Chrisitina Patterson: Lessons on drink and la dolce vita

Related Topics

In my first week at university I discovered that I came from something called a "gin and jag belt". "Oehuuw!" said the pixie-booted 18-year-olds, in the protracted vowels of a Penelope-Keith-come-Abigail-pissed-at-her-party. "Guildford!" There weren't too many jags on our estate (we had a Morris Marina) and there wasn't much gin either. Once in a blue moon, my father would dig out a bottle of Blue Nun for guests, which he would serve by the half glass. The bottle would last all evening.

I thought of this last week, in a tiny bar in a tiny hamlet in Tuscany. The owners had invited me for dinner. As usual in Italy, we started with a nice aperitivo and a nice plate of nibbles. It was a balmy evening, and we were sitting outside, and the prosecco was delicious, and the nibbles were delicious, and the conversation was animated, and it was heaven. Quicker, much quicker, than the other guests (all Italian) I finished my drink, and waited. And waited. Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes passed. An hour passed. An hour and a half passed, and my glass remained empty. My tongue itched with the memory of that long-finished prosecco and tingled with yearning for the Vernaccia I'd brought and that had been chilling – for hours – in the fridge. I glanced at my fellow guests. They did not look as though they were stuck in the seventh circle of Dante's inferno. They looked, in fact, quite happy.

There is no word for "hangover" in Italian. There's no word for it, because they don't need it. They love their prosecco, and their aperitivi, and, of course, their vini, which they sip slowly, and always with food. They love their food, too. They love their primi and their secondi and their dolci. They love their gelati. In the little piazza near where I was staying, I watched the old ladies scuttle out at night and towards the gelateria where they'd pause over the most important decision of the day, and then spend hours licking and swallowing and flicking their tongues over this little globe of chilled sugar and cream and thinking, yes, while I still have this, I am happy to live another day.

And yet Italians don't get fat. They don't get fat, but not in the way that French women, according to a smug, little book that came out a few years ago, don't get fat. French women (I may be paraphrasing) don't get fat because they prefer to give a superior smile, and puff on a Gauloise while thinking about the lover they're going to entertain – with Gallic sang-froid – that après-midi, than have a second bite of their gateau. Italians don't get fat because they love their delicious meals, and eat them slowly, and don't eat between them.

Putting aside the disaster that is Italian politics, and bureaucracy, and nepotism, not to mention a surgically enhanced prime minister who (according to his wife) is practically a paedophile, we could learn a thing or two from Italy. We could learn that adult human beings are capable of imbibing alcoholic drinks without vomiting them over the pavement, or the glass they've just smashed, or the sprawled figure they've just beaten up. We could learn that people can eat quite a lot of food, and enjoy it, without turning into giant amoebas in tracky bottoms who can barely waddle to the fridge (but somehow, miraculously, spew out babies, by different absent fathers, with the regularity with which they cash their dole cheques).

We could learn that it's possible to have a café culture in which you sip a tiny cup of perfect coffee, and not a bucket of lukewarm baby milk whipped and frothed and flavoured with caramel, and chocolate, and marsh-mallow, and served with giant slabs of lard masquerading as muffins. We could learn all this, because 20 years ago we didn't have a café culture at all, and unfortunately adopted the American one, the one that tells us that more is always good, and big is better, and giant is awesome. And we could learn this, because while we've always enjoyed a good Friday-night piss-up, we didn't always binge drink, at home, all the time, and because the truth is that, after the third glass of chardonnay, or pint of Stella, the pleasure is a little less piquant, and after the second chocolate muffin you begin to feel a bit sick.

We could learn all this, because these things are cultural, and cultures can change, but they don't change (as the BMA is suggesting) by banning advertising, or treating people like children, because the point is, the dream is, the reality is – in some countries, not this one – that human beings can actually learn to eat and drink like grown-ups.

Forget the lipstick and give her another medal

It had to happen. Caster Semenya, the South African athlete whose triumph at the world championships in Berlin was marred by questions about gender, has had a makeover. "Wow, look at Caster now!" gushes the cover-line of the South African magazine, You, next to a picture of a coiffed, gilded, red-lipped dolly-bird with a slightly bewildered smile.

The impulse behind all this is, I'm sure, good. Show those sneering party-poopers who wreck everything with their suspicion and their cynicism and their science, that our girl's all girl. Boy, is she girl!

Certainly Semenya grew up believing she was a girl, and so did her family, and so did her friends, and, whatever those tests say, she grew up, trained and competed as a girl. What she didn't do was dress like a girl, because she wasn't interested in looking like girl – and now, it seems, she has to.

If a man achieves anything (a presidency, a sporting victory, a Nobel prize) he can look like a sack of potatoes, or Freddy Krueger, or David Mellor, and no one bats an eyelid. If a woman does, she has to be whisked off to a secret celebrity cellar, and plucked, and coiffed, and plastered with make-up and plasticised, so that men don't faint at the sight of her.

The real awards should surely go to those brave women – like Caster, like Susan Boyle – who think there are more important things in life than how you look. Or at least, who used to.

A tale of heroism and heels

The pen may be mightier than the sword (but not, alas, in the country for which our young men are currently dying, and where people are imprisoned for reading stuff, let alone writing it) but the shoe, it seems, is sometimes mightier than both.

Certainly, the shoes thrown at George Bush last year have created more of a stir in the Arab world than most pens, and many swords. A Saudi has offered $10m for them. Another has offered a gold-saddled horse. And the shoes' owner, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who's about to be released after a nine-month prison sentence, has been showered with offers of homes, cars, jobs, harems – and wives.

A lesser man might have his head turned by the attention. A lesser man might milk it for all it was worth. But al-Zaidi (who will, no doubt, be turning down offers to appear on 'How Clean is Your Abu Ghraib') has turned it all down and announced his intention to open an orphanage. What a man! And did you say you were unmarried?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments