I was sitting at my favourite café in all of Rome. It was so nice to be back at this square, sitting right next to the small kiosk selling newspapers and souvenirs, watching the locals pass by on their way to work and practicing the “dolce far niente”, the art of doing nothing. I first went to this café a long, long time ago, when I visited a friend who was on Erasmus, the university exchange programme, in Rome. She told me about this tiny café which looked like nothing out of the ordinary. But in the back, they had a counter full of jars covered with golden lids. Underneath, there was the best ice cream I ever had.
Since then, I came back for ice cream and coffee on every trip to Rome. This time, I ordered a coffee and a “tartufo di cioccolato” – dark chocolate ice cream rolled in chocolate sprinkles with a room cherry in the middle. “Con panna,” the waiter asked. “Certo” – of course, the best gelato is even better with some whipped cream on top. Next to me was an American couple. They had just finished their lunch and were discussing that they had needed something “healthy”, because of all the carbs and ice cream they had eaten in Rome. “All this food, I feel so bad about it already! We need to make up for it with a run tonight.” I was happy that I did not have to eat their salad – I was in Rome after all and I wanted to enjoy.
At the same time, a Roman woman walked up to the ice cream counter. “Cioccolato e fragola per favore, e tanto, tanto panna,” she ordered her ice cream with a big smile and asked for extra whipped cream. She was probably in her late fifties, dressed impeccably in flared jeans, a silk blouse, dripping in jewellery. She walked off in her high heels enjoying her gelato.
This brief scene at the Roman café perfectly illustrated the attitude towards food – the American couple punishing themselves for enjoying their holidays and the Roman woman in love with her gelato. How often have you sat in front of a meal and have thought about the calories or how long you need to exercise to make up for that meal? I admit it, it happens, and I get so annoyed with myself when these thoughts start creeping in. I grew up in the 90s – when skinny was the beauty ideal. Models like Kate Moss made me feel conscious about my body weight (which I have always been because I was made fun of being a bit chubby as a child). When I watch American TV shows, they never forget to mention the newest diet trend (gluten, superfood, vegan, no carbs, you name it). And especially women in these shows emphasize that they need to work hard for their bodies at the gym. It makes me wonder – is our outward appearance the only thing defining us as women? I have stopped count of how often I heard a young mum being pressured to “get back in shape” or “get her body back”, just a few weeks after having a baby. How often are female politicians criticized for their looks? How often do we get advertisement for diet products, teeth aligners, plastic surgery on social media – or, even worse, messages of “worried” followers or trolls pointing out our faults?
I think it is really sad to be on holidays in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, having the luxury of trying the delicious local food and then not enjoying it or immediately punishing oneself. I would actually go as far as calling this a crime.
I am sure that many Italian women also think about what they look like (unfortunately, the pressure is the same anywhere). But I do not think that as many obsess about following the newest diet trends to lose weight or obsess about what they are eating all the time. The “obsession” I could observe was the pure joy of a delicious “gelato con panna”. From what I saw in the restaurants and what I overheard conversations, I did not see any self-punishment at all. It was actually the opposite: people were telling each other how delicious the tramezzino tasted, how crunchy the pizza was today or how well the pasta was cooked. Maybe Italian women look amazing because they enjoy every meal and every moment. And most importantly, because they love themselves.
I looked at my “tartufo” and called the waiter over. “Posso avere anche tanto tanto panna come quella donna,” I pointed at the woman leaving with her ice cream. “Certo,” and two minutes later I also enjoyed “tanto tanto panna”. My “salad neighbours” gave me an envious look. And then the woman said: “Oh, f*** it, I’ll have some too.”
Have a great week ahead and do not forget to truly enjoy everything making you smile!