Italian Nude Beaches and Culture Shock

So part of the deal here in Florence is that the school sets us up with a host family. We answer a short questionnaire about our allergies, smoking habits etc. and Italian speaking abilities. On Friday I went through a series of orientation activities before finally getting paired up with my host family at the Syracuse center. As we filtered into the hall (Italian parents sitting up front) most of them looked relatively older. Some had little kids, others had adult children living at home etc.

Since I don’t have a roommate, I crossed my fingers hoping against hope that I got a good family that spoke English. When my name was called with the Santelli family, a tall, chic woman stood up to receive me. At about 50 years old with highly arched eye brows, and an incredible tan, Donatella (my host mother) is an Italian fashion dream come true. She was wearing stilettos, shiny dark blue pants, a high halter neck tank top, she has a short burgundy bob haircut with pink hair extensions and has her nose (and belly button as I’d find out later) pierced. She kissed me on both cheeks and I was blown away. Thank you thank you thank you I thought to myself. She took me outside to meet Enzo, her husband, and their two little dogs. She and Enzo just got married 5 years ago but have been together for 27 plus years after they met and fell in love on the stage when they were fellow actors in an Italian company years ago. Donatella doesn’t want kids because crying babies scare her, but they both work at the University of Florence so they are on the same page as kids like me.

We had “immersion weekend” where we were supposed to do an activity with our host parents to get to know each other. Most students went shopping or to buy a bus pass but when I met Donatella she asked me if I would be okay with going camping for the whole weekend. She and her husband, Enzo, wanted to take me to the Adriatic sea. Heck yes, I said, and at my obviously delighted expression she remarked “Great, we go now Patty” (they pronounce my name Pot-tee).

So I literally dropped my big bag off at their house, threw in my swim suit and a few pair of shorts and we were off to the Adriatic in their RV camper. Four hours later through a huge rain storm we arrived and had an incredible dinner of pasta, fresh vegetables and fruit, bread, wine, and pork. (The food here is beautiful, I almost want to applaud every time she cooks).

The next morning we woke up to a sunny, beautiful day and decided to go to the beach. Oh, on top of being incredibly beautiful and fashion oriented people, they also enjoy being travel, music and sports–I have the best of both worlds! We got to the path, and I glanced down to see not a regular hiking path but rather a huge cliff that we’d have to conquer to get to the beach. I followed Enzo down the rocky terrain. He moved with quick agility and ease–compared to him I felt like a clumsy elephant trying to slipping and sliding all over the place. Any misstep and I’d fall through the beautiful yellow wild flowers to certain death. I guess if I had to choose a way to die this way wouldn’t be so bad. He turned back to me about half way down and asked “Patty what sport do you do.” I explained that I liked running and walking and used to play soccer. I returned the question and he said he and Dona like rock climbing cliffs in the mountains, backpacking through the woods, among many other adventure sports. Excellent.

Finally we made it down and there was a sign at the bottom of the trail that read “Beach frequented by nudists” in italian. Oh dear lord I’m not sure I can handle a hundred naked Giovanni’s right now, I thought to myself. Dona must have seen my shocked expression because she nudged me, winked and said “Is good. We get an even tan dis way.”

We put down our towels and Dona stripped right down not thinking twice about it. I erred on the conservative side choosing to keep my bathing suit on. Enzo left about an hour after that and Dona and I stayed, tanning and napping. Eventually I worked up the courage to take off one strap of the top of my swimsuit but refused to go further than that. Dona passed out in slumber. Drifting in and out of sleep myself, I didn’t see him until he was 20 feet away. Through the rays of the hot sun, a man walked right by only wearing a backpack, and carrying a pair of sneakers. He nodded in my direction and I gulped and hid my face in the towel. Guess I’m not in Duluth, Minnesota anymore.

I know they say, “when in Rome do as the Romans do” but in this case I’ll pass…for now…

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