Italians are reputedly great lovers. And I believe, perhaps, it’s true. They love—in fact, they seem to experience most emotions—with all their hearts, if one can be permitted to generalize. They are comfortable with being emotional, expressing their feelings, proclaiming them, even, for the whole world to hear or see.
I’ve heard tell of towns where it is still common practice for a young man to serenade his love interest beneath her window before she’ll consent to marry him. I’ve not witnessed this in Milan, but if the opera is missing, the libretto is not. Love is writ large on the streets for all to see.
Sometimes the declarations are generic, written to that person “you know who you are.” Others name names, and use strategic locations. The following message is repeated, facing in the opposite direction, about ten meters down the sidewalk, so that together, the two messages flank the entrance to Via Ferruccio #8. The girl in question, Cristina, regardless of her feelings, will see it coming and going no matter which way she turns. The only way to avoid it is to immediately cross the street.
TI AMO is tame stuff though, compared to what the suffering lover tends to produce. Here’s a perfect example of the typical overblown rhetoric, which I’ve had to enhance in Photoshop, as it’s been fading on the sidewalk for months now. It translates: I BEG YOU. COME BACK TO ME. I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU. I presume this was written by the same lovelorn kid who’d written this in the same location a few months ago: VIOLA LAST NIGHT CHANGED MY LIFE. (How do you suppose Viola’s father felt upon seeing that public announcement for the first time?)
Some messages are the work of the lover scorned. This one is mild and inoffensive, but it was particularly funny under the nose of my dog. It reads: ZOE STINKS.
The ones that touch me the most, however, are those that express a love which is evidently unrequited to date… The ones that flirt with a different vocabulary, searching to be truer to the emotion…The ones that, you can tell, couldn’t be held inside any longer: I THINK OF YOU ALWAYS. YOU ARE IN MY MIND. I’D LIKE TO BE WITH YOU [space] IRIS.
Whether this is signed by Iris, or written to Iris, I can’t tell. But even that ambiguity is part of its beauty. That, and the heart-shaped “M” of the word mente (mind), as if the writer knows that his (or her) head and heart, for the moment, are one and the same.
My thanks to Ann Moore for copy-editing this post.