Belfast Telegraph

I adored the attention I got from Italian men

By Frances Burscough

There's a traditional Italian greeting I once learnt on holiday: "Saluti a tutti, belli e brutti". It means "Welcome, one and all, beautiful or beastly!" and I'd like to extend this to all the visitors here for the Giro d'Italia.

If my own experience of Italian men is anything to go by, there won't be too many beastly ones. In fact, when I was first there in the Eighties I was struck by how downright drop-dead gorgeous everyone looked to me. Well, in comparison to Preston they certainly were.

Mind you, I was of a "certain age" at the time, so cercare ragazzi was at the very forefront of my mind. I was there on a mission, hell-bent on a holiday romance. Not only that, but my sisters were all there too. Imagine the scene, five young lookalike girls, all at various stages of adolescence, all fair-skinned, blonde-haired, giggling excitedly ... from the moment we landed at Verona Airport we were the centre of everyone's attention. It was fantastico!

There was just one problem. Well two, actually: mum and dad, who were watching like hawks. From the moment we landed at Verona Airport they obviously started to regret the trip. Two whole weeks of chaperoning all five, well they certainly had a job on their hands. We hadn't even got through customs and the flirting and flattery had begun in earnest.

"Bella, bella, bella, bella, bella!" was how we were greeted at passport control. This was definitely going to be fun. Dad meanwhile gritted his teeth and wished he'd packed a cattle prod.

Upon arrival at Lago di Garda the excitement of so much unprecedented attention continued apace. The concierge took a photograph of us in the lobby and then from nowhere a team of eager young men appeared to help us with our luggage while all the other guests looked on and struggled with theirs.

At dinner we were served first by eager waiters brandishing increasingly large pepper mills. Even though it was a self-service buffet, they kept offering to carry our plates. We were in our element.

The fun continued. On the first evening, as we strolled down the cobbled street on our way into Malcesine town centre, a bus drove past which looked like it was a football team on its way home from a match. The driver slammed on the brakes, said something over his microphone and at once the whole bus-load of passengers craned their necks to catch a glimpse. The mind boggles about what he actually said, but once again we felt like celebs as they blew kisses and ... ahem ... made encouraging gestures of approval in our direction.

Even in church on the Sunday distractions were everywhere. I found myself gawping at an altar boy who looked like Chachi off Happy Days (complete with jet-black middle parting) for the duration of Mass. Mum, dad and God would certainly be unimpressed if they had noticed the looks that were being exchanged during Communion.

So you could say my folks really had their work cut out that summer. I for one would have liked nothing better than to be whisked away and romanced by a Latin lothario in a Lamborghini or on a Lambretta but they wouldn't let us out of their sight. It was like being outside a sweetshop but all the shutters were down.

Dad soon realised that day trips to the beach were the most risky and difficult keeping us all together safely in one place amid so much distraction, so after a couple of days we settled on a small lakeside cove near the hotel that was quiet, sheltered and much more suitable for leisurely sunbathing and that's where we went most days. One afternoon as we were lounging around in our bikinis we spotted a speedboat heading in our direction. It slowed down as it approached the shore and we could see it was filled with the coolest looking guys I'd ever seen, wearing Ray Bans, with golden tans and beaming smiles. And, oh my god, Chachi from church was one of them.

I couldn't be exactly sure what they were saying but they were clearly inviting us to hop on board.

Naturally, mum and dad said no without a second thought and that was the end of that. The beginning and end of a potential holiday romance in under five minutes.

At the time I was gutted and for years afterwards I bitterly regretted it. It could have been so idyllic, like something out of a romantic movie!

In fact, it took for me to have teenagers of my own to understand and to forgive that decision. Who knows what might have happened? It doesn't bear thinking about does it?!


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