Sunday 9 February 2020

Marco's Fat Girlfriend

Ah, the Suntan. It must be the Olden Days.

It may not have escaped your notice, Dear Reader, that Your Correspondent is rather fond of a bit of nostalgia around these pages, rather than chewing over the Issues of the Day. Although, to be fair, there's been scant enough of that lately to make this connection obvious. But a request from Mr. P the other day for me to make Ye Olde Favourite Tuna Pasta for dinner reminded me that an opportunity lent itself to regale you with a bit of colour and movement from the Olden Days. So do settle down for a little bit while I tell to you a Tale from my Vault.

Mr. P is not the only Italian Gentleman* I've had a romantic attachment to. It was, in fact, my time spent working in London in my 20s that my tastes were cultivated in that particular direction and during that time I had, ahem, a few Italian boyfriends (and I do believe that most women have a "Maurizio" in their past but I'll save him for another day). Eurotrash, the tedious English Gentlemen at the merchant banks I worked for would sneeringly refer to them as. But that did not deter me.

Eventually, my Banking Days were done and some dear friends from Australia and I took ourselves off to holiday in the Mediterranean together. Later, some returned home to Jobs that called, but T (my Cornelia Parker exhibition companion) and I found ourselves washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Patmos for a season. Before we knew what we were doing, jobs came along and life sort of settled down for us, Greek-style.

My expectation is that this place hasn't changed much in twenty-five years but, at least in the 90s, this dusty and rocky, tiny island attracted a rather chic jet-set from even as far away as America. If you've ever been to Greece you notice that each island tends to draw its own distinct holidaymakers and in the main, this particular island was popular with Athenians, with Italians, Germans and French making up the bulk of the European visitors.

Anyhow, before long, T developed a circle of friends drawn mostly from the sophisticated Athenian set, for whom their holiday on the island meant villas and yachts and nightclubs, and found a lovely little apartment in the port town to live in. My circle grew from a more local brew, peopled with the island-born and of the fishermen and goatherd variety, and my job as a Coffee Maker (not barista, please!) provided me with free accommodation in a barn (with a cold-water hose as a shower - Luxurious! - and which I shared with another, ahem, illegal worker, Maria from Bulgaria**) up in the Des-Res village around the island's drawcard monastery.

And so our days passed with work, Greek lessons (for me), chores (a barn is a dusty place), catching up, dancing in the nightclubs after work, gossip and beach***. Yes, there were Greek boyfriends for us to titter over, but this tale does not concern a Manolis or Theologos or such, but a Marco ...

Thanks to the Emperor Augustus, August is the time for Ferragosto in Italy, and when this time rolled around, the population of holidaying Italians exploded on the island. Some came for the entire month and many were revisiting the island year after year. And it was in one such crowd of ragazzi that Marco appeared. A typical Euro-aristocrat -  cash-poor yet with the wherewithal to holiday for a month at a time; titled but with a jaunty job (pilot, of course!) - and who took rather a shine to ol' Pipistrello and her rather excellent coffee-making skills.

Before you could say "But espresso is not my speciality!", the Patmian adventure was over and there was a bit of wooing of Your Correspondent going on in the Eternal City. And whereupon some of Marco's Pasta-Masta-Classes were had (Tip 1: ragù aside, no pasta sauce should take longer to cook than does boiling the water and cooking the pasta) and spaghetti al tonno was born as the Pipistrello go-to pasta recipe.

If you've ever had a meal with a chic Italian, you will discover that although the food is utterly delicious, not much will actually get eaten. The concept of bella figura doesn't necessarily mean keeping your figure Nice & Tidy, rather, among other subtle meanings, it is to do with presenting your best self. The Correct shoe or nonchalantly draped cashmere over the shoulder in the Correct colour is an obvious and easily recognised cultural tic, but I discovered that relishing the delicious and abundant spread of food at table will also make a nostril flare or an eyebrow to arch on the visage of your willowy fellow diners, who are showing the Correct amount of restraint (aided, it was later pointed out to my rather naive self, by a little bit of appetite-suppressing, recreational drug usage).

If you also know me, Dear Reader, you know that my physique tends towards the Olive Oyl and I daresay it was ever thus, and although there were not many photographs taken of me around this time to verify my claim (pshaw ... we have our memories!), overweight was the last adjective I would have been described with ... Except by Marco's aristocratic Italian friends. Pipistrello was known amongst them as Marco's Fat Girlfriend!

It still cracks me up!!

* No, Mr. P does not mind me talking about these Romantic Olden Days. He sits secure in the knowledge that after experimenting with a few dyed-in-the-wool Italians, I realised that what I really wanted in my life was the Italian packaging wrapped around a thoroughly Australian Sensibility and, crucially, Sense of Humour.

** Before she was rounded up in an Illegal Worker Sting, which I luckily eluded owing to a tip-off and some quick thinking by my employer. Yes, it was an action-packed beach holiday!

*** Among other Adventures, T and I both had our portrait painted in a rather Flattering Fashion by a holidaying Greek artist while we were there. T was rather furious to discover her bikinied form ended up miraculously nude, while I don't believe I've ever had such a buxom profile in my life! Suffice to say, these portraits were spirited away to live in his, ahem, personal collection.

Image credit: Flying With Hands


  1. Love this post and may have to chime in a bit more with laptop rather than iphone. GSL speaks only The Queen’s English yet has Henry Higginsonian expertise divining on-the-make Euro ‘Aristo’ frauds actual origins for well bred Midwestern Girls....that goes well beyond perfunctory short-arming check.
    I’ve had a few thankfully unconsummated encounters with 2-Asterisk Marias in Hotel bars with their clumsy advances and obligatory time inquiry pretexts flirty clasp of wrist (back before iphones made such inquiries obsolete) with deflating revelation southpaw GSL then wore TImex Indiglow (rather than Rolex) on right hand while shooing her away.
    I’m sure GSL woulda found Marco’s Fat Girlfriend far and away the most attractive lassie on the Archipelago.

  2. GSL: Thank you, GSL, and thank you for the compliment! Those days have settled into the comfortable territory of Nostalgia now, to be pulled out for fireside chats in my rocking chair with grandchildren at my feet, haha! ... It's rather true that in such holiday destinations, by day especially, when all seem only to be clad in the most elementary of bathing attire, frequenting the same haunts and riding the same battered model of scooter, it is a tad difficult to discern nationalities let alone where on the European social spectrum one might lie. Everyone looks rather much of a muchness, so it tends to be the case that if you discover some culturally relevant factoid about someone, they did intend you to know it. Hence you would know when a Lesser Austrian Prince was attempting advances or a Visconte was declaring devotion. Tacky, yes, but was endlessly amusing for egalitarian Australian girls. The heavy use of accessories and electronic bling does now tend to broadcast a wearer's Aspirations from one-hundred yards so would really take the fun out if it ... Close shaves with 2-Asterisk Marias would be rather an occupational hazard for your dapper self, I should imagine. Anyway, Manners Maketh Man, not Brands.

  3. What lovely memories of those balmy days that many of us spent on Greek islands and elsewhere. In my city days (stock Exchange) I often used to grab weekends in Paris, where many of my best memories were founded.

  4. Cro: So much fodder for reminiscences. My own weekends away were mostly to Rome or elsewhere in Italy and I never ventured to Paris until I was married and in my 30s. I was afeared that I would love Paris as much as Rome and would then be torn having to choose between them. What a hardship I avoided!

  5. You're an excellent storyteller. I think you got the last laugh as Marco's not-fat-after-all ex.
    Your CV is very varied-banking to barn-cleaning. Not sure how many youth get such experiences these days.

  6. That was a funny story. I was wondering who Marco was. It seems like you've had quite a few adventures in the past.

  7. TofF: Thanks, and yes, the last laugh in more than one respect as the business of being a sophisticated Italian is so very, very serious and there was nary a giggle to be had ... Truth be told, a bit of barn cleaning was a welcome respite from the tedium of eurobond sales as I'm a far better sweeper than a salesman!

    Loree: I did wonder myself when I was going to get around to Marco! Most of the adventuring came in fits and starts and there are long stretches of my life where nothing really happens. Too much adventuring is hard work!

    I LOVE IT!
    The Boys had a friend who would request it every time he was over for dinner!Recently he was in GREECE on a boat and the dinghy didnot work so SPENCER whipped up TUNA PASTA for everyone on board!!!!!

    NOW are you the one on the LEFT??
    What a LIFE you have HAD!

    It was always HIGH on my wish list but now with NO SUNTANNING ALLOWED it seems why bother!
    I would still like to GO.........THAT GREEK MOVIE with MERYL STREEP is one of my all time favorites!!
    BACI A TE!

  9. Contessa: I agree, making tuna pasta will your eyes closed is a life skill! There should be a boy scout badge for it ... Yes, I'm on the left, and in addition to the faded photograph, I've a daily reminder of that time with an outer layer of my person which is rather worse for wear, haha!! ... I think you speak of the movie "Mamma Mia"? I've not seen it - however, I probably know all the words!! xx

  10. Love the photo and love your reminiscing ..... I have similar photographs ..... they always had a yellowish tinge to them !!!! Now I would like your tuna pasta recipe or is it a family secret ? XXXX

  11. Jacqueline: The yellowish tinge always does lift the tan, too! Ah, the tuna pasta recipe - this blog's creed says that instructions aren't included, haha, and I daresay won't be too different to what you already do but I will say that key to mine is capers and anchovies which melt down, then the usual suspects of lots and lots of oil (olive oil plus the tuna oil) and garlic, onion, bay leaves and dried chilli flakes. I do jazz it up these days with a fridge-surprise vegetable like celery or peas or zucchini or whatnot, then a tin of tomatoes, and one of tuna in oil (per 2-3 people). Maybe a splash of something plonky to rinse out the tomato tin will go in and/or some parsley if there's any to hand. It's basically an arrabiata with a tin of tuna bunged and should only cook for 5 mins. It's very fast food!! xx

    THE FIRST ONE!!!!!!!!!THERE is a SEQUEL not as GOOD in my opinion!

  13. My 'Maurizio' was a man called Joran. Aaah, to have been in my 20s!

  14. Bea: And they are all worthy of a blog post all of their own. Although I do believe my dear Mother is an occasional reader of these pages so I'm still needing to consider what of the TMI will get an airing, haha! ... I must say, my 20s had some moments but I don't miss them at all!

  15. Well, Miss Pip, you have lived well! Youth and sunshine is a heady mix. Have you read the Elena Ferrante novels? I've just finished 'My Brilliant Friend'. Reminds me of being in Italy in the '50's and getting my bottom pinched!

  16. SmG: Hi Rosemary! No, I've not read her books but thank you for the tip. It doesn't surprise me at all about the bottom pinching. I daresay a blonde English girl in Italy in the 50s was an irresistible lure!


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