Recently, in Forte dei Marmi, on Tuscany's Versilian coast, I saw a toned, bronzed bicyclist of about 80 in a speedo, joyfully pedalling his way to the beach. A common sight in Italy, yes, except that in this case the gentleman -- not in the least bit self-conscious -- was wearing an oxygen mask.
You see, Italy equals eternal youth.
Women twice my age on the Amalfi Coast have easily overtaken me climbing up lung-exploding inclines; that, carrying heavy bags on their arms. No labored breathing. No wincing from the exertion. No wonder there's no obesity in Italy.
Italy equals good health.
On another occasion, on an immaculate beach near Camaiore, a heavily wrinkled woman in, what I would guess was, her 9th decade of life, strolled by me in her two-piece bathing suit -- loose skin, baggy knees, cellulite and all. Noting the woman's complete obliviance to "age-appropriateness," I remarked to my Italian friend, Veronica, that I couldn't imagine wearing a two-piece on a public beach if I was that age. To which mia amica replied: "Of course not. American women worry too much about how others think they look. Italian women don't care." What she meant was, Italian women are confident. Italians are confident because every age is embraced, valued and respected.
Italy equals -- it screams -- audacity.
Clusters of beaming old men in every town on the peninsula can be found socializing in trattorias or benches in piazzas, or simply lounging silently along city walls. They are a ubiquitous national treasure. In San Gimignano, I saw one group -- gnarly and bent with age -- position themselves across the street from the Duomo where they could watch a wedding taking place. They sat and played cards and gossiped during the ceremony until the bride and groom emerged on the church steps, wherein they applauded the couple and playfully lifted their wine to them in a toast. The bride and groom threw kisses at them in return.
My husband was envious. "That's what I want to do when I retire," he said with a deep, longing sigh.
Realizing, then and there, that to travel to Italy is to leave behind your date of birth, I replied, "So do I."
We will probably not retire to Italy, even though our Italian cousins in Tuscany are precious to us and living near them would be heavenly. But we can dream.
And, after all, Italy equals dreams.