Caught up in the romance of the holiday season, Elisa Scarton Detti hits the streets of Manciano in southern Tuscany to find out what makes Tuscan men so darn attractive.
One Sunday afternoon, I was fixing a loose cupboard door with my father-in-law. As he bent down to pick something up, my mother-in-law walked behind him and he let off a fart so loud it almost shook the foundations.
It was in the moments following, as he nearly expired from laughter, that this story was born.
My father-in-law is very fond of saying: “Chi non scoreggia è un uomo morto” (The only men who don’t fart are dead men).
A man in his late 60s, he is a true Tuscan and a contemporary of actors like Giancarlo Giannini, Franco Nero and Fabio Testi, the suave count from Letters to Juliet, just one of the many movies that moulded our perception of the silent, roguishly handsome Italian who sweeps us off our feet and onto his Vespa.
With his salt and pepper locks and perfect amount of facial hair, the Italian male is a sophisticated linguist who dresses well, loves his mama and never orders beer.
He does not time his bodily functions for maximum comedic effect.
But my father-in-law was his own sort of lothario back in the day. He had different girlfriends in different towns and pimped his light blue Fiat 600 with what he calls the very first example of brake lights, so he seemed like the perfect person to ask what it is about Tuscan men.
“We are very charming. We don’t worry about what a girl thinks. We are confident in ourselves,” he says.
Confident enough to pass gas?
“Of course! A man doesn’t have to be delicate. He is supposed to be rough. He is supposed to smell. There is nothing wrong with letting one rip every so often.”
It’s not the best endorsement for the Tuscan male, but my father-in-law has been married for 40 years. He admits he no longer worries about being romantic.
Jacopo and Michele, two teenagers in their final year at Manciano’s Liceo Scientifico high school, were, naturally, far more concerned about their aesthetic appeal.
“I think foreigners love Tuscan men because we’re fit,” says Jacopo. “We play soccer and go hunting. In the summer, we have fantastic tans and we’re always exercising.”
“Plus we dress really well,” adds Michele. “Way better than American kids with their sneakers and puffy jackets.”
Ironically Jacopo and Michele were both wearing sneakers and puffy jackets during their interview, but they swore it was with quintessential Italian class.
In speaking to boys, men and nonni in our small southern Tuscan town, it was very difficult to escape the traditional concept of a man as a masculine, take-charge type who spends his days shooting things and bringing home the bacon.
The men of Manciano are very confident. | Ph. Marco Badiani
My 84-year-old next-door neighbour Aurelio insisted that it, quite literally, had something to do with meat.
“Red meat gets the blood pumping, which makes us more passionate and fiery. None of this rabbit food. We eat wild boar and that makes us wild.”
“That,” he adds. “And a lot of red wine. Tuscan men grow up eating so much meat, they become the animals they eat! We’re irresistible.”
As much as I didn’t want to discuss the finer details of sex appeal with my elderly neighbour, I had to ask why he thought women would want a hairy, tusked creature with no table manners.
“Because we don’t care! We don’t chase after them, we don’t change for them. We are who we are! If they don’t like it, tough. We’ll just find another girl.”
If the men I spoke to are to be believed, their most attractive quality has nothing to do with personality and everything to do with statistics. There aren’t a whole lot of men in small Tuscan towns. A lack of choice breeds a lack of competition, and Manciano’s women can’t afford to be picky.
In the sort of evolution that would make Darwin proud, the men of Manciano have blossomed into an extremely confident lot who value swagger above romanticism regardless of whether they are 18 or 84.
Jacopo and Michele were adamant that “kissing was for girls” and jewellery a waste of money, while my father-in-law is oft quoted as saying: “Flowers are good, but zucchini flowers are better”.
Even my own modern man, my husband Giulio, shrugs when asked what’s so attractive about Tuscans.
“We can’t dance. We don’t like listening anymore than the next guy and we absolutely hate ridiculously grand declarations of love.
“But we can cook. We really know about good food and good wine. We can make a fantastic meal without even trying, just with the things we have in the fridge, and we aren’t even smug about it. Maybe that’s what women want.”
It’s hard to argue with the man who made squid ink pasta and sea bass wrapped in wild fennel on our first date. And followed it with homemade olive oil gelato.
My husband’s words were echoed by all the southern Tuscan men I spoke to. They wanted me to know they didn’t just kill wild boars. They cooked them too, which just goes to show, it’s not just men. Perhaps the way to a woman’s heart is also through her stomach.