Last week both Fidz and I came down with brutal colds and we went in search of pain medication. To our surprise, there is no medication of this sort to be seen on the shelves of the Farmacia. The pharmacies display cosmetic creams, body lotions and so on but nothing that might be considered any form of medication, not even calcium or vitamins. You have to line up and get them from the pharmacist and the cost is way higher than in Toronto. We paid a little under 4 Eur for 6 tablets of generic ibuprofen. The reason for this, I’m told is that the Pharmacists Guild, which has been in operation since the 12th cent, is tightly regulated despite recent attempts to deregulate it and introduce competition.
Because of the history of the Farmacia in Italy, some of them go back centuries and are absolutely delightful to visit. There is one in Trastevere next to the church of Santa Maria della Scala (St. Mary of the Staircase) that’s around 400 years old. A marble room with a stained glass ceiling and with ancient murals depicting medicinal herbs. Amidst this antiquity are modern advertisements for face creams etc and it’s somewhat disconcerting to see a statue of a saint cheek by jowl with a poster advertising sunscreen.
Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why there should be a St. Mary of the Staircase, legend has it that there was a painting of the Virgin Mary under the steps of a house. A woman paused there to pray for a little girl who was dumb, whereupon the girl started to speak. So a church was built there in 1593. The monks in the monastery next to it grew medicinal herbs and made up herbal remedies and so the Farmacia evolved. It served as the Farmacia for the Papal court in the 17 cent and is still run by monks.
I flew back to Toronto for my niece’s wedding, still battling with this horrendous cold, and had to take a trip to my local pharmacy for more pain medication. What a difference to a Roman Farmacia. Shelves of every variety of analgesic at a fraction of the cost than in Rome. I paid less than half the price but it did take me longer to make a choice as the variety of goods on offer was almost overwhelming!