An American girl in Italy - An Irish Pretender. Evading the Italian catcall.


• Have a good look at these two photos. One may be familiar to you, and the other may seem, well, it may seem a little distracting. You’re probably asking yourself why the poor girl isn’t wearing a bra with that ever so slightly revealing dress. I know I am, and I am the poor girl in the photo.

• So… the reconstruction photo. We love them — don’t we? And yet, they never really work. It may be the same café in Florence, forty years later; it may have a similar bunch of leering Italians albeit from a slightly different angle. But here, the main difference, I believe, is the message of the second photo. A perhaps, misreading of the original photo, or just a silly styling mistake.

• Whereas the original photo ‘An American girl in Italy’ is a wonderful visual depiction of the sometimes intimidating and misogynist Italian street attitude, the reconstruction apparently misses the point. Even while this photo was being shot, I was aware of the incongruity of the styling. The focus of the original is the sedate American woman cringing against the barrage of aggressive attention. In the recreation I was part of, the men were witnessing a rather skinny yet oddly buxom gal shuffling down the street in pointy shoes and revealing crocheted dress. Now I’ve nothing against revealing crocheted dresses, I vaguely remember it was a rather lovely revealing crocheted dress, by a rather lovely local lady designer who knew the photographer, but it hardly recreated the image of a normal everyday girl about town, hassled for no reason by the swarthy locals. I look like I’m doing the walk of shame after a stopover. Jesus, I’d stare at me, if only to marvel at strange finger attachments and bows on the shoulders. I think my photo ends up a more disturbing image, the men are a little more menacing, and where with the original we wonder at the inappropriate ogling, in the recreation we still censure the men and feel for the girl but we question her dress sense and choice. In this photo it almost implies the adage that women dressing a certain way deserve a certain reaction.

• So what was the point then? Actually merely a modern day attempt to capture the feel of a famous old photo. Although the original by Ruth Orkin was slightly staged (the subject NinaLee Craig, was asked to repeat the walk a second time and the men requested to not look at the camera), it was in effect two independent women wandering around Florence on a single day, snapping pictures and recording for posterity what was common and frankly often intimidating behaviour enacted by men of a (dare I say it) certain type in Italy. Forty years later I was that young woman living in Florence, lolloping around town with my best girlfriend. I ran the very same gamut of emotions the girl in the fifties did, and strangely very little had changed. I was once even shouted at by a five year old boy cheered on by his male relatives ( che bella figa – ‘what a lovely pu**y’). But here the dress was the down fall. Which is a shame.

• I cannot paint all the men of Italy with the same generic brush, because that would be mad mad mad. Italian men can be a breath of gentleman like air. I should know- I went out with a few in my time. This picture merely encapsulates a peculiar Italian behaviour, which still existed forty years on. Things may have changed over the last decade or more since I lived there. I hope so. But that is for some other woman in her twenties to say.

• (Apologies to the photographer of my photo whose name I have forgotten, I salute your endeavour. ( If anyone can refresh my memory, I will of course credit him). Still a beautiful picture which holds special memories for me. A wonderful time as a young girl roaming the labyrinthine streets of Florence. Ogled or not.)

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