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Chapter Four – Ischia’s Sirens
Women in Ischia are almost as beautiful as the men. What they lack in physical perfection, they make up for with sensuality. They ooze sex appeal. No matter their age or how big their pasta paunch, they sway their hips and speak with their cleavage. Their eyes mystify. On the beach, they wear string bikinis, all the better to tie up the men whose eyes will fall on them. With their bronzed bodies oiled up, they lay out on the beach with little more on their minds than what they’ll have for dinner, what they’re going to wear, and who will get cozy with them tonight. The most cunning among them are certain to reveal just enough skin to lure men without appearing like butane, which will earn you a scarlet A in Ischia. Unlike America, where blondes have more fun, brunettes are in demand on this island. Women wear long, sleek, shiny chestnut hair and smiles as wide as the Mediterranean. White teeth reflect the hot sun. Made of plenty of mozzarella and Parmigiana, those breasts are real, baby – and they come with an ample booty to match. That kind of ass snuggles your jeans and hypnotizes all who look at it. Even those soft bellies glisten and because they eat with wild abandon and are proud of their healthy bodies, they wear the bulge with confidence. In fact, men might desire them even more than their skinny counterparts in other parts of the world. There’s more to look at – and to grab.
Take Lisa*. When she hit 20, she lost a lot of weight, dyed her blond hair black, and updated her wardrobe so that it now rivals that of Paris Hilton. She has been Roberto’s girlfriend for seven years. Roberto and his best friend Tony call her Barese, the name of an Italian soccer player famous for defending the goal, because she is always on the defense. “Where are you going, Roberto?” she asks. “Who will be there? Will there be other women?” Lisa once stomped out of Valentino, the dance hall and bar where Roberto works as a waiter because another young woman said hello to her man.
Constantly accusing Roberto of cheating, he has come to take it as a joke. He does not display a jealous streak at all, but she more than makes up for it. While Roberto is off with his friends, Lisa is supposed to be studying tourism – like all the other Ischitani kids – at university. Whenever she feels like it, she goes to Naples to take an exam. Most of the time, however, she lounges on Maronti beach with her friends, some of whom are male.
Although she packs on extra skin from before she lost the weight, she wears a skimpy bikini that flaunts her rear end as if she were a museum and it was the Hope Diamond. And her bikini top is rolled over, so it barely covers her nipples, and she won’t get any unfortunate tan lines. Indeed, tan lines might be her biggest concern.
While Roberto is her steady boyfriend, she occasionally goes for coffee with one of the carabinieri, Peppe, who obliviously carries around a beer gut and balding head as though he’s George Clooney. Lisa’s girlfriend, Donatella, tags along with one of Peppe’s friends, so it all looks like an innocent group of amici catching up and gossiping. But after the coffee break, which can last from five minutes to five hours in Italy, the two couples part ways. Lisa and Peppe head to his place for afternoon delight, even though the rest of the world thinks they’ve gone home to be with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Peppe, who is divorced with three kids and alimony to pay, is among the few young men in Ischia, who lives alone without his parents or any siblings.
Just as Peppe and Lisa are about to enter his home for their weekly rendezvous, Lisa receives a text message from Roberto. “Ti amo e non vedo l’ora di andare al mare con te. Ma sta sera saro’ con amici. A domani bellissima mia.” Translation: “I love you, and I can’t wait to go to the beach with you. But tonight I’m with friends. Until tomorrow, my beautiful.” Lisa and Peppe settle into the couch and the passion builds. Kisses on the neck, a caress to the back, and Lisa feels ecstasy but no guilt. After all, Roberto, who is off playing cards at the piazza’s local pub with his boys, will be lucky enough to see her tomorrow, when they will cuddle on the beach as if the carabinieri don’t exist.
Legend tells us that Ischia was home to Typhoeus, who created volcanoes and fathered the three-headed dog Cerberus, who guarded the gate to Hades, and Chimera and Sphinx. Stunning but cunning, Sphinx spoke in riddles and you could only get passed her if you correctly unlocked her mysteries. Meanwhile, the sirens, with their beautiful human heads and elegant bird bodies, stood guard over the nearby island of Capri. With their sweet melodies, they lured sailors to crash their ships. Whether mysterious riddle, angelic face, or hypnotic song, the island women carry a legacy of tricking men – and sometimes each other – to get what they want. They are all-powerful, and nowadays they are no longer half-bird, half-woman singing in the open sea. Now, they are hidden among the people and they look like you and me.
Even I was fooled by more than one Ischitana siren, by more than one Ischitano playboy. And I can’t be sure that one of them is not playing me like my great grandfather’s mandolin right now. Once I was blind, but now I see. When I first started heading to Ischia as an adult on my own, I was intoxicated by the dolce vita or sweet life, and I was inhaling it as if it were Dunkin Doughnuts, and my boyfriend just left me. And that’s when I met trouble…
*Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.