I have a secret to share with you. Italians don’t eat as much pasta as you would think. And some Italian women don’t eat any at all. Ever.
During the first few months we were here, I read a tongue and cheek article in Italian Vanity Fair, which joked that not eating pasta, or skipping lunch altogether, was reaching epidemic levels amongst well-heeled Milanese ladies. I scoffed thinking that, if these crazies existed at all, they must be a small band of fashionistas who were tragically ignorant of the blessing that is their gastronomic heritage. It could never be the average Italian woman. But now, over eight months of visiting restaurants and cafes, I have to admit that I don’t often see a woman with a plate of pasta in front of her, even if the size of a pasta dish is about 1/2 of what would be served in a NY restaurant. (When I asked a waiter recently if the cafe’s portions were small or large, he replied that they are giusto or correct, meaning they were exactly 100 grams.) Women are much more likely to be eating salad and a protein (un secondo), which of course, is usually only about a 1/3rd of the size of an American portion. I hold out hope that this is just a Northern Italian phenomenon since the country’s regions tend to be so different, but my faith is waning.
Given all this, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to find that my new local gym is packed, day and evening, further discrediting my years-long held idea that Italians eat whatever they want, loads of pasta and pizza, washing it down with bottles of wine, and keeping their svelte figures by meandering through their charming city streets while basking in the beauty of their architecture. Since joining the Virgin Active gym (something I was cajoled into doing after some Physical Therapy all’ Italiano for a neck injury that appears will need constant maintenance to stay painless), I have discovered, to my chagrin, that Italians also pant, sweat and strain to stay fit. Not only that, classes like Zumba and Spinning are here too, along with all kinds of new fangled activities that probably exist everywhere, and my lack of knowledge about them says more about my lazy butt than anything about the Italians.
There are a few differences between here and there though, and these do fall in line with my precious stereotypes! For one, many ladies and gentlemen arrive at the gym impeccably dressed, not already in their workout gear. Perhaps because of this, the locker rooms are larger and much more luxurious than I ever remember seeing in the States. Also, the “Relax” area that includes a sauna, turkish bath and Scottish shower, takes up a whole wing of the gym. Maybe this has also become standard fare around the world while I’ve been sitting on my couch, or maybe this is the Italians’ way of bringing a bit of their laid back culture into the world of exercise. Either way, I like it. Getting back to food, the cafe is nicely loaded with those carbs I’m so fond of – pasta, paninis, and tigelles! Unfortunately though, if the trainer who’s helping me out has anything to say about it, I won’t be allowed in that area. He’s already warned me twice not to eat too much pasta and pizza each week. But we’re in Italy, for pete’s sake! So far, I’m just nodding politely at him, but he’s completely pazzo, if he thinks I’m changing my ways.