What I Saw on Italy's Street
By Dina Bennett on June 05, 2012
Herewith, notes from a traveler on the streets of northern Italy, reporting on what Italian women are eating, drinking and wearing. I’m not talking about the fashionistas of Milan, but the real Italian woman going about her daily business. Just back from ten days in Verona and the Alto Adige of northern Italy, I can share some observations that, I hope, delight you, as they did me.
First, the clothes. The go-to garment is skin-tight jeans, snug from top to bottom, no flares, no bells, no boot-cut. Italian women seem to have a generous helping of love for their bodies, squeezing into those jeans regardless of their size, shape or weight. And they have their own sense of style, none seeming a slave to fashion. Since it was a cool spring, they were wearing layers, alternating snug with flowing, mixing up the textures, too. For example, a tight-fitting tank top under a loose jersey with a slinky thigh-length sweater over all. Or a starchy, pressed cotton shirt, white or striped, collar up, under a chunky pullover with a dramatically low V-neck.
Since it was cool and breezy, scarfs were in evidence, wound around the neck or holding back a pony tail. I also saw flouncy, mid-thigh skirts and dresses. No more minis and nothing calf-length. This is a summery, young look, worn with a linen jacket with sleeves pushed up to the elbows, to display a mass of bracelets and bangles on the wrist.
The Italian woman has sleek hair, shoulder length or longer. It’s shiny and natural, cut in a simple, easy-to-care-for style, perhaps kept off the face by a headband or a pair of sunglasses pushed onto the head.
As for what’s on the feet, I was surprised to see that glossy patent leather is the material of choice. I saw everything from lime green pumps with 4-inch heels, to ballet flats in magenta and orange. In fact, flats with barely-there rounded toes adorned with bows and buttons appear everywhere, whereas platform shoes are finished. Shop windows display rope-soled espadrilles in soft leather, linen and rough cotton. Beiges and browns are on offer, as are styles with lengths of grosgrain ribbon or leather thongs to wrap and tie around the ankle. Whether walking to work or riding a bike to a shop, no one dons sneakers for the trek. Whatever shoe belongs with the outfit is on the foot for walking and cycling, too.
When it comes to food and drink, women in northern Italy know how to indulge their passions. At cafes there were tables with two or three women having an espresso and, yes, a slice of tart or a pastry. Lunch time found the same convivial atmosphere at osterias, where a simple meal could include a soft, creamy polenta speckled with chunks of gorgonzola, followed by a plate of steak tartare served with bowls of capers, green peppercorns and sharp mustard. Thin crust pizzas with a light smear of tomato sauce under the topping of choice are popular, eaten, of course with a fork and knife. A glass, pitcher or bottle of wine accompanied the meal, because the two are meant for each other.
And speaking of food, creative risottos were top of the daily menu: with blueberries and juniper, endive and ham, the season’s freshest asparagus. This was a great inspiration to go home and add whatever was freshest from the farmer’s market when I next make this rice dish.
Early evening at my favorite prosciutteria, women appeared, often with their children, other times with a partner, for a reviving plate of luscious 42-month-old prosciutto and an aperitif. The standard aperitif is the Aperol Spritz, made with the bittersweet day-glo orange Aperol, prosecco and a dash of seltzer. It’s served in a big, balloon stemmed glass, with a thick slice of orange. Those wanted something more traditional would have a Campari Spritz, ditching the orange Aperol sweetness for the pure bitterness of magenta red Campari. I tried both and found I still prefer the plain old Campari and soda.
I loved the free spirit of the way women in Verona dressed, bringing their own sense of style and accessorizing to what they wear, regardless of what Italian Vogue espouses. Their ability to indulge in the pleasures of the table with three-course meals was refreshing. And the sanity of a culture which accepts that proper parents are not going to be plying their kids with alcohol just because they, as a family, stop for a cocktail while walking home, is, in my book, to be applauded. We can all take something from this. Personally, looking at how snug my jeans are now, I think I took home an extra five pounds of it!