Roman Holiday

Following a recent birthday, my special gentleman came over all romance and chivalry on me and whisked me off to Italy for my first holiday in 3 years … and our first together! Although both of us have been lucky enough to see lots of the world over the last few years, neither of us had made it to Italy so this made it all the more wonderful.

Before we arrived in Italy I had visions of myself as Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann being swept around the city on the back of my own Gregory Peck’s Vespa with a ribbon in my hair blowing fabulously after me. Our first 5 minutes on the Roman roads swiftly put the kibosh on that however. Oh my! those boys can whizz…. and are there any rules of the road? I think I saw a police car but couldn’t be sure what with all the scratches on it. Not to worry – my ribbon was black with fumes at that stage anyway.

And so it was on foot that we took on this stunning city in which ancient and modern exist so effortlessly together. The happy upshot of this was that after hours of walking we would end up in random neighbourhoods outside of the city centre where Roman life was ticking along oblivious to our inquisitive tourist eyes. Here we came across the shabby family run restaurants where the grandpa runs the show while the daughter charms the waiting queue and the granddaughter completes homework at a nearby table. Inevitably it was these establishments where the food was superb, the people watching addictive (all that hand waving and kissing and baby-loving … it was all I could do to stop myself running up and pinching some Italian cheeks) and the wine way too cheap to taste so good.

As it was a break for two I really hadn’t planned on doing any shopping or seeking out vintage in the city. However, in a very sweet gesture my gentleman friend had looked up such shopping and found a market that opened from Mon – Sat ‘specialising’ in vintage clothing. On arrival above ground from the slightly grim Metro station we spied the market on the road. Rather than antique brooches and dusty vintage dresses we were greeted with an array of ‘Louis Wuiton’ bags along with a really rather entertaining scam involving some rapid hand movements and the hiding of a shell (so tempting to throw on a fifty – I knew where the shell was every time!).  Although it took some bypassing of shiny tracksuits and the taking of some sinister wrong turns, we finally found the vintage section. I got that familiar musky smell up my nose and instantly felt the rush of anticipation. In an almost reflex action, the arms extended and took the rummaging position. And my word, was there a lot to sift through! I spotted so many wonderful winter maxi dresses, touching each of them as I passed, assuring them they’d be chosen to try on. The owner of this section was thrilled to see my interest and bombarded me with more (horribly unsuitable) options to bring behind the make-shift curtain. Well of course I smiled and went along with it … do you know how much scarier pushy saleswoman is in Italian??

It was a funny thing with these dresses though as all 500-odd of them may actually have previously belonged to the same one person. They were all the exact same size and length – unfortunately neither anywhere near my measurements. The said lady was having none of this minor issue and became rather irate when I had to firmly explain that the dress in question wasn’t just slightly too big for me but I was fairly sure her children had just set up camp under the skirt. Slightly deflated that I wouldn’t be buying anything but happy to have seen what was on offer, we decided to sneak to the exit and swiftly begin to run as soon as we were sure she wasn’t following us.

As we continued to happily punish our feet on our mammoth exploration of Rome, the gentleman spotted a rather lovely archway, which was surrounded by flowers and lead into an old courtyard, into which we of course ventured. And what would you know? It was only the most understated, civilised and delicate of vintage markets! The peaceful traders sat around admiring their wares with the apparent pride of a parent. They answered my breathless questions of eras and sources with absolute pleasure. There was something so special about communicating with them through broken English or sign language yet still completely understanding how cherished the items on sale were to them. One particular chain-smoking lady watched on as I inspected her stunning ornate bags and she laughed aloud as she observed my excitement. Although they cost more than a regular shopper could afford (particularly when I couldn’t convince my Gregory Peck to leave the hotel and take to a camp instead ‘but the bag will keep us warm’ I assured him), I felt that this lady knew that she would not sell many in a day but still got great joy from sharing their history and beauty with admirers.

Alas the bags weren’t to be mine but I couldn’t possibly leave empty handed now could I? Off I took myself to another chain smoking lady (and they look so fabulous and elegant – a wonderful advertisement for taking up the habit): this time a hat maker… a hat maker! And me seriously considering Millinery as my newest hobby – serendipitous surely?? I eagerly shared my newest ambition with my newest friend and at breakneck speed described how wonderful I was surely to be and how genius my creations are likely to be and … ah, not a word of English (of course I wasn’t speaking Italian – the 5 basic words I was mastering didn’t seem appropriate for this conversation). Again it seemed this lovely lady was just indulging this annoying foreign girl with the orange hair and blue legs. Not that it mattered as, once I took to trying on her array of 1920s style hats, that beautiful international language of ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaahh’ meant we could happily communicate with ease… just as it should be. I was particularly taken with one specific hat which I convinced myself gave me license to walk on set to an episode of Ms. Marple (what a lady! You can keep your detective Horatio thank you very much). Unfortunately the desired hat only came in purple and I thought that, combined with my red hair, I may resemble something closer to a clown than a shrewd dignified detective. The by now very weary gentleman assured me it was perfect and that he wasn’t just saying so to speed up the inevitable. My newest Italian friend and I both shared the thrill of the purchase, smiling and gesturing to each other, both wildly happy with the outcome. And so it was that I now had a surplus to requirements hat that couldn’t get squashed, was too hot to wear and would subsequently have to be carried around on the entire adventure in a paper bag separate to all of our other luggage … bliss.

Irene O'Brien

Should you feel like visiting the lady of the over sized vintage dresses, or perhaps take on that shell shark to double your money, the market is located at Via Sannio and takes place every morning from Monday to Saturday. Get off at San Giovanni Metro station, South East.

Alternatively should you want to check if the bag lady ever made a sale or the hat lady turned to Nicorette gum we thinkit took place off Via di S Andrea delle Fratte, a 5 minute walk directly north of the Trevi Fountain.

The above sign may shed some further light for those Italian speakers out there. Our own translation came up with ‘art and creativita to comparison, exhibition of secondary fashion, oggettistica, bijoux, operates of art, you decorate and creations of high craftsmanship’ … just like I said, see?

IOB xxx