Some people go their whole lives without ever questioning their consumption habits—Whatever floats your boat, right ? I’m not one of those people. Every morning I drink at least two cups of black coffee and proceed to think about what I could do differently on this new European day. The three C’s of my diet are Café, Cannelle, and Cornflakes, all mixed up together in a cereal bowl. It wasn’t until recently that I had to give up coffee, and the experience has been both mentally and physically jarring.
One of the many mistakes we made during our sejour in Italy had to do with transportation. Instead of taking the Eurostar from Rome to Florence, my friends and I took the Italian equivalent of the RER (American equivalent of the Metra) and saw our travel time hit three and a half hours instead of the planned ninety minutes. As I stretched my legs in our unexpectedly first class train car, I watched the rolling hills of the Italian countryside fly by my window while nomming on a fresh green vegetable with ridges all over it. For only sixty cents, I was supporting local business in Rome and giving myself the opportunity to try something new. Little did I know that the pomodoro I had purchased earlier that day was actually a tomato-pepper, and that it would ruin the lining of my esophagus for days to come. Just seconds after finishing it, the two inch periphery that surrounds my mouth became inflamed. I gasped at my reflection in the mirror; the female version of Bozo the clown had finally come to life. My friends giggled in a cavalier fashion, but between the pepper and the prosciutto, I knew something had gone very wrong.
When we arrived at the Emerald Palace hostel in Florence, I had two cups of organic onion soup I had bought at the international market in Vatican City and went to bed almost immediately, spent after a long day of walking and travelling. I was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a strong burning sensation in my chest, as if I were regurgitating red-hot coals to build my own pizza oven in the corner of the room. I realized that for the first time in my life, and much too early at that, I was experiencing symptoms of acid reflux disease. I did some quick research and discovered that virtually everything I had been consuming in Italy was contributing to my heartburn, namely : tomato sauce, onions, vinegar, peppers, citrus, wine, tea, and–my all-time favorite–coffee. I went the next day drinking only one cup of coffee and felt like something was missing in my life. Today I had no coffee, and I couldn’t leave the hostel due to sheer fatigue and an overwhelming feeling that my life had no purpose. My addiction to coffee (not just caffeine, for tea never quite does the trick) has become more obvious than ever. I can’t imagine doing work without the stuff, much less getting through long, monotonous days or the inevitable, universal late-afternoon slump.
Don’t get me wrong, though–the acid reflux diet has its benefits. Cutting out spicy foods, acidic vegetables, and caffeine is giving me the chance to go back to the blander food groups I liked before the age of eleven. This alimentary regression has enabled me to tap in to my child mind and enjoy the travelling experience at a more basic level. I’ve also been adhering to the traditional Mediterranean diet in which spicy food is practically non-existent. Unfortunately, almost everything in Italy has tomato sauce, and the coffee here is the best I’ve ever tasted. I imagine this is what it feels like when a sober person walks past a bar and sees all the shiny bottles of alcohol, or when someone with Celiac’s disease walks past a bakery and wishes those rolls looked just as good on her body as in the shop window.
Regardless, health comes first. That tomato-pepper may have eroded my esophagus, but it did not spoil my spirit. After seven days with no coffee, I will have achieved what I once thought was impossible, and that is the best part of this whole situation. Don’t tell me it’s impossible, tell me it’s never been done before. In the meantime, Viva Italia