Sunday, February 1, 2009

Little Italy

Little Italy
(Published by Fra Noi, Chicago IL, June 2008)

It was getting late, and Maurizio looked up at me with those dark, magnetic eyes, those orbs of ink that had so enchanted me. We were alone together on the dark steps of an abandoned villa, and after dinner, drinks, and a long Vespa ride in the country, it seemed like an intensely romantic moment. We chatted about various things, and the energy between us was tangible. The conversation gradually turned more personal, and I thought that this would finally be it. This would be the moment that he tenderly touches my face, our eyes would meet, there would be a hovering moment of mutual tension, and then exorbitant amounts of passionate kissing would surely ensue. But instead, he chose this moment to tell me about his girlfriend. The surprise obviously registered on my face, and he asked, “Oh. You didn’t think that I was interested in YOU that way, did you?” I embarrassingly admitted that I had gotten that impression after his very affectionate text messages, his endless supply of little gifts, his repeatedly taking me out to dinner, and so on. He shook his head laughing softly, and said, “But I could never date you, at least not seriously, not in public. I mean, my friends would laugh at me. You’re too tall!”

And so it has been. Not only in the dating sector has my vertical enhancement been a source of controversy, but virtually every aspect of my life has been effected to some degree.

I am six feet tall, and have been since my mid-teens, and so am very accustomed to most of the one-liners that go with being prodigiously perpendicular. Even here in Italy there is a version of “How’s the weather up there?” Oh yes, I’ve heard them all, and now in two languages. I love the clever witticisms and the constant battute of the Italians. There is a joy to life here in Italy that is reflected in the lighthearted banter of everyday conversation. (As long as politics or cooking are not discussed, that is. Those are two things taken very seriously.) But on the average, I get teased about my height, at the very least, three times a day. Three jokes, every single day for seven years. 3 x 365 x 7 would mean that I have been made fun of a minimum of 7665 times. 7665 times I have repeatedly heard the same jokes again and again. And though for the most part, I can still laugh about it, sometimes it’s not always so funny.

Last summer for example, I went to an outdoor rock concert starring the divine Renato Zero, one of Italy’s most enduring pop stars. After arriving very early in the morning and waiting in line all day, I managed a front row position. I was in seventh heaven! That is until I felt a severe and immediate pain in the back of my right leg. As I turned around I realized that I had just been kicked (and very hard!), by a short, angry, elderly woman. I was wondering what I could have done to deserve being so viciously attacked, when she screamed over the music, “You are too tall! I can’t see anything! Get out of here!” Leaving was of course no option. I momentarily considered offering her my place in the front row, however after being mule-kicked by this mad munchkin, I wasn’t feeling particularly generous. I did what I could though, to slouch as much as possible.

Then, just last week at the theatre, I was aggressively asked to move by two women sitting behind me. As the play was sold out, there was no where else for me to move to, and though I apologized profusely to the signore, throughout the play I was (as well as those around me were) subjected to the sighs and the louder-than-a-whisper comments on what a “giant of a woman” I am. Again, apart from leaving, slouching was the best I could do in recompense.

There have been other, more innocent reactions to my stately stature, but with perhaps an even a more disturbing effect on my psyche as a result. I went out for a pizza once with a woman I didn’t know very well, but her company seemed enjoyable enough. During dinner however, there was a moment of confusion when she asked me “Where did you make the change?” We had been discussing how and why I had moved to Italy. I was talking about my passport at that particular moment, and her question seemed odd to me. We were speaking Italian, and I assumed it was a linguistic error on my part, and that she probably was asking where I had changed planes when I first came to Italy. I answered her by saying merely “Amsterdam.” She looked puzzled and said, “I didn’t know they did that there.” The confusion continued to tangle itself around our words, until it finally dawned on me that she was asking about where I had had my sex change operation. I dropped my fork at the realization. When I clarified that I had been talking about a problem with my passport, NOT having any gender modification procedure, the poor girl turned purple with embarrassment, and blurted out, “Oh! But I thought that explained why you’re so tall!”

I felt just awful after that one. Getting kicked by a grandma at a rock concert is one thing, but having my femininity put in question simply because I can reach the top shelf in the grocery store without a stepladder, is quite another.

But once again, I found solace and comfort in an old Italian proverb. I’ve heard many of these sayings over the years and the wisdom and consolation they bring, seem to miraculously make whatever quandary I’m facing appear easier to overcome.

After being mistaken for a giant ex-man, my self-image was lacking a bit, as one could well imagine. I was feeling a tad down about the whole thing, and I suppose is showed. Then one afternoon a tiny woman in her mid-eighties passed me on the street and she said, “Ah, but you don’t look quite happy today.” Without going into detail about having been mistaken for the recipient of sex reassignment surgery, I explained that I was just feeling a little awkward about my height and that I was uncomfortable being such a monster. She grabbed her cane with both hands and playfully smacked me in the head with it. She said, “But ‘Altezza è metà bellezza!’ You’ve never heard this?” I had to admit that I had not heard that phrase before, “Half of beauty is height.” My wise friend then took her cane once again, and waving it like a conductor leading a symphony, said, “You are a beautiful girl! Nothing wrong with you at all! It is only you’re heart is so big that God had to built an extra long container to keep it in, and that is it! Anyone that does not agree with this is just jealous and not worth your time. You understand me?”

I thought about that for a moment or two. What a great way to look at it! And so, with head held high, no more slouching, good posture all around, I decided to take the signora’s words with me and keep on walkin’ tall.

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