Last Sunday, I was getting ready to go to the supermarket when my husband Giulio stopped me at the front door.
‘Aren’t you going to change?’
I looked at my outfit. Sweatpants, UGG boots, T-shirt. The standard Australian weekend attire.
‘You can’t go out dressed like that. What would people say?’
I wanted to answer that they might ask me where I bought those sweatpants since they were lime green and cost a fortune, but instead I just kicked him in the shins and walked out the door. I won’t take style advice from the man who owns the world’s largest collection of striped jumpers and nothing else.
Now don’t get started on the whole Italians are so stylish, they never go anywhere without dressing to impress. It’s a load of bullshit. In modern Italy, the norm is black puffy jackets with raccoon fur and jeans that don’t exactly cover the muffin top.
Don’t believe me? I own the former. It’s by Max Mara. I had two options when Giulio gave it to me for a birthday present: arrange a belated funeral or take it to Australia and hide it in the depths of my childhood wardrobe. I chose the latter so I wouldn’t break my money-wasting, furry-animal-murdering, fashion-faux-pas-inducing beloved’s heart.
Giulio’s objection has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with breaking the status quo of small town Tuscan life. He didn’t want someone he knew, aka everyone, to see me dressed in my casuals.
There are similar rules about not walking home with your newly purchased litre of milk and assorted fruits because you forget to bring a bag from home and refuse to buy another of those 10 euro cent plastic ones that always tear. Exposing your shopping to the prying eyes of town is taboo. So is going outside without a jacket after August or dying your hair an outrageous blonde or, in my case, the exact shade the love child of Ronald MacDonald and Chuck Norris would bear. I wasn’t trying to go ginger. It just happened.
I’m yet to learn all the steps of this intricate social dance. There are so many. BYOing mustard to a sagra because you know all they serve is grilled meats is not okay. Neither is leaving the house with wet hair. What are you trying to do? Give yourself colic? Said every person in a 20-kilometre radius of your chosen destination.
But you know what’s not taboo? Leaving your husband for another man.
We are at epidemic levels of separation in Manciano. Perfectly content – well, I assume they’re perfectly content, I’ve never met any them – wives are leaving their husbands in flocks of four or five.
It’s fascinating to watch. Imagine yourself as a somewhat bored, middle-aged woman living in the marijuana capital of Tuscany. Not saying marijuana has anything to do with it. Just saying Manciano has a lot of reefer lovers.
Anyway, you hear your friend has left her husband and has hit the town in search of a younger model. Sounds exciting, right? So you try it too. Next thing you know, everyone in your circle has left their husbands and it takes you three weeks to get an appointment at your doctor.
No, they’re not getting STD checks. My almost-60 doctor is a notorious adulterer. I went to him last month because I could feel my pulse in my eardrums. He kept massaging my neck. I vomited a little in my mouth and vowed to reserve all future appointments to healthcare professionals for when I’m in Australia.
Naturally I heard all of this from my mother-in-law, who runs a small gossip ring out of our local supermarket. Nothing slips by her.
If you’ve sensed a note of disapproval in my tone, you are most mistaken. I have absolutely no objection to wives leaving their husbands. It makes small town life exciting.
My objection is simply to the fact that half the town will break your balls for daring to freeze your meat instead of buying it fresh daily but don’t bat an eyelid when Sofia over there decides to leave Mario to hop on the cougar express.
We’re so progressive in some things, yet so antiquated in others…
This post originally appeared in The American magazine.