It is a well known fact that Italian men appreciate women. In Rome recently with my mother (seventy-two years) and my two eldest children I noticed that “la mamma” (mine) was given as much attention as my fourteen year old budding nubile daughter. This is the country after all that puts seventy year olds—albeit Sophia Loren—on nudie calendars.
Our three-generational trip to Italy was a great success not only because of the usual things such as good food and damned good historical bits but because this is a country which appreciates the elderly. Used to the anonymity of ageist Britain, my mother turns into the compliant mother/grandmother figure we have always wished for on hitting Italian soil. Believe me, la dolce vita warms even the most cantankerous of souls.
The Italian man demonstrates his chivalry in many ways: By holding chairs for my mother; handing her the menu first and repeatedly asking me, much to the hilarity of my children, if she is “la sorella?” (my sister?) or at least pretending to think she is. She in turn basks in the sudden attention. “Most flattering,” she remarked over a cappuccino in the Piazza Navona, “even if they are a trifle over-groomed.” My son started to ask his grandmother to elaborate but I silenced him with a look that threatened pocket money withdrawal and grounding not to mention lynching and emasculation if he even muttered the words Pirelli Calendar.
During this recent visit to Rome the power of her elderly charm was put to the test. Delayed by the trials and tribulations of getting teenagers up early for a private tour of the Vatican museums, and then further perplexed by the absence of taxis—Italian ablutions with all that nose-hair trimming must take ages—I realized with rising panic that we were not going to make it in time.
We set out to speed-walk the two bridge distance to St. Peter’s Square but the Dome just stayed resolutely, unapproachably in the distance.
In desperation I stuck out a thumb. No luck. Then my mother, wearing a sunhat that only an English woman could wear with aplomb, stuck her thumb out. A dusty fiat pulled over and the female driver wound down her window.
“No parla inglese,” she barked whilst still talking into her mobile phone. Whilst Mum switched to her best impersonation of the late Queen Mum, gazing beatifically into the distance, I attempted to convey our plight with a shameful combination of French and Italian-accented English. We were saved by her less-linguistically challenged friend on the other end of the phone and piled in.
We tore off at a speed worthy of the Italian Job screeching into St. Peter’s Square with ten minutes to spare.
In the Sistine Chapel her charm worked once more. The guard took one look at my garden-party-attired queenly mother and offered her a seat within the inner sanctity of his cordoned-off area. Instead of smiling sweetly, eyes watering in gratitude perhaps, she reached into her bag and offered him a polo mint.
Safely back at the hotel I downed a much deserved glass of prosecco. “God bless Italians,” I said looking over at my mother. “Amen dear,” she replied smiling sweetly.