My first ever visit to Italy, albeit only for a long weekend, left a lasting impression. Yes, there was architecture, fancy stuff with twirly bits and statues with large penises and voluptuous breasts all over the place. Yes, there was that tower, leaning as if gravity were merely a man made invention to be treated with contempt. And yes, there was food to die for, if you like Italian food that is. Of course they just call it "food" there.
But it was none of those that impressed me the most. C like the architecture, that cathedral thing in Florence and the hues and colours of the buildings. Fair enough, girls will be girls, intellectual sorts will be like that.
I was struck, nay, bowled over, by the sense of style and trendiness of the Italians.
I'd heard it said that these Italians were ever so stylish, that they're all incredibly sexy and filled with more panache than a warehouse selling the stuff cheaply on the outskirts of Paris. But it wasn't quite that aspect that grabbed me. I've waited a few weeks to gather my thoughts before I tell you about it, as I was a tad confused and needed time for them to settle. Well, they have and I've realised what it was all about.
You see, these Italians, well it wasn't that they actually looked good, not by proper London trendy standards anyway. Women in Paris, to me, are the most chic looking I've seen anywhere. They exhibit a certain sophistication and sexiness that can only be beaten by some of the best looking types in London. Yes, I'm biased there. But Parisienne women ooze this sophistication as if by default. That is to say, most of them have it. In London we're confronted by chavs and common people on every street corner.
The bits of travel I've done in France outside of Paris indicate that the normal French person is somewhat lacking in the style stakes. It's only these women with their poodles in Paris that have the thing.
And what I saw in Italy is that a huge percentage of the population have this style consciousness. On many occasions they were dressed in clothes that would either get them beaten up or laughed at if worn in London on an average day. Perfectly suitable for wearing at a nightclub on a Saturday night, or for a launch party for one of Madonna's new children, but wear them while going shopping round Kingston or the like and it would be a different story.
Whilst walking to our platform to catch a train there was a woman in front of me who caught my attention. Fortunately C didn't see my attention go off on one. This lady was wearing the shortest of skirts, something on top that left not much to the imagination and high heeled espadrille sort of shoes. It was one of the many moments during the weekend when I'd wished for "manly" company, like DB or one of these fellows. We would have gaped and made "phwoar" noises to our hearts' content.
But, this woman was par for the course, or par for the Italian course. No one even looked twice at her. If she'd been dressed like that in England, going about her everyday business, just about every male passer by would have copped a mouth load of abuse from his partner for staring too much and gawping. Builders would have been wolf whistling like even wolves don't know how to do and there probably would have been camera crews out to take advantage of the situation and film a quick advert for hairspray or ladies' shavers.
In the very same station, the main Florence one that was as crowded as Fort station on a Monday morning, we walked by two men. One of them was wearing a t shirt and speedos, I kid you not. I couldn't help but stare, yet the rest of the Italians didn't even notice.
That was the thing. Lots of these fellows, by London fashion standards, looked like idiots, but it just seemed that everyone in Italy, at least most of them, was incredibly conscious of their appearance. And I liked that a lot. I don't consider myself some sort of model of trendiness but I like to think that I put effort into my clothes and appearance. Style can be bad, but it's better to put effort in than look all plain and dowdy.
What I love about these Italians is that even the ones out shopping with their grandmothers, even the grandmothers actually, seemed to be bothered about how they looked.
Just look at the bloke in the picture. He's a dustman for god's sake! I tell you. With his Aviators, tattoos, the tan and the physique I must admit that for the first time in my life I wondered what being gay might be like.
As it happens I'm almost entirely heterosexual, so all was okay.