Regular readers will know that I am not one of the world’s “Rise and shine” people , for I am usually at my best very late at night. “Early”, for me, is about 10 am, though Simi wakes at 06.00 and I open the shutters so that she can watch the dogs opposite in their run, then I’m back to the land of nod for a few hours. If it’s one of Rosa’s days, I get up at 8 and watch her energetically “doing” the house, wondering all the time how she can be so – well, normal – at what I regard as the crack of dawn.
So yesterday morning when the buzzer sounded at 9 am, I hastily dressed, thinking it it could only be the postwoman with a parcel which I am expecting. But no, “Sono io, Lucia” sang a cheerful voice over the intercom. Lucia is rather like an “Avon lady” and she arrives weekly to sell me make-up and herbal remedies, which I am all too easily persuaded to buy, as she, who is a little older than me, looks fabulous. She is very kind, and always brings me something other than her wares: some olive oil made from her own olives, lettuce from her garden or broken homemade biscuits for Simi. Yesterday she had brought two chunks of fresh bread: “Today is Sant'Antonio”, she informed me, “and I’ve just been to the monastery to have this bread blessed. You must dip it in oil and oregano and eat some.” I obediently did so, as I need all the help I can get, and very fine bread it was, delicious with this simple condiment.
There is a certain kind of Italian prettiness, which consists in not being afraid to be feminine, in piling on your fine jewellery and mixing it with bling, in wearing your frills and flounces with pride, in setting it all off with a perfect hairdo and accessorising like mad. All this Lucia has and I envy her. When the woman is ready, she doesn’t hide her charms but walks along the street confidently, knowing she looks stunning. If she is older, she won’t encounter “white van man” shouting, “Not bad, gran” or “Borrowed your granddaughter’s dress, luv?” but will receive appreciative looks from men of all ages.
The other secret of looking like this is that, for each outfit, you have to have not only the perfect accessories but the perfect underwear. A British friend of mine, who designs and makes clothes for aristocratic weddings, says she can take at least half a stone off any woman by means of the underwear, which is, of course, sewn into the garment. [That’s partly how the Princess Dianas of the world achieve their look.]
So, with this in mind, after Lucia’s visit I made for the via Sacro Cuore and my favourite intimi shop because it was high time [I use the word “high” advisedly] I got myself properly equipped for my new outfits. “I want a bra with a feretto [underwiring] that will bring them up to here”, I explained, pointing to just below my neck and, with an understanding smile, the sales assistant brought me not one apparatus, but three, that would do just that. [They look at you and guess your size here and they are usually right.] Breathe in, let her adjust the straps and watch your body shape change instantly! “And I want another strapless one, please, and one that won’t show its seams under t-shirts.” More wonders of gravity defiance were whisked off the shelves for my inspection and of course, they just happened to have an offer on, and if I took not one, but two, of each , I could get a third free and a discount off the frillies to go with them and then there was this lingerie perfume they had just brought out….
But the star product, in my opinion, was this clever solution to the “strapless” dilemma. [Yes, guys, we are always worrying about how to push ‘em up under those strapless dresses and tops!] You can substitute this for the straps of a “convertible” bra – only the Italians would think of it and it’s much neater, I think, than transparent straps. It comes in several colours, too:
When I first came here I found underwear shopping a nightmare as there are few M&S [a British chain-store] type shops where it is displayed on hangers and you are free to browse. In 4 years more semi-browsable shops have appeared but you will not be left alone to make your choices, for the shop assistants would regard that as being unhelpful. I have come to the conclusion that, if you choose the right store, an underwear-shopping trip is much more fun the Italian way!