This morning I went shopping. I need just a bathing suit, so of course I won’t buy anything else. Deep, low chuckle: I’m living in Italy, I have a charge card that works, and I’m breathing.
My landlady Giovanna kindly offered to take me to a shop that sells swimwear. Buying a bathing suit is about as much fun for women as circumcision is for men, but men must do that only once. In Italy, all the women are built like Sophia Loren, and I am built like Macaulay Culkin in his “Home Alone” years. Finding anything that fits me in this land of wasp waists and bounteous bosoms is as irrational as trying to find an Italian over the age of eight who is not smoking.
Giovanna drives to a shop that from the outside looks like a warehouse, but inside is a treasure chest. Sheets, dresses and suits, in gelato shades and buttery fabrics that make me want to eat them all. The bathing suits are pooled in three waist-high cardboard boxes. Giovanna and I pull some out to try on, and the shop owner, her friend, comes over to help.
“Piccola….” (small) she muses, staring at what is left of my chest after two children. She tosses aside some of our selections, looks at my chest again. “Piccolina.… (Very small.) More rummaging, more chest assessment. “Si, si, piccolina….” ALRIGHT already. If she moves on to “piccolissima,” I’m going to scream.
She asks if I want a bikini. “No,” I say, and I blame that on the children. But really, together they weighed less than 15 pounds; my stretch marks were the result of never letting my jaws rest for the duration of either pregnancy. It was fun while it lasted, but you shouldn’t try that at home. After the kids were born, I used my maternity underwear as fitted sheets for my king-sized bed.
I grab a handful of likely prospects, and head upstairs to a narrow closet with a mirror. The closet is lined with stacks of soft robes in every color. I want them all. But I must be brave, try these on. No really, we’re talking piccolissima. But I find two that have the proper combination of underwire, figure-flattering shape and a small attached flare gun to direct attention elsewhere. I’m all set for the beach, now all I need is a plastic surgeon, a personal trainer and a tanning salon.
Then Giovanna shows me the dresses. She pulls out a long, black dress. With beading in all the right places. Spaghetti straps. Okay, it’s a gown. A person who lives in an apartment that is like camping with tile, and who stands for three hours each night chopping vegetables, does not need a gown, she needs a dependable supply of water, electricity and a personal chef.
Giovanna laughs: “Try it on!” I do. It’s gorgeous. I buy it, to the murmured assent of the lovely Italian ladies in the shop. Women who support the exhilarating purchase of superfluous gowns are an antidote to the horrors of buying a bathing suit. We laughed, we talked about the dress, and they complimented me on my Italian, which is well stocked with effusive superlatives about clothing. When we get home, Giovanna’s sister hemmed the dress; it will be ready for our trip to Tenerife.
What a brilliant experience. To find the perfect dress, in 10 minutes, is delightful. To laugh with women in another language is heaven.
Now, all I need is a yacht with a dance floor, and tickets to the opera.
— Andrea Gelfuso Goetz
Andrea Gelfuso Goetz is an environmental attorney who wrote about her year of delicious confusion in Italy at www.4initalia.wordpress.com. Concerned about perpetual video surveillance, she’s currently working on regulating her Resting Lunatic face.