From Eden

You do not need to be a reader of this column to surmise that the South of Italy is as close as one can get to Paradise without being a Nazi war criminal, in which case, needless to say, one resides in South America.  We’ve got everything in Sicily, from medlars in springtime and tangerines in the deep of winter to roast goat at Easter and new wine in Christmastide.  We have girls with eyes like black olives and the olives themselves, plump as pretty girls.  Da noi, the sea, the sun, and the song are civilization’s Bondi Beach.

But there is one thing for which the South of Italy is unsuitable, and that is being ill.  Seeming ill, pretending to be unwell, malingering is all fine and dandy, and to the womenfolk around here hypochondria is what football is to the men, though I oughtn’t confuse pharmacy promotions with national character.  What keeps the healthcare system going is constipation, colds, allergies, insomnia, indigestion, rashes, vertigo, and every other kind of malady that pharmacists can allay with vast numbers of gaily packaged cures.  Doctors fall in with the demand, prescribing these same cures, some of which are bought at the taxpayer’s expense, and taking a cut of the local pharmacist’s profits for every customer they send along.  Vitamin complexes are extremely popular.

All this is charming and almost entirely victimless, like so much of southern...

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