I am living the American … er … Italian … well, I don’t know … some screenwriter’s dream, for sure. I’ve been residing in northern Italy now for about four months of what will eventually be several years, and it is everything that you would imagine. Picture it: the camera pans across rolling hills terraced with grapevines and olive trees, shooting a landscape peppered with generations-old wineries and rustic inns. Zoom in to a small village street, where red-checkered cloth lines the tables of an outdoor café, and locals greet one another with dramatic gestures and kisses to the cheeks. Finally, narrow the focus all the way down to a beautiful Italian casa, my Venetian estate, the home where my heart is. The music (there was powerful opera music playing in the background. You heard it, right?) fades (or screeches the sound of needle tearing from vinyl) and … CUE THE DIALOGUE…
“What the hell is that smell?!”
Yes, that’s right, it smells like poo. Which is strange, because not once do I remember Diane Lane donning a gas mask to hang her laundry out in Under the Tuscan Sun. Nor do I recall Marisa Tomei asking, “Who farted?” even once as she jetted around the Italian countryside in search of her destiny in Only You.
Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Italy, behind tourism. Well, or maybe fourth, also behind resting and tax-evasion. Perhaps it’s slightly further down the list, actually, if one considers eating and drinking industry, which I’m pretty sure they do here in Italia. (An aside: I’m technically not allowed to work on the Italian economy. I have, however, managed to gain about fifteen pounds since I arrived, which makes me something of an illegal alien working the aforementioned Gastronomic Industry). There’s wine production of course. Oh! And the manufacturing of obscenely thin (white!) spandex bike shorts (there ought to be a decency law, really) for equally thin Italian men.
Okay, let’s just say that farming is in the top ten; I’m sure Google would bear that out. I should not be surprised, then, that there is an almost-constant profumo di poo (figure it out) on the air near the pastoral parcel I call home. I should not be, perhaps, and yet I am. This is because the Italy of movies and travel brochures and honeymoon videos is not … well, it is not scratch n’ sniff! Which I suppose is a particularly good thing in the case of honeymoon videos, but that’s beside the point.
The Italy presented to the outside world speaks charming, slightly-broken English. Why then, did I receive approximately eight times the amount of cheese I thought I’d ordered at dinner last night? And what is the Italian word for “Ex-lax” while we’re on it?
I’ve never seen anyone sweat excessively in Italian cinema, unless you count a few tense scenes from The Sopranos. And yet, there are no words for “central air conditioning” here. Well, there are words (I just checked the Interweb) but if you put them together in a sentence, the average Italian would look at you as though you … well, as though you just ordered six pounds of cheese for dinner.
Why did Fellini never direct a scene where the star pelts her telephone across the room after failing for the nineteenth time to dial the correct da-Vinci-code-esque series of digits just to get an outside line? Or one where she falls on her can with a five-gallon bucket of dirty mop water and spends the next half hour sock-skating bath towels around her kitchen in soggy workout gear, cursing the Sham-WOW guy for not offering a squeegee as the ‘call right now’ bonus? Granted, that last one has more to do with my being a klutz than living in Italy, but it happened just the same. Grandpa Chachi walked by outside and (because I was too wet to go into the living room and turn down “Sexy Back”) peered in to witness me in wet jog bra and damp Nick Nolte hair, giving Brian Boytano a run for his money. I don’t care who you are or your level of self esteem … that, my friend, will take you down a peg or ten.
Life here in Italy is beautiful. It is La Dolce Vita. But it is also simply life, which tends to be more of a comedy from where I sit, regardless on which side of the pond. So, the next time you start to think about the grass being greener, more romantic, or more exotic on somebody else’s side of the fence, remember that their particular shade of green may have been obtained via less-than-judicious use of good ol‘ domestic poo.