The aquarium broke

To set the stage: I’m visiting my love for the first time ever. We’re in Roma, it’s the end of August, day three of my stay.

So far we’ve visited Vatican, the basilica, the museum with the Sistine Chapel, the works. It’s been hot, I mean really hot.


Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. Photo: MC

The heat has reached its peak. It’s getting ready to rain.


Outside the Vatican walls. Photo: MM

It’s early in the afternoon and we’re on our way to a smaller town out of Roma, driving off the highway. The road is winding, kind of like the one between Ljubljana and Gameljne. The pressure is low. On every turn I’m curious to see if there will be another fire. It’s unclear whether the road fires just start by themselves from all the heat, or the road workers burn the growth by the road on purpose so that the fires can’t start, like they do by the side of the railway (hm, yes, I see the logic here).

The turn comes and there it is, the fire, and something else, a girl sitting on a bench. We’re past so fast that I’m not even sure. She is like a mirage, in oppressing heat. And then there’s another turn, and lo, now there are two girls. I shake my head a little, eyes could be deceiving me. But no, I turn around and there they are. Standing by the road. Their skin is dark, just like the first girl’s.

The first thought that crosses my mind is that this road really attracts plenty of hitch-hikers from far away. And in such heat, and among the fires… When we drive past another girl, and she’s black as well, I think that there must be an entire class here. They are young, dressed like teenage girls nowadays everywhere, in shorts and revealing tops.

They must be on a school outing. And the bus broke down.

It’s only after a few more turns and a few more girls that the ding-dong in my sometimes blonde head dingdongs.

Nah. Can it be?! On roads like that in Slovenia you can see sellers of porcini mushrooms, or peaches, or honey, instead.

What if my car really broke down right here, and I’d be alone and I’d have to stand by the road just like that?

What if I had kids in the car and they’d ask me what these girls are waiting for?

What if my kid didn’t say anything but would clearly see there’s a future in this profession?

I mean, they look young and happy and not very busy.

And they work in the fresh air.

What if my husband, after a particularly ugly fight, you know… just happened to pass by on this road?

I can’t help it, in Slovenia such girls must be well hidden away, in Vienna they only come out at night and don’t look anything like here, while in Amsterdam or Spain I’ve never been. When we saw them in Vienna at night, we called them revce, povere, poor things. For sure it’s a stereotype. In my mind they were just never a reality.

But now they are here and I’m trying to see in my mind’s eye how growing up around them on literally every corner in the middle of the day affects young impressionable minds of both genders (and beyond).

Somehow I connect what is on display here with what I can see on Italian TV, how women there are displayed, how they act, what their purpose is: to be eye-candy on a quiz show. How it’s enough to be pretty. And how growing up gets tricky in this way.

In my mind, the girls available in this way send another message: if my woman for some reason acts unapproachable, I can always go to one of them. Here I pay and I know what I’m going to get. Whereas there, nothing is ever certain and sometimes even my money is not desired.

Sex workers provide reliability, which certainly cannot be said for all females, women, wives.

But just imagine a Slovenian couple driving in the country to visit her parents on a Sunday. Green hills whizzing by, birds singing, cows mooing. And then an almost bare girl. Husband’s eyes bulge and wife starts her tirade: “Oh, where are you looking! Stop looking at her, why don’t you look at me like this anymore?”

I’m quite sure this happens in Italy too, it’s just that here husbands have this therapy in sight and within reach. And their wives know it too. Sex workers themselves are not illegal and even though it might be illegal to stop and use their services, I think they may provide as much of a boost to Italian wellbeing as do their cars, fashion, design and food.

It’s still not clear to me though how to explain to the kids why the bus (or the aquarium, as they would say in Serbia) breaks down so often.

≈ Manja Maksimovič ≈


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