Updated: Sep 1
The perfection, the pride, the pain. Or: How I learned why Italian women have such great bums and such cross faces.
“Have you had a bum job while I was away?" my then husband was asking, rather sharply, on that balmy bygone evening in northern Italy.
Beneath an ochre and pink Italian sky, we were taking our passeggiata , the ritual check-and-be-checked evening stroll, in the ancient Lombard city of Bergamo, where we had newly taken up residence. Spring had sprung, and the bums were out. All around us, as far as the eye could see, fantastic female bums. Piazzas packed with them, sidewalks surging with them. High, firm, gravity defying, age defying, stupefying. Now -- wonderfully, improbably -- mine was one of them. And I seemed to be getting more looks than anyone. At my spouse's query, I smiled. Outwardly, that is. Inwardly I was screaming. Because I had discovered their secret: the secret of the perfect Italian female bum, and the cross Italian female face. I knew their secret and I knew their hurt. But unlike them, I could hide the hurt deep, and I mean deep within. I could keep smiling. Which is why I was getting so much attention. Because I was virtually the only one, in the whole perfectly lofted bum-burgeoning vista, who looked happy. Possibly the only woman in this city, maybe in all of Italy, who had a bum worthy of attention and who did not look utterly pissed off, ready to scream, or perhaps tear your throat out -- the Italian stunner’s standard facial expression. I would never forget the day I happened on their secret, and began to wear my maddening smile... My rear view, you see, had not been my claim to fame. I had my subtler share of attention from more refined, maturer Italian observers, like the clean old gentleman in the outdoor vegetable market who told me he got turned on by frizzy-haired women with runny noses.
So: A cheery heart, chipper grin, winsome way with stray dogs, children, and elder gents, si. Bum, no. Just a couple of weeks earlier, when my mate had flown off on his business trip, it was my old familiar, friendly pear-shaped pontoons that he kissed goodbye, so to speak. That was the reason for his surprise, on that bright new spring day.
From the start of our Italian sojourn, I had bravely borne male mesmerization with the female population’s aboundingly astounding bums. Italian men no longer pinched bottoms, they just made brain imprints with their eyes. They even massed at underwear-store windows, ocularly ingesting the thonged plastic torsos revolving like vertical rear-end shiskebab. I believed I was cool with this. I feel good about me, I told myself. Come on, did I really want to look like them? Goddess-bronze, marble-firm, makeup-perfect, hair a cascade of streaked silk, slinking to the supermarket with bum a-jut, wearing panther pumps and furs...
No: The day I stumbled on their secret, the day after my man left for his trip, I wasn’t even looking, not really. It was a warm afternoon, sleepy shops just awakening after the midday pause. On one corner of Largo Porta Nuova, downtown Bergamo’s major crossroad, from the cupola of the Church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie, the Virgin’s golden statue stretched blind beatific hands. On the opposite corner stood a jeans store, sporting window-size photos of naked adolescents with sweaty tattoos and bellybuttons.
I found myself inside the store, the only customer. The saleslady, a stunning 40something, had the glow, the muscle tone, the makeup, the hair. She had the bum. I told her I was only looking. The jeans, I said, were made only for the perfect Italian bum, il sedere Italiano perfetto, like hers. “Macché, perfetto, signora!...” She grabbed jeans, pressganged me into a fitting room, shook her head as I fumbled with them. “ Così . Like this.” She hoiked the jeans upwards, hard. Aowww! Eeee! Oooh! And there it was in the mirror. An Italian bum. My bum. The pearshape hoisted, bisected and splayed by an iron back seam; carved and lofted and denim-taut. It looked amazing. It hurt like hell. “ Ecco! ” she said. She gave her own stupefying jeans-encased bum a friendly scornful smack. I had found their secret. Yes: It was the seam -- the pitiless rigid back seam on Italian jeans. Thereby hung no tail, because there was no place for it to hang. Relentlessly cleaved and hoisted, there was no place for the bum to go but up and out. As long as you had the jeans on. After: the fall.
So key were second-skin bum-seaming jeans to Italian allure, that they were central to a notorious 1998 ruling by the Italian Supreme Court, which overturned a rape charge because, the justices said, the victim was wearing such tight jeans; jeans which, moreover, could not possibly be removed without consent. That gave rise to an annual Denim Day, an anti-rape movement spearheaded by none other than Alessandra Mussolini, nouveau-Fascist party parliamentarian, the platinum blonde, bodaciously proud grand-daughter of Il Duce. She and several colleagues took to donning their jeans and holding up signs that said: JEANS / ALIBI / FOR RAPE. Ten years later, after Denim Day had gone international, the Italian judiciary thought better of it, and struck the so-called "denim defense" from the books.
Well, reader, naturally I bought the transformative, legally-protected denims. Began wearing them, for practice. Short periods, at first. A little longer each day. The horror! The horror! The flaying pitiless inseam, the agony of that permanent wedgie. But the horror never showed on my face. On my lips was a smile. I got a pair of the shoes they all wore with their jeans, spikey, sole-burning, witch-toed. With the heels hiked and toes racked forward, the rear had to shoot back and up, for balance, and also to try to get free of the fiendish seam. Once it was up and out there, a slumbering atavistic impulse kicked in: to swing that thing. And there you had it: The Italian bum, swinging on a mild-mannered Canuck female. I practiced longer. Worked on coordination. Quarter of an hour, lurching, swaying, on cobbled streets made for horses’ hooves. The next day, longer, the next, longer still. After ten days I could do it like them. Everything vibrating, from seat to feet. Thong-cleave to shin splints to twisted toes. Thinking: No wonder they look cross. By the time my other half returned, I was up to an hour and a bit, without sitting down. (I never did figure out how any woman could stand to sit, so to speak.) But for one thrilling throbbing hour a day, I could look like them. And smile. First, because I knew their secret. Second, because in a little while - oh please Lord, very soon, I could tell myself - I could take the jeans off. The Italian women had to wear them all day, all the time. For them, every single tomorrow was another bum day.
For as long as possible, I undressed in the dark. What happened to the marriage, when I and my unseamed sedere had to come out into the light -- well, that's another story. Remind me to tell you, later. Right now, I need to get out of these jeans.