n Florence, I was raised with myth of the Latin Lover. That doesn’t mean I was the little Italian girl who looked up to older guys and dreamed of the day she’d break strict parental rules and ride on a motorino in two.
No, my dilemma was different. I was a different kind of little.
I was the Italian girl who was regularly and inconsolably a head taller than any boys around her.
At an early age I found out that for tall girls like me the Latin Lover was a myth.
But there’s a problem.
I’m a romantic.
And when it comes to romance I am a traditionalist.
I had no problem with the idea that my principe azzurro wouldn’t ride a white horse, let alone drive a red Mustang. I wasn’t even fazed by the substitute — a loud, 1975-era Vespa with an engine too old to know EU pollution requirements.
Romance, after all, can survive modest circumstances.
And true love, the intense and fleeting kind only teenagers feel, can endure even the back seat of a vintage Vespa on Florence cobblestones.
So the fact that my Prince Charming stepped (athletically and elegantly) off a moped wasn’t an issue. What might have undermined the romance was that the prince had to take an equally athletic and elegant leap off the pavement to kiss me, his six-foot princess.
The Latin Lover is one of several myths Italians have exported successfully, along with leather and fashionable clothes.
At this point I should be clear.
I am not criticizing the “Made in Italy” industry.
Far be it for me to suggest our world-famous leather is actually mediocre. That would be unpatriotic. And a lie.
Unlike lies, myths are not pure fiction. Myths flirt with reality.
Our leather is probably among the best in the world. Does that mean all Italian leather jackets are guaranteed high-quality stuff? Well…
Maybe next time you buy, you should take out your reading glasses before your wallet. The microscopic manufacturers label might well read: “MADE IN P. REP. OF …”
It’s the same with lovers. There’s always a catch.
No one is minimizing the allure of sun-tanned biceps, fancy boxer shorts and trendy shades. No one is dismissing seductively tight pants and all-weather suntans pushing out from under V-neck sweaters in winter.
But before you fly too high, how about this innocuous request.
Ask the charming stranger with the two cocktail glasses in hand if he’ll please step off the stool. Tell him — nonchalantly of course — to grab his shades and glasses and follow you to a table.
If he suddenly drops three feet below your chin you just dodged a bullet.
Charm and cleverness isn’t just about being a fashion-freak. If Italians didn’t know better, they wouldn’t be worth a myth. The Romans were great orators. Italians are great chatterers.
This can have a downside when the baker entertains you for 30 minutes when all you want is bread. But it helps when it comes to men. You know what to expect. You know they’re working you.
And this holds true whether you’re a six-footer and eternally condemned to flip-flops or 4-foot-6 and teetering along in pumps.
An Italian saying puts it best.
Le bugie hanno le gambe corte.
“Lies have stubby legs.”
Italian girls have it figured.
— Milan-born Erica Alini has lived in Florence, Berlin and the United States.