Clare Press explores Italy’s favourite national pastime on a Roman Holiday.
The last time a bloke wolf-whistled at me in Sydney I told him in colourful tones where to go (needless to say it wasn’t out with me for a candle-lit dinner). This man was driving a white van, and commenced his ogling just as I dropped my shopping, his tongue lolling like the village idiot while Bryan Adams blared from his stereo. He was sporting four-day growth and a beanie hat. From what I could see, he had a fat neck too (who knew necks could even be fat? It didn’t bode well for his torso).
Now I don’t deny that when the whistles dwindle with the advancing years, I might miss being found attractive by strange men (that should read male strangers – nobody needs the weird ones). I’ll tell you what, though, I’d miss it much more if I lived in Italy. Actually, scratch that. In Italy a woman’s charms don’t have a sell-by date. That, as they say, is amore.
In Rome on business recently I discovered a wonderful truth. There, all the men flirt with all the women all the time. They flirt in taxis and hotel lobbies; they flirt in cafes and restaurants; in gelato stores and at the markets. Married people flirt dangerously with each other and innocently with everyone else. Single people flirt for Italy. Flirting is a national pastime, without an age limit, one marinated in good humour and class. Italian men don’t ogle, they smile and chat and make women feel beautiful. Even the construction workers whistle winningly.
Maybe it’s the sonorous beauty of the Italian language, or the wine that everyone seems so willing to drink at all sorts of odd times – in moderation, that’s another thing, getting plastered is not the national pastime it is in many Anglo countries. Or maybe it’s the sheer dizzying beauty of cities such as Rome. No wonder Audrey Hepburn’s princess fell for Gregory Peck’s newsman in the iconic 1953 film set here. In need of a confidence boost? Get thee to the Spanish Steps at once!
Here, my pick of Rome’s top flirting hotspots:
Built in the early 1700s, these 138 stone steps climb graciously up from the Piazza di Spagna to the post-card perfect Trinità dei Monti church. A memorable scene in Roman Holiday was filmed here, in which Hepburn lazily licks an ice cream cone and shows off her new short and chic hair cut. The off-duty royal epitomises the tourist at leisure – and picks up a tall, dark and handsome bloke, while she’s at it. So channel Hepburn, pose prettily and watch the world dash by – straight ahead lies the bounteous shopping strip of the Via Condotti – you never know who might be watching.
The Burberry store, Via Condotti
Once you’ve finished your gelato, cross this iconic street and head down past Dior, YSL and Max Mara to the magnificent Burberry store at number 8. Okay, so it’s not a local brand, but my, are the shop assistants are cute here! Don your best duds and your flashiest accessories, nip upstairs in this flagship wonder and try everything on. And don’t forget to ask the boys if you look good in each outfit.
Gelato shops, on every corner
Talking of gelato, this city abounds with the stuff. Whoever deemed oysters as the hottest aphrodisiac surely never tasted a Roman cone. Learn some key words – try cioccolata, fragio, limone, delizioso – apply lip-gloss, place your order and let the good times roll.
Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the wonderful baroque Fontana di Trevi, your wish will come true. The water represents the sea, and to keep the gods on side, you’re supposed to chuck the silver in with your back to the action. I don’t know about all that, but it certainly is a tops place to meet the locals, most of whom are happy to help a little lost holidaymaker…Loiter, look mysterious and leave the guidebook at home.
The streets surrounding the Vatican
Strictly speaking the Vatican is no place for flirting, although the surrounding streets are full of atmospheric pavement cafes that make perfect meeting places. The Pope’s seat of power is a city-state that’s home to an 800-strong religious community of monks, nuns and VIPs, as well as the 500-year-old St Peter’s Basilica and other architectural wonders. The Holy See, as the Vatican is also known, is of enormous spiritual significance to millions of Catholics, and during the major holidays, what feels like the entire city turns out to hear the Pope’s blessings. Worth a try, no?
This giant Roman amphitheatre (there was room for 55,000 spectators) was built between AD 72 and AD 80. Rome’s most famous landmark is absolutely breathtaking, so why not physically swoon at its beauty just as a strapping single male passes by? If all goes to plan, he will swoop in and catch you, then take you off for a reviving glass of vino. What better opportunity to reveal your poet’s soul?
Between the Pantheon and the river, lies this square that was built over the ruins of the ancient Roman sporting venue, Domitian’s Stadium. Today it’s home to three fabulous fountains, plenty of lively restaurants and cafes and the brimming promise of romance. Park yourself in front of the Fontana del Nettuno (a wonderfully buff King Neptune) and make like one of his sea nymphs.