The Italians

First of all, my husband Renato as an Italian bore no resemblance in manner or style to the average Italians of my acquaintance while I lived in Italy. It was as though he were raised in Great Britain with Italian parents.

In the years he worked with a half dozen Italian colleagues on the hydro project in Brazil and one, name of Silvano, later read Journey from Shanghai. Silvano wouldn’t speak to me afterward. The depictions in the novel offended him. He didn’t like reading of Italian men in the street grabbing my breast, or catcalling as the protagonist of the novel Rafaella walked past their sidewalk table. He didn’t like knowing what a man on the train tried to do to Rafaella. Being groped by a man isn’t a novelty anywhere in the world, but what Silvano disliked was the depicted reaction of the other passengers. Those Sicilian men and women were outraged that Rafaella had slapped the groper; after all, he was a soldier and could die in battle. It wasn’t relevant to them that he was a UN soldier during peacetime in 1952 but they had a wonderful time denouncing Rafaella for attacking the hero. Bored again with the long night, they went back to sleep, while Rafaella wondered where the hell she had landed in this world. A generous serving of other such incidents woven into Rafaella’s story further outraged Silvano.

Silvano was an educated man, an engineer and quite the gentleman. But he was not a woman, a young Eurasian woman in particular, set adrift in a sea of Latin men in Italy. Silvano preferred to keep his blinkers in place and be offended at having Italian manhood impugned. In 1952 they had not seen many Asian women and they set upon me with gusto. Italian men and women in those years frankly stared, commented in one’s face, touched body parts in public. It was a matter of education, clearly, for I did not encounter that behavior in the office where I worked in ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company).

Silvano has passed on now, as have so many other people I have known. Strange to think about all that behind me. Where IS everybody?

I returned to Rome with Renato in 1989 and was amused to find I was ignored everywhere I went. By then Italians had seen hordes of tourists from Asia and I was just another elderly one.

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