3G Hell, Italian Style

MILAN, ITALY — When I moved to Florence in the early 1990s, I thought my student get-up of Doc Martens and overgrown sweaters cut just the right dash between ingenue and intellectual. But when Gino the cappuccino slinger in the ground floor of my 16th-century apartment building offered to drum up change from the regulars for a decent jacket, I knew I had to up the ante.

A decade on, I thought I was doing pretty well, as a Milanese signorina with Hermes scarf and Gucci bag. Cue Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi pimping hair transplants and face-lifts as the necessary accessories for any political hopeful and, God forbid, the advent of the video phone.

Italy, second only to Hong Kong for percentage of mobile-phone users, is now also a leader in 3G users. Though most experts brush away this kind of clunky technology, I fear the bell for high-living, under-waxed singles has already tolled.

An English friend convinced me to go 3G. Rates were low and the phone was thrown in free for journalists. For a few blissful weeks, my video-phoning was limited to beaming footage of Rufus, my very telegenic bearded collie.

Then Luca, a co-worker, video-phoned from the beach in Sardinia. Tan, with a tummy enviably toned in little rolls, he wanted to gloat over my city-induced pallor. His wife, Maddalena, who had given birth to their son just a month before, desperately tried to conceal the ravages of her C-section slump as he swung around for a panoramic shot. The video call ended abruptly with a phrase I would hear a lot: “Any chance you’ll flash me?” Oh, gee, the connection broke.

The revolution will be televised and, yes, that means there is no such thing as in-between waxings (as my roommate Sara found out when her lover wouldn’t take video “no” for an answer, only to be treated to a close-up of her snarling, bleach-heavy upper lip).

Just as the cell phone was the adulterer’s best friend, the video phone is the mistress’ nightmare. As every sex-line worker knows, it’s easy to feign orgasmic rapture while eradicating toe jam. In Italy, that particularly forgiving brand of the feminine mystique is now as passé as last year’s Fendi jeans.

I had always prided myself on a dirty, late-night purr, on tap if needed at 11 a.m.; I could do sexy while hanging out the laundry. Italian men now want to look as well as listen. And if Jane Jetson’s robo-beautician style was once a prerequisite for Milanese streets, lovers are now obliged to air-brushed porn perfection in the former sanctum of their apartments.

With the Nokia 6680 resolution at 176-by-208 pixels, makeup is essential but it is not the kind of HDTV definition that makes you wonder about the expertise of Cameron Diaz’s dermatologist.

It does, however, make smoothing over the fault lines of a late-night necessary before heading to the newsstand. Italians don’t do natural; I have enough trouble curbing comments on my personal appearance from Franca, the troll who collects the mail — let alone trying to be bella with co-workers, my accountant and a possibly significant other when they video-phone at all hours.

Watching more television could have curbed my fall. Current Italian ads for 3G phones feature a pneumatic Marilyn Monroe type begging a departing lover, “Videochiamami!” Honey, if you look like that in person, you don’t need to video-phone.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash