Monday, June 11, 2007

Avoiding breasts

Spring has been unseasonably hot here in Trieste, which means the Triestini have been hitting the beach in droves. A few weeks ago, we strolled around Barcola, the beach front in Trieste. There's no sand--just a brick boardwalk, then boulders, then the Adriatic. There is a tiny area (la spiagetta) with a little pebble beach instead of boulders where parents with small children can go. There are also a few areas with circular, concrete platforms with ladders that descend into the sea. But if you're sunbathing anywhere else along the waterfront, you've got to scramble over the boulders, say a short prayer, then throw yourself into the sea. It's quite invigorating. (??)

Anyway, as we were walking along Barcola and the kids were clambering up the slide at one of the playgrounds, I thought: These would make some nice photos for my blog. So I took my camera and got to work.

But there was a problem. Breasts.

Every time I lifted my camera to take a shot, someone's breasts were inevitably in the picture. As you may know, many Italians sunbathe topless. Not just sunbathe, actually. People hang out (pun intended) playing cards, sipping cappuccini in the outdoor bars along the beach, swimming and chatting. Half naked.

So my dilemma was how to capture the rugged beauty of Barcola without having an X-rated post. I first looked to my left. Ahhh, the marina. I aim, then lift my camera up, over the breasts, over people's heads, a bit more....aaaannnnnd click:
There it is, the marina against the hills of Trieste, sans breasts. Then comes the can't take photos of Barcola without including the Castello Miramare that juts out into the sea. So again I aim, leaving the topless women out of the photo, replacing them with LOTS of sky. Click.
The playground where we were is under a canopy of giant pine trees, which is where I was standing when this sailboat glided by. After a few tries, here's a shot where some bathers are actually still wearing their tops. Maybe they'd just arrived, who knows.
Here you can also see part of the brick walk, and the tips of a few boulders (one is right behind that guy's knee..the guy who's probably telling the lady beside him that she should take off her top now.)
Trieste doesn't get many American tourists--they all come as far as Venice and then go home. But when they do come, they're fairly easy to spot on the beach, especially the men. They're the ones with the I-can't-believe-my-good-fortune look on their faces.
When I first came to Trieste, I'll admit it was weird to talk to a topless woman on the beach. No matter what we talked about--the weather, politics or where to find the best deals on new sandals--I couldn't help but repeat to myself: This woman isn't wearing a top. This woman isn't wearing a top. This woman isn't wearing a top... And then I'd miss the name of the store with the great deal on sandals. And of course, you have to spend the whole conversation avoiding looking down. Lots of eye contact.
The other day my daughter received a bathing suit for her birthday, and it was a two-piece. The gift-giver said that she knew we'd be in the U.S. this summer, and she'd heard that little girls in America wear tops with their bathing suits. A few other mothers overheard her and their eyes grew wide. "Really?" they asked. "Why would a little girl wear a top?"
Hmmm. I was stumped. Why, indeed?


Rilla said...

Yeah, why indeed, except maybe to let little girls know early on that they will be restricted, constrained and discriminated against for the rest of their lives with no other reason than their gender...Oooh, ouch, did I say that? NO, no, not a cynical bone in my body!
Ha ha, but your eye contact story reminds me of when I first came to the States at the ripe old age of 18 and was completely unused to the idea of communal women's showers. So I got out of the college swimming pool to take a shower and of course, I had my bathing suit on. And I had this long conversation in the shower with this other girl who of course was wearing a lovely white bathing suit as well. Alas, that was in the days before Lasik eye surgery. Once I got my glasses back on and realized the women had a particularly nice tan, I was never able to look her in the eye again...
Love the time...keep the breasts in...we need to be more proud of our bodies...what say you?

Dana said...

Just dropped by to catch up on some of your examples of endearing Italian quirkiness. Ahhh, breasts. That really brought back memories ... from standing in the gym locker room with a bunch of other mature women having a lengthy discussion completely naked (perky breasts, saggy breasts, cellulite - no one seemed to notice or care) ... except for the requisite flip-flops and possible cigarette hanging from a gracefully draped hand. The fact that two of these women were mothers of some students of mine just didn't seem to matter after a time. Can't you just imagine having a parent conference in America completely nakers? Who knows, they might go much more quickly.

Thanks for always bringing back such wonderful memories and sharing your special wit. By the way, I am hoping to see the Bubbling Champagne Dance once again this summer (Sorry, Folks, inside joke.). Much love!

cynjay said...

For years, my youngest son could not figure out why men had to wear bottoms. He was perfectly happy going starkers everywhere.

Edna said...

Good question! In the same vein... I, myself, have wondered why people here (in America) are so opposed to breast-feeding babies or "offended" if a mom breastfeeds her baby in public, even while covered up.

Africakid said...

LOL! Reminds me of the first time I visited a French beach in Nice while still in college--a conservative Christian college, I might add. Shocked me. And guess what, I think I needed to be shocked! Found out there's a world of difference between gratuitious nakedness and everyday "comfortable with our bodies" nakedness. Here's to breasts.

C.K. said...

"why indeed, except maybe to let little girls know early on that they will be restricted, constrained and discriminated against for the rest of their lives with no other reason than their gender..."

How much am I loving Rilla? I agree, leave the breasts in. Let there be unashamed bare breasts and we'll try to deal with our North American self-consciousness. Why, I bet the dogs don't even cover up their scrotums in Italy!

Natalie said...

Ha, Rilla--I love the white bathing suit story! And you're right about being proud of our fact, once I got over the intial shock (which took a few years, actually!) of seeing topless women all over the place, I had to admit that it was kind of nice that ALL women felt comfortable sans top--from teenagers to grandmothers, from skinny to plump, from mosquito bites to well-endowed, and everyone in between. :-)

Ciao Dana! Conducting parent-teacher conferences half-naked...hmmmm. You're right--that would cut down on time(in America, not Italy), wouldn't it? ;-)

Tell your son to come on over here--little boys (and girls) go naked at the beach all the time!

I hear you--breastfeeding here is no big deal at all. In fact, women don't lift UP their shirts to breastfeed, they unbutton them and the breast-aurant is open for business. On the beach, the topless mothers just feed their babies right there--no hiding under a strategically-draped towel.

Hey africakid!
I know how you felt--it took me awhile to get over the shock, as well--it's amazing how ingrained our cultures are in each of us, isn't it? And while I'll admit that I do occasionally sunbathe like the Italians, I only do it in places where I know I won't run into anyone I know...some habits die hard, I guess!

Hi C.K.
Rilla's great, isn't she? It's funny, because I left the breasts out because I didn't think anyone would want to have their topless photos on the internet, even though chances are small you'd ever be able to tell who they are. But now that I think of it, they probably wouldn't care, would they?

When I used to teach Kindergarten at the international school here, I had a "Super Star of the Week" thing where students would take turns bringing in photos of themselves, their families, etc. and I'd post them on a bulletin board. One kid brought in photos of his birthday party that he'd had that summer, and there was a photo of him and his friends gathered around the cake, and the moms in the background singing "Happy Birthday," and not one top in sight (plenty of breast, though!). I just about died (this was my first year in Italy). I didn't know if I should put it up, or not, so I asked the mother, and she said, "Of course!" So up it went. When the other moms came to pick up their kids that day and gathered around the bulletin board, I held my breath, waiting for one of them to demand that I take it down. But all of their comments were along the lines of: Oh, I remember that day--was it ever hot! Or: Where did you buy that cake--it was delicious. So the breasts remained on the Super Star of the Week bulletin board. :-)

Rilla said...

Hey Natalie,
You know what's great? It's your take universal themes like sweat and breasts, approach them with a unique, individual take, that of an American expat in Italy, and talking about narrative arc -- you throw in a thought-provoking curve-ball that allows us to see things differently from what we're used to's ILLUSTRATED to boot! I LOVE it...wrap it up, I'll take it ;)

CK: Yeah, you hit a home-run with those shameless Italian dogs. I'd been worrying about my cats...yes, they have scrotums (?) scrota (?) too. I know, I know they're all covered in fur, but fur is so retro and politically incorrect, so I crocheted these little nylon undies for them to be respectable, pink for Sha-do and green for Fog-gi. Now if only I could train them to pull them...DOWN SHA-DO, I SAID DOWN...! Oops not again...gotta go...

Natalie said...

Aw, shucks, Rilla--thanks!:-) Oh, and Italian dogs don't wear any sort of loin cloth, so there you have it. ;-)