Italy. The word itself exudes romance to those of us who have been exposed to it through novels and movies. I don’t consider myself a devotee of Italian men but a lot of women of all nationalities just salivate at the thought of an Italian man.
Well, traveling alone in Rome did offer me the opportunity to get a taste of what others rave about. I certainly had no expectations to fall madly in love or be swept off my feet and I wasn’t. But I was certainly amused by how charming and frank some of the men could be.
First of all they’ve got style! As do the women, and as do most Europeans I gather, compared to Americans. They were far more fashion-conscious, well put together men on the streets of Rome than I had ever met in a single place. Even those rocking jeans were elegant. Then there is the perceived swagger, I say perceived because I doubt they actually walked with one. I can see how that could be sexy. Young or old. But of course there were poorly dressed slobs among them too. Make no mistake about that.
I think what amused me the most was how flirting seemed to be second nature just like breathing air. Very different when compared to American men who notice you (because you notice that they’ve noticed you) but in general don’t have the strength to make an approach unless they are a bit inebriated at a bar, are channeling power from their male companions, or are in close contact with you on a daily basis (school, work, etc).
In Rome, random men on the street would make and keep eye contact with me, and I only just obliged. Ciao bella! Buon giorno! And then I would flash them a smile. That in itself is enough to make any woman feel sensual. And no, I don’t equate these expressions with catcalls, whistles, yo my African Queen wassup that one could get stateside from guys who are a bit forward. The intonations are different.
One night when I was pondering what sort of gelato I would get from the store across the street, two men came up to me. Buona sera bella. Ehh, do you ehh need help? They were probably in their 50s but what do I know. They wanted me to join them for a drink at the bar somewhere in the neighbourhood. I think if they were younger and if it wasn’t already so late, I might have taken them up on their offer as I was in my neighbourhood, but I was afraid that the bar they were talking about was the one below my apartment. So, while I refused in a thousand and one ways including, oh yeah, you know I’m on my way to meet up with someone now, we ended up talking about Ghana, the French-speaking African countries, where the best places for gelato in Rome is (apparently Giolitti) etc. When I finally rid myself of them and skipped across the street for my gelato I realized that the storekeeper and his assistants were being entertained by this encounter. You should go, go meet people. Where are you from? Beautiful …
An even more amusing encounter was actually strange. I had gone to Via Appia which is just outside of Rome and it had poured rain all day. By the time I was ready to return to Rome, I was drenched and my umbrella was no match for the rains. So I was standing at the bus-stop with another woman when a blue Smart car slowed down honking. The old man (this one certainly had to be at least 60 or so) waved at me. Of course I ignored him. He couldn’t possibly be waving at me!
Well, he actually proceeded to stop his car where he thought was safe to do so, a few yards away, got out of it and in the pouring rain, motioned for me to come. I kid you not. The other woman at the bus stop with me was facing the other direction so I knew his gestures were certainly meant for me. Luckily at that time, another woman, a tourist, came by asking my expert opinion on where a nearby landmark was, and since I had just been there, I gave her directions, all the while remaining alarmed that this man remained insistent that I come over to him. He probably stood there in the rain for 5 minutes before he gave up and left. So strange. I know it’s pouring rain and I’m soaking wet standing at a bus-stop but why would I ever want to get into a strange man’s car, in a foreign land?
Well apart from the old Roman men (geezers seem to be my main suitors in life as I have been plagued by them ever since itty bitty buds started to sprout on my chest decades ago, yeah plural), the Italian flirtation skills were also masterly displayed by foreigners in Italy. Like, the two Indian men in the garden of Villa Borghese who exclaimed to each other bellisima! or something when I passed by, then proceeded to ask me where I was from which I answered, then stated you have beautiful eyes for which I thanked them while I walked away; or the Black security guard at the Vatican, likely African, who in a pretense to guide me tried to figure out when and how he could see more of me; to another this time young (finally!) Black man on the streets who asked Da dove vene? (where are you from) ever so softly as he passed by but slowed his stride to be in step with me…
Yes, I had a great time in Rome!