My daughter and I went to Europe a couple of years ago. We had a fantastic time, mostly because my daughter’s red hair attracted special favors and kindnesses like moths to honey. Even in France, with it’s reputation for impatience with American tourists, we were treated well. The waiters were smitten by her. One flirted openly, gave her his phone number, and asked if he could come to America to see her – all before the French onion soup arrived.
The most memorable experience, however, was in Italy. Italian men practically shoved themselves at her. Unlike in France where people on the streets were zipping around and not as inclined to notice us, the Italian men leisurely gawked at us when we walked by. Sometimes we’d be in those cobbled alleyways with only a few people around, and the waiters would be standing outside smoking. All Italian waiters smoke. When they’d see us coming from far away, they stared the whole time we walked toward them, looking us up and down openly and unabashedly as we passed.
I’d like to take a second to look up the word “unabashedly” because by anyone’s standards that’s a doozie. Doozie is another word I’d like to look up. Either of these would be well worth a side trip to Google, but I’d like to get on with my story so they will have to wait.
When the men eyeballed us (and by “us” I mean my daughter), I’d say under my breath, “Don’t look at them. I don’t want them following us around like stray dogs.”
Italian men are a delicious feast for the eyes. Nummy. But I’d read in the touristy books that it was not a good idea to encourage them. The books warned of men grabbing women’s bottoms in public. I don’t know if I would have been overly offended if my bottom, personally, was the destination of some wandering Italian hand, but I sure didn’t want one of these guys groping my teenage daughter.
So we both kept our eyes facing forward and picked up our pace when we’d see the smoking Italians leaning against the outside café walls, drinking us in like we were Chianti.
Once, however, we were walking down an alley in the sultry, dusky evening, and a young Italian man was walking toward us. He had on a long-sleeve white shirt with the cuffs rolled up, and long, dark pants that swished as he walked. He was tall and exceedingly good-looking, and he had not taken his eyes off of us the entire time he glided toward us. As usual I whispered, “Just stare straight ahead.”
He smiled brightly when he was about twenty feet away, and my daughter must have smiled back because he stopped, and in that exaggerated way you see Italian men act in movies, he grabbed his heart with both hands, tossed his gorgeous head back and said to the heavens, “Ahhhh, she smile at me! She breakin’ my heart!”
We both giggled and said, “Buon giorno.” He stood still and watched us walk by, still clutching his heart, grinning with luminescent white teeth. He made us feel like we were beautiful and exotic and like we were eye candy right back at him.
One day when I’m in a nursing home drooling Cream of Wheat, I hope I still remember this man and his flamboyant compliment to two worn out American tourists tromping down an alley on exhausted legs after another hot, humid day of roaming around Rome trying to snatch every sight in three breathless days, and how he suddenly made us feel like we were walking on air.