Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Politics of Leather

Buon giorno

I am back in the desert following my little excursion to Italia. I would go back in a heartbeat, though upon my return, I would not be without 2 things; a better command of the language, and my bike. It is no coincidence that there was flooding around Florence and Rome during our stay - I am quite sure that I left oceans of drool on the gorgeous Tuscan hills as I bike-lessly watched them roll by from the bus window. I will be back, and I will leave no turn virgin to the touch of my Bontragers (those are tires for you non-bike obsessed folks).

The language on the other hand will involve the avoidance and prevention of such dire situations as the following: Tall, dark and gorgeous Italian man approaches tall Canadian woman silently appreciating the beauty of the winding and cobbled Tuscan streets. TD&G releases a string of Italian into the electric airspace between them with perfect eyebrows raised in question. CW unfortunately has not even learned to say “I don’t speak Italian” in Italian, and is reduced to an awkward and apologetic “no Italian” as she turned the color of Mama’s arrabiata sauce. TD&G painfully attempted again, with palpable awkwardness, as CW wondered if she could somehow mime out “let’s just drink wine and stare into each others’ eyes”… alas, all CW could muster was a lame shrug and a smile, which, in good sport was mirrored by TD&G as he gave a small wave and walked away, looking back once to smile again. Advice to my female friends: DO NOT go to Italy without at least learning the essential phrases for basic survival such as “I would love to have a glass of wine with you”, “a tour of the city would be grand”, “I prefer red to white”, and “yes, you can pick me up at 8pm”.

It is no coincidence that Italy is shaped like a boot. This is a frank geographical prelude to “you-are-going-to-spend-a-ton-of-cash-on-fine-Italian-goods-if-you-come-here”. I willingly submitted to this stark reality which faced me immediately upon disembarking from the plane, as I was greeted by Prada, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana in the airport lobby.
In Florence, the street vendors peddled their goods in the shadows of the stunning Duomo, and filled every corner of the Piazza Republica with the smell of fine Italian leather. There is something important you need to know if buying a pair of Italian leather gloves (for the record, I am now the proud owner of 2 pairs…): Gloves are a very personal thing, and should not be tried on unless the buyer has unquestionable intent of purchasing. My first experience involved innocently picking up a pair of gloves off the display (just to test out the sizing) to admire how the soft, brown leather hid my knobby knuckles and made my long awkward fingers look rather sophisticated. I was just turning around to show Mum, when the other glove was swiped from my hand, and a tug on the tips of my gloved fingers violently unmasked my gnarly hands to a scathing vendor who was loudly voicing his disgust in Italian (here I was happy I did not know the language!). I was so taken aback as I had no idea what offence I had committed – I made a quick exit from the booth with the man yelling at me in broken, sarcastic English/Italian. Everyone stared as I stumbled down the uneven cobbled walkway, eager to escape the hostile onslaught I had somehow provoked…

Mum and I decided that he was just biased against English speakers, and decided to try our luck with a sweet little old lady at a glove booth at the opposite end of the market. She didn’t speak a word of English, so I politely pointed at the pair of gloves I wished to try on, and she pulled out my size from the overflowing, chipped wooden drawers under the display. They fit perfectly, but unfortunately, she did not have the exact color I was looking for. As I tried to communicate this to her and thank her for her time, the once cute little wisps of white hair at her temples suddenly seemed to curl into hissing snakes as she unexpectedly morphed into Ms Hide (typo fully intended)…she furiously made a “V” with her middle and index finger and stabbed the air uncomfortably close to my eyes, then jabbed her crooked, arthritic thumb at the display. Once again, I was the victim to a verbal assailment of unwarranted intensity which caused heads to turn for half a block in each direction. As I once more slunk off with Mum in tow (Mum wide eyed and laughing as one can only be following such a situation), I mustered up my last bit of pride and meekly approached a short, robust man at a booth tucked back from the others who was patiently tolerant of my ignorant feats (whatever they were), as 5 minutes later, I was walking away admiring my 2 pairs of brand new gloves. Unfortunately, Medusa’s booth was on the way back to our B&B from downtown, and while she may have been old, those years of smoking, pastry eating and wine drinking had in no way chipped away at her hippocampus, as every time we walked by her, she scathingly shot daggers at us from under the loose folds of her eyelids. I made sure my newly gloved hands were always unobstructed from view as we passed by.

Ok, a couple more stories to share, but I will save them for next week…as per usual, I have made an epic novel out of one story.



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