If you're like me and you've long wondered why is it that some grandmothers get breast implants? or, where in the developed world do parents still smack their bratty kids? then you'll be relieved to know that enlightment, and overpriced gelato, can be found at the beach. Italian beaches that is.
After a two week break, the searing heat of summer has returned to the boot. And so, the wisely heeded call most every Saturday and Sunday is tutti al mare. Everyone to the beach. On Saturday, Xtina and I took the 40-min train journey to Santa Marinella, a lovely beach near the Tuscan border. Its relative proximity to Roma, however, makes it a Roman colony. Thus the scarier city elements are out in full force behaving as they would on the streets of Rome. Xtina is convinced Romans have arms that are disproportionately long and thus some (the ones with stubby little legs, anyhow) remind one of a zoo attraction. I think that's a tad unfair and certainly statistically inaccurate.
But Romans at the sea have some noteworthy attributes. For one, they gather in packs at the water's edge, cigarettes in hand, and agitate over some topic that is bound to draw an even larger crowd. Teenage girls, all vamped up, strut up and down practicing their catwalk gait. Teenage boys kick soccer balls at one another, ignoring the girls, leaving the older men to nod distractedly at their wives while these nymphs pass by.
I have described the universal beach experience. Right? Wait. There's more. For a country blessed with beaches, Italy has a population that seems completely mistrustful of water. Depending on which Italian you ask, one should wait no less than 4 hours before entering the sea after nibbling on a snack. It doesn't matter if it's a baking hot 40 degree (105 F) day. Four hours is the rule. Anything less is suicidal. Also, Italians won't enter the sea unless the water temperature is a bath-like 25 degrees (77 F). This is why packs of Italians stand at the water's edge, checking their watches (counting down the hours) and toe-testing for appropriate warmth. It's only those Viking stranieri like me who barrel into the cool waves, sounding a victory belch while chewing gamely.
On land, distractions abound too. It's admittedly hard to read something when you are the only person sitting still. Few Italians -- Ok, to be fair, few Romans -- read in public. Basta! I have seen a few leaf through the pages of a magazine with lots of pictures, but I don't think you can count this as reading when they are simultaneously on the telefonino, cooing their boyfriend/husband/lover and threatening to beat any child that again kicks sand on them. Even when one can read, the relative calm is invariably interrupted by a toddler getting wacked by a grownup. I'm not saying these kids don't deserve it, but I thought a welting rap on the coolo was outlawed in the '70s. Judging by the number of smacks dealt out, my guess is some childless adults were getting in a few opportune wacks where they could.
But the scariest scene of all is the leathery, chain-smoking grandmother with the red velvet mane, perilously bejeweled so close to the water's edge. She prowls the sands hoping to turn heads towards, as opposed to away from, her. Now picture this creature with breast implants.
I warned you. This is a unique beach experience.