Venetian Voices, Part 2
By Rick Steves
Catch up on what happened in Part One.
Mammone and Clams
Later, watching the heads of five Italian boys turn in unison as another girl walks by, I ask, "Do the Italian girls watch the boys?"
"No, the boys watch the girls. Teenage Venetian boys go to San Marco to make an experience with American girls. Their first words in English are, 'My name eees...'. You are pretty girl. Where you sleep tonight?'"
|Italian men are relatively harmless — they may gawk at gams but they always go home to mommy.|
Nibbling on an artichoke heart, I say, "For many American girls, Italian boys are nice."
Piero's feet do a gay little tap dance and like a giddy teenager — eyebrows sending happy wrinkles to the top of his bald head — he adds, "Yes, and for Italian boys, American girls are very nice. It is international public relations. I am sorry," admits thirty-two-year old Piero, "I am too old now.
"It is very dangerous because if Venetian girls see the boys on San Marco they are jealous. The girls, they don't look for boys. They are ..." and he does a couple of quick stuffy sniffs while scratching the underside of his nose with a proud knuckle. "And Venetian girls are not open. They are like a clam. This is typical in the Italian south. Venice is like the south in this way. We say Venice is like the Naples of the north — we sing, we talk with our hands, and our women are like clams."
Antonella, the daughter of Alessandro the barber, trades ciaos with Piero as her dog drags her down the lane. We're just finishing up our meal, but I'm concerned that I'm not getting the female side of this story.
Pouring her a glass of Bepi's famous licorice liqueur, I say, "Please, Antonella, help me. We are talking about Italian living, but Piero is giving me only the macho side."
Antonella is no longer the temptress I knew when she was in her twenties. Now she's running a shop. With the reality of business and dealing with Italian men, she is now more savvy than sweet. She's small and tough with a thick head of long black hair. When she talks, her direct eyes and busy hands give an intensity to her words. Stepping over her dog's leash, she grabs a seat and says, "What is macho? There are no macho men in Venice. They are mama's boys. We call this mammone."
Piero, as if he's heard the complaint a thousand times, cries, "Ahhh, mammone."
Pulling an imaginary cord from his belly and petting it rather than cutting it he says, "It is true. I cannot cut the cordone ombelicale. I love my mama. And she loves me even more."
Antonella sips her grappa and says, "The Italian boys, ninety-five percent stay at home until they find a wife to be their new mother. Thirty, thirty-five years old they are still with their mothers. Even if they move out, they come home for the cooking and laundry. This is not macho...this is ridiculous."
"Aaannn-duh," she continues, lighting a cigarette, "they want a wife exactly like their mother. If they find a woman like me, independent, with some money, perhaps beautiful, this is a problem."
Piero nods like a scolded puppy. "Yes, this is true."
Antonella says, "If I make my hair special and wear strong makeup, they will take me to dinner and take me to bed. But they will not look at me to make a family. They want to be sure their wife won't leave them. A woman like me...it is too risky."
We pay and promise Loris we'll be back soon. Antonella unties her dog and we walk through the quiet and romantically lit alleys of Venice.
I tell Antonella, "I could not finish a sentence with Piero. Always looking at the girls."
Piero raises his eyebrows and his hands...and simply sighs.
Antonella says, "I was in England for two years. No boys looked at me. When I come home, in five minutes I was being stared at. It feels good to be home."
"But why are the Italian boys always thinking about the girls?"
Antonella says, "In Venice, I think it is because the tourist girls come here looking for the boys. Especially the American tourist girls. They like the Italian boys very much."
Climbing over a marble veneered bridge, we pass a gondolier, dashing in his straight-brimmed, red-sashed straw hat, obviously well built under his striped shirt and black pants.
As the gondolier hollers a hopeful hello to a cute passing tourist, Piero says, "He hopes to be soo-sess-full."
"Successful," Antonella says to help him.
He tries again, looking at her. "This word, it is difficult, soo..."
Antonella interrupts, "No, suc..."
"Suc-sex-ful," says Piero.
Antonella corrects him again, punching each syllable, "Suc-cess-ful."
As we turn the corner, Piero giggles, "The gondoliers, they get the girls."
With his hands waving melodramatically and his bald head bouncing happily, he plays the gondolier on the prowl, singing, "The moon. Me and you and the lagoon. Oh my, I feel romantic today. I don't know why. My heart is going boing-boing. May I offer you a small special ride for free later on? Try something different with me. Here, grab my oar." Grabbing Antonella around the waist, as if she's about to fall from a gondola, he says, "Be careful, you can fall."
Pushing Piero away, Antonella says, "Gondoliers are the worst. Here, if a woman marries a gondolier and expects him to be true, we say she has 'hams over her eyes'."
Piero, with suddenly sad eyes, says, "This is true."
Antonella adds, "But I think any Italian woman who trusts her husband has the hams over her eyes. The newspaper said ninety-seven percent of Italian men cheat. I believe this. It is easy for them because for them sex is for the body and not the mind. When a woman falls in love, she can leave her husband in five minutes. A man can have many affairs and never think about leaving his family. For him, sex is only the body."
We walk to Piazza San Marco, enjoying the Venetian night. The orchestra plays as if refusing to go home. The vast, nearly empty square is claimed by two seniors, waltzing like they did fifty years ago. They twirl gracefully round and round as we pass. The woman smiles with her eyes closed. In Venice, love is a triangle: you, your partner, and the city.