Of Manse and Men: Falling in Love with Asciano, Italy – Part One: Italiano Uomini.
Welcome to my “better late than never” posts about my 2017 travels in Italy. Today’s post (Part 1) is about my stay in Asciano, Tuscany, one of many charming villages outside of Florence, where, if time hasn’t exactly stood still, it’s definitely come to a slow crawl. Next time, I’ll talk more about the village—the food, the scenery and the fabulous Airbnb “manse” that I stayed in for 10 days.
But today, it’s all about those bellissimo Italiano uomini (beautiful Italian men)!
The Tuscany region is delicious—in every sense of the word. Perfect weather, divine food, sublime wine, and men who are very easy on the eyes. Even the less attractive ones have a certain savoir-faire that’s hard not to admire. I’m convinced it’s the hair. In case it’s escaped your notice, Italian men have a lot of it. Sì signore—olive skin framed by a thick, dark head of hair, combined with a bit of manly swagger, makes up for a multitude of sins—with the notable exception of a “wandering eye.” (Being that it’s 2018, it’s hard to believe that modern Italian women would put up with that kind of nonsense.)
In nearby bustling Florence, I kept an eye out for those impeccably dressed “Italian stallions” who make the average American male with their jersey tees and backward baseball hats look, well, sophomoric and lazy. Actually, it’s the older Italian men who really “own” that iconic ’50s-era GQ cover look. Pure gentlemanly elegance. Some might say they’re fashion relics from a bygone era, to which I would respond in true Charlotte Brontë fashion: “Alas, would that more men and women choose to be ‘relics,’ both in dress and in civility.”
Back in sleepy Asciano, I found myself frequenting a “men only” café, if for no other reason than it was too far to walk anywhere else. (Even if I had managed to master the whole driving-on-the-other-side-of-the road-using-a-stick-shift thing, café options in a small village are limited.) Each morning around 8:00 am, as my roomie slept in, I’d walk to this modest little café [insert name] so that I could connect to Wi-Fi and plan the next stage of our journey—one that would include the obligatory trip to the wineries, museums, and the coast.
While in theory I liked the odds at this cafe—20 men to one romance-starved woman—in reality, it was painfully awkward. None of these men spoke a whit of English. Since my Italian was limited to buongiorno and arrivederci, and I mispronounced just about every breakfast order, I’m sure that my clumsy interactions provided great fodder for conversation amongst the men. By the third day, tired of their constant staring and saying God knows what in Italian, I had moved to the furthest table in the place—occupying my time posting photos and watching the sparse supply of passersby walking the cobbled streets.
When one particularly fine male specimen stopped by my table, flashed a smile and started rattling on in Italian, I froze. Belying my sometimes-brash personality, I’m actually quite shy. And I become even shier when I’m forced to talk in a language that does not trip lightly on my tongue. So I mumbled something in response to his warm greeting and looked down at my phone, hoping he would just walk away (while secretly wishing he would stay).
By the fourth day, the complete absence of females at this café began to creep me out. Had I unwittingly landed in the Italian version of The Stepford Wives? While there were no “official” signs at the cafe barring women from sipping cappuccinos while shooting the breeze with men, I came to the conclusion that gender separation seemed to be an understood way of life in small Italian villages. Middle-aged (and older) men sit around chatting for hours talking politics and imbibing their coffee, while women stay home to clean, do laundry and slave over a hot stove—or whatever.
Actually, I have no idea where they (the women) in this tiny Italian town were or what they were doing. All I know is that whenever I did encounter an older woman walking down the street, they seemed to be soured on life. It was a daily ritual: I’d smile and they’d glare. Perhaps their dour demeanor evolved from a lifetime of putting up with their husbands and their “side hobbies.” By default, this would make me, a tall curvaceous American blonde (who was growing more curvaceous with each dish of pasta), a perceived threat. Or maybe it was the toxic mold hidden within the walls of their decaying medieval houses that was affecting their emotional state. One can only speculate.
I’ll end my brief exposé on Italian men with an image of one particularly studly Italian man (alas, too young for me) who was clearly well practiced at turning on the charm and selling wine … lots of it. He is, as you can see, the spitting image of Full House’s John Stamos. He was not amused at being informed of this fact—making it abundantly clear that every American woman who passed through the winery’s portals made this same tired observation—undoubtedly squealing with cougar-ish delight as they did. When we gleefully made the same pronouncement, his beautiful, but now unsmiling eyes locked onto mine with a look that seemed to say, “Listen, lady … I’m not just a piece of meat … I want to be accepted for me!” “Okay, okay I get it … you’re you …. not John Stamos,” I said (hopefully not aloud). “Now toss back your thick manly mane, flash your perfect smile, and pour me some more Chianti while I mourn my lost youth.”
Thus ended my Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone moment—a glaring reminder that perhaps this trip to Italy should have taken place several decades ago, when flirting was fun and romance wasn’t just in the air.
Next Up: Part II of Manse and Men: Falling in Love with Asciano, Italy. Watch for it!