It seems impossible that three and a half decades have passed since I was last in Italy. My life has been slipping by as I have been busy living it.
This time in Italy I learned the strange fact that the Italians have found that sacred middle path when it comes to flirting.
On the recent visit the smells, sounds and sights triggered me into the past and frequently I felt like I was living in two time zones at once.
My mind switched from present time to the past and then I’m would be lost in the feelings of that younger raw me.
When I gently came back to the present I would feel so grateful that the I and the world has changed.
Has the world around me changed because I have, or is it the other way around? I don’t know the answer to this, and will probably ponder that question for eternity.
Thirty-five years ago I travelled alone to Rome and then southern Italy wandering around by train and bus passing my days in museums, art galleries, places of antiquities and the beach.
All of these experiences are caught on camera and now every-day street events are the things that trigger me back into the past.
For example; Italian tobacco has a particular fragrance and when the smoke wafts past me, the corners of my mouth involuntarily lift — I’m back in a smoky cafe or restaurant exploring for the first time the authentic regional Italian food.
Back then the streets were different for women — I remember the time when using the streets felt like more of a challenge than a right.
During that time the Italian men would make a point of jostling past and then at the last minute they would pinch my bum or fondle my breasts.
When I was fondled — if I was quick enough —I would slap or kick the men who touched me.
When the men too far way they would yell and shout their “appreciation” at me. Groups of men expressing their lust was intimidating to my young self. I noticed that when I pretended to ignore them it seems to encourage louder and more abrasive shouts. I remember steeling myself to stand tall — all of my 5 foot 4 inches — and actively seek the alpha male of the group and look him directly in the eyes, I had worked out that this would stop the escalation.
I use to dream of a time where I could walk the streets and go to clubs without any of this sort of stuff and those wishes that I could be treated equally to men and feeling safe in the streets have manifested.
Amazing when I think about it — in my 20’s it seemed as though the inequality between the sexes was endless and insurmountable.
In Australia at that time strange men fondled your body in crowded night clubs and at the Sunday Session but not in the streets. I would force myself to be on guard in these places. I would get a good punch or slap in — if I knew who did it. Sometimes, it annoyed me so much that I simply slapped a few in the direction of the pinch for good measure.
I was super determined not to allow sexism to stop me living my life; my way. I told myself that I too was entitled to travel alone, start a business and do whatever I wanted to do. It was a constant “stress” in my life to have the same rights as the male 47% of the population.
When people tried to stop me from living my life my way I ruthlessly bullied them back — that was all I knew to do — and in retrospect I realise that this was much better than being a victim.
Reliving that hyper-vigilant angry younger me in some ways was excruciatingly jarring. All of that nervous, energy willing myself to be strong so that I could have the rights that the men took for granted.
I felt that I had to fight for my rights. This was when I didn’t understand that the men were suffering as much as the women.
I now realise that they had to put on the show of bravado just as women were expected to be “nice and compliant.”
Nice and compliant was not my thing, and so I chose be was abrasive and dogmatic as the abusive men.
I feel both sad and proud reminiscing my youth with all of that frustration causing a driven aliveness — wonderful really.
In my opinion, the big elephant in the room of this world is not racism, transgender rights and the rest — it is sexism.
Sexism involves 100% of the population and all of those groups. When men can be men and women can be women that is the big issue for both genders. Maybe one day we will be open to accepting our differences/similarities and the energy of unfairness will fade away?
The media keeps us focusing on these other issues so that we remain blind to the real issue. Sometime the obvious is too simple to contemplate.
Recently I was listening to the ABC radio and a man from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was being interviewed. He was saying that in the last 15 years in Australia death by violence; plus all other violent acts have decreased by 50%. Stephen Pinker also confirms this for the Western World in his book “Better Angels of our Nature.”
I can feel this change in the streets, and it is reflected in the way that people behave towards each other.
Sure, we humans — men and women — have a very long way to go. This is confirmed by the fact that in Australia two women a week are killed by their partners. That means that two men a week have been so hurt that they are incapacitated in their ability to love. They believe they have the right to kill their partners.
Both males and females in this situation are victims.
However, two deaths a week is much better than four as week as it was fifteen years ago.
Which brings me back to fifteen years ago. This was the last time I was fondled by a strange man. I was having a cup of tea at intermission at the ballet at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. An old man who was dressed like a lawyer pinched me on the bum as he walked by. At the time I didn’t know if I should be flattered or offended. To be honest I felt a little sorry for the old bloke — such a relic.
In Australia over the last couple of decades I have not noticed a strange man look at me in the streets in “that particular way” or make an appreciative comment.
Before coming to Italy I would have said that it was a fantastic thing. However, the reason I travel is to gain perspective.
I now feel that Australia has gone from the one extreme to the other when it comes to appreciation between the sexes. That spark of appreciation or chemistry is no longer there.
In my opinion the people of Italy have found that elusive middle path. The Italian men have honed the appreciation of women down to very fine art — most appreciated by me.
I have enjoyed being looked at as though I am the most beautiful person that a man has seen today.
When I am close enough to hear, I smile to myself when I hear their whispers of “Bella” or “Ella” or other such sweet nothings or even a very quiet whistle.
Believe me — the middle path is sweet.