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What You Wanted to Know about Italian Women

What You Wanted to Know about Italian Women



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Published by Anthony St. John
When Men Are Gentlemen, Women are Gentlewomen?
When Men Are Gentlemen, Women are Gentlewomen?

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Published by: Anthony St. John on Jul 21, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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When Women AreGentlewomen,Men AreGentlemen?
n the last few months of 1983—after I hadreached Montecatini Terme having come fromCaracas in May—a series of events befell me whichwould set me astudying inhobby fashion, just asHitler and Mussolini haddone decades before, oneItalian nonesuch. I hadcome to Italy to seek fameand fortune, not to try tountangle something elsethat is too knotted even forsociologists andpsychoanalysts; but, what Ihad experienced off thebat at that Tuscan healthspa so piqued myinsatiable curiosity, I knewat once I was still again onthat trail to attempt tounderstand something Iwould never be able to.Here are three of thosefirst impressions:
I could not speakItalian then. It hadeven taken me awhile to stop saying
vino rojo
instead of 
vino rosso
. I lookedfor people with whomI could speak to inSpanish and foundnone; and, I lookedfor people who spokeEnglish and foundsome. One was ashoe saleslady whoboasted to me abouther love affairs withArab men to whomshe sold shoes mademostly inMonsummano. Shewore a bulky goldnecklace, a Rolexwatch, was on thechunky size, almostattractive, hadbeautifully polishednails, and her make-up—while put in placeheavily—was veryelegantly rubbed onto achieve the bestresults for her. Hersecretary was aSouthafrican womanmarried to an Italian.One day the pursyone invited me to abirthday party shehad organised forherself. Fifteen of us(ten women) drove tothe
costa versiliana
for a stupendous fishdinner. At thatmoment when it hadbeen decided toreturn home, theSouthafrican took outher calculator, dividedthe bill by fourteen,then made her roundsaround the tablecollecting from us ourshare of the night’sfestivities.
Where isLove?
Wherever I went, bybus or train, Iconcluded that mostItalian men did not
rise and offer theirseats to Italianwomen.
Where isLove?
Notwithstanding,what whetted myappetite for more—the most—was this: Agroup of youngadults, someprofessionals, most of them universitygrads, in their latetwenties-earlythirties, communists(
id est 
, Italiancommunists!), fromMontecatini Terme,and who all lived withtheir parents, invitedme to a beautifulmedieval villa in Vincito celebrate thecoming-in of the new1984. There werefourteen of us—sevenwomen, seven men. The women had eachprepared the variousparts of a wonderfuldinner at their homes,and as soon as theyarrived, set aboutorganizing, preparing,and heating thedelicious foods we allwere waitinganxiously andhungrily to devour. There wereastounding
of young Chianti wines,cakes, and fruits, too. The entire episodewas farfetched, and itremains fixed happilyin my memory stilltoday.After the sumptuousdelights, when the
began clearingaway the plates anddishes and silveryreceptacles, the men—almostautomatically—movedto one end of thelong, time-worn table.When I asked if Icould pitch in andhelp, seven voicesresounded their“no’s;” and, onecommentedcontradictorily so:“Why don’t you teachthem (sheparticularised theItalian men) how menshould help women just as they do in theUnited States!”Later, with all putaway, in a spirit of abandonment andlight-heartedness, theladies began dancingtogether—at the otherextremity of the table—to the beats of astereo they hadbrought along. Theywhirled and swayed toaerobic music. They joshed throughcancans. They hadprepared a “show” forus.At the finish of eachand every danceroutine, all seven of them, in unison, aftera loud 1-2-3! count,uprighted
of their righthands, crossed theirleft arms to the bendsin their right arms,and saluted us menwith giggles andliberating laughswhich made me feelmaybe I shouldencourage them to gofurther; but, I did not.I had been takenaback. Just as whenonce, at a cocktailparty in PalacioMiraflores in Caracas,I saw President CarlosAndrés Pérez, notmore than two metersfrom me, stick hisright index finger inthe tall glass whichheld his Scotch and
water and then twirlaround and aroundthe ice cubes in it. Ilet on for the Italianmen—as I always didin Caracas trying tobe as tolerant as Icould—that nothinghad occurred as far asI was concerned.After a pause, I lookedat them and they justshrugged theirshoulders at me. They felt perplexed,but had nothing tosay about that mostdisparate display.
Where is Love?
ome time ago, Iappealed—cheekily!—to the MarchesiAntinori asking them if they would kindly sponsoran experiment I hadwished earnestly toperform. I wanted to findtwelve Italian women whocould drink each a bottle—from a case of fineANTINORI Chianti wine—with me in
un arco di
threehours. Italian women arenotorious teetotalers. Tofind twelve women winedrinkers would be difficult. The
in vino veritas
wouldopen up” twelve Italianwomen—often very shy;almost always taciturn—and let us all come tointeresting conclusionsabout life, love, andindeed,
. To havesome fun, some laughs. There were no takers. TheANTINORI P.R. department,stuck somewhere between1952 and 1959, did noteven respond; so, I jettisoned the idea, sadly. Icontinued, nevertheless,struggling to pin down theopinions of Italian womentrying to get them toreveal themselves. I was
not very successful.
It is anexceedingly difficult task….One day my efforts werefinally rewarded. A slimbook,
Con gli occhi di unadonna
(With the Eyes of aWoman), published by the
 Associazione TirrenicaCooperative Consumatori
,1997, hit the stands(distributed without chargein a Florentinesupermarket) and I jumpedat the occasion. In it, fiftyItalian women spiel out invery short stories all theywant to say, all they haveto say. There are somevery good
amongthe yarnspinners—mostlyhousewives. They werenot paid; there was noprize nor prize money.I found—in only onehundred and twenty sevenpages—the Italian tendergender
in vino veritas
I hadbeen searching for foryears. And the bookshocked me almost intodisbelief. It is one of thesaddest documents I haveever read in my life. It issurely not on a level withacknowledgments divulgedby Holocaust victims:there is some physicalbrutality in the book,however. Here we areprimarily concerned withmental barbarity. Almostall of the fifty stories dealexclusively with somesadness, some frustration,some dream not realised,some violence….Of women in the throes of identity crises…who wantto go out alone, free to bebabies, free from mothers’ideas, free from fathers’naggings…who want toescape the prison of marriage…who want jobs…who have beendismissed…who are living

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