As entertaining as the “Real Housewives” television series is — I admit, I thoroughly enjoy it at times — I worry for the protagonists. Most of these women have lost the ability to show their emotions and are left instead with just one expression in order to whisper, cry, laugh, scream and smile. Thanks to lip injections and Botox, the catty verbal scenes look more dubbed than a poorly translated foreign film from the 1950s.
Living in Italy has been incredibly refreshing. Here I am surrounded by everything old. I walk on cobblestone streets that were laid down between the fifth and 11th centuries, I gaze at artistic and architectural masterpieces created hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago and I am expected to be knowledgeable about the more fermented wines and moldier cheeses. Italians preserve the past both literally and figuratively through restoration and tradition.
Italy loves its wrinkles. And it has a lot of them. I can attest to that.
I was in a cell phone store when I first interacted with an Italian local. She was probably about 75-years old, five-feet tall and was sporting a fabulous, knee-length rabbit fur coat with a matching hat. While in line, she turned to me and began to complain about the wait. She didn’t seem to notice that I, too, was wearing a backpack and thereby fit in perfectly with the group of American girls that had flooded the store, but, if she did, she didn’t seem to care.
She wore messy red lipstick, had a little upturned nose and was easily the snarkiest woman I have ever come across. We spoke — me in my rusty Italian — a little bit about her coat. She told me that I was a sweet girl, and then she suddenly called out a sales associate who had clearly ripped off one of the other students in the store. This interaction sparked my interest and love for the elderly Florentines.
I learned, after a conversation with my host family, that Italy has an aging population.
While the adults continue to age, Italy’s younger couples are delaying the thought of children, if they have considered it at all.
For me, this combination of demographic transformation and my own personal experiences render the elderly one of the most fascinating aspects of Italy. I have observed every single old man or woman that I’ve passed in the streets or seen in restaurants. Unfortunately, I haven’t had my camera with me during my most endearing encounters, like when I dropped a pack of bobby pins and an 80-year-old woman strenuously attempted to bend down to pick them up, squealing delightedly about how adorable she thought the pins were. Another memorable moment was when an 87-year-old man auditioned on “Italia’s Got Talent” and had better dance moves than what half of the Georgetown student body has. The crowd was on its feet.
I did, however, manage to capture a few charming elderly characters that I’ve come across, all of whom were behaving as if they were in their 20s.
Whether they are yelling at a soccer game on the television in a quiet and fancy cafe, confused in Rome after losing their walking tour guide or pushing other passengers aside so they can get the best seat on the bus, these men and women are more alive and filled with character than anyone I have met thus far in Italy.
So, cin cin (“cheers,” in Italian) to walking canes and magnificently large moustaches and wrinkles that symbolize years of wisdom and laughter.