One of the joys of packing for any trip is deciding which books to take.  But this time – for Rome – our 25th anniversary gift to each other – it was a no-brainer. I would re-read “The Marble Faun”and “Daisy Miller.”  So this left me with plenty of free time to worry about which books Herb would bring. 

“This looks good,” he said, holding up a copy of “Watermark” by Joseph Brodsky.

“But it’s about Venice,” I pointed out.  “And we’re going to Rome.”

“So?  Venice is also in Italy.  And it’s Joseph Brodsky!” (Our son recently bought a car from a Brodsky who turned out to have been a relative of Joseph’s, so that does sort of make him family.)

Anyway, am I ever glad Herb brought that book along because it turns out that some of Brodsky’s most trenchant observations apply as much to Rome (not to mention Milan, Parma, Florence, etc.) as to Venice, and specifically to how we stranieri experience those places, and even more specifically to shopping in Italy, and most specifically of all, to my experiences shopping in Italy!

Just listen to what Brodsky had to say:

“We all harbor all sorts of misgivings about the flaws in our appearance, anatomy, about the imperfection of our very features.  What one sees in this city at every step, turn, perspective, and dead end worsens one’s complexes and insecurities.  That’s why one – a woman especially, but a man also – hits the stores as soon as one arrives here, and with a vengeance.  The surrounding beauty is such that one instantly conceives of an inherent animal desire to match it, to be on a par.  This has nothing to do with vanity…It is simply that the city offers…a notion of visual superiority absent in (our) natural lairs…Upon returning home, folks stare in wonderment at what they’ve acquired, knowing full well that there is nowhere in their native realm to flaunt these acquisitions without scandalizing the natives…”

This brings to mind the purple Benetton sneakers I acquired in Livorno the year every single human being from one end of Italy to the other was wearing purple from head to foot (2009, I believe) and never put on my feet again.  I could go on…and on…But then I’d start obsessing about the over-the-knee black leather boots I bought the other day, ignoring Herb’s suggestion that I just take their picture. (Over-the-knee boots, especially with lots of buckles, are the new purple around here.)  Where will I wear them at home?  Stop ‘n Shop?  Yoga class?

(to be continued…)

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  1. Jett says:

    Oh I could go on and on and add so much to the concept of shopping for what we desire…acquisition…a need to fill a void…pure innocent acquiring goods because it makes us feel good. Shopping for a new hat…thats how I grew up…remember the thing in the 50′s If you feel the least bit depressed go out and buy yourself a new hat!!! it will cheer you up. remember? .Elin this is where it began….and by stroking ecclesiastic robes, hats and other yummies, you are rationalizing the guilt of shopping when we really don’t need it and people are starving in africa…which we also grew up with…and of course…. the depression guilt our parents laid on us….

    Ok that was a tirade. I try not to shop on Net-a-porter and do so only at big markdowns….but then….and who bought the Andy Warhol print that Dennis Hopper shot holes in for $500,000 at auction?

    • esb_admin says:

      Hmmm…you’ve certainly brought up a lot to think about here — the central, crucial issue being, of course, what a lot of us are ALWAYS thinking about — the constant struggle to find that balance between buying goods and being good. I, too, find it impossible not to feel guilty about acquiring something I don’t absolutely need in light of all those people who don’t even have the most basic needs…On the other hand, there is the universally basic need for love and beauty and sometimes you can get a little of that from… buying that object of desire. Like my new boots. Which, incidentally, I have still not yet worn… As I said, I’m not always as enlightened as I should be about shopping. But I keep trying. Therefore: this blog!

  2. elaine koufman says:

    i have caught up with the blog..feel like i was shopping with u in rome..thank you..u should have worn boots yesterday–or are u going to put them in lucite for display?
    also plan to make butter soup!!

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