Marta Mondelli Headshot

A Women's Day in Italy

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On March 8, Italian women receive branches of mimosa (a bush that blossoms at this time of year and has one of the most delicate and lovely perfumes I know). Is that a common tradition in other European countries as well? I don't know. It is not common in America, that's why I'm so thrilled to be in Italy now: I get to smell this beautiful flower.

I just landed in Milano and I'm on an Alta Velocità train (the new fast one). It will take me three-and-a-half hours to go to Rome, where I will present my book. So what is March 8 for me? A yellow flower?

On the train there is a nun who fell asleep watching the hills near Bologna: I guess common places are real: Next time I see a movie set in Italy with a nun in a train I won't roll my eyes. Besides the nun, there are only men sitting around me. When the occasional woman passes by, they turn and look at her. Yep: We're in Italy. We look at each other in the streets and on trains. Yes, we like to see how other people look: I love that. I do the same thing.

The tradition of celebrating the 8th of March comes from the U.S. (this is what they told us in school): in 1908, on that day, 129 workers died in a fire at a garment factory in New York while they were protesting to improve their work conditions: their boss had locked them in. They were all women. It is a very sad episode, but it is a way to remember the sacrifices of working women everywhere.

This year the celebration comes at a very delicate time in Italian history: Italian women are furious. Our prime minister has shown such aplomb for his role in his (allegedly) prostitutes scandals that it seems that the only way Italians cope with his irreverence is making jokes. While Italians are now almost desensitized by these kind of highly-publicized news coming every day, we pay very little attention to the actual laws his ministries are approving and instead laugh about him. I don't find jokes on Berlusconi funny at all (of course, the ones he tells are utterly chilling, but that's a different story).

So, while women launch crusades on Facebook (suggesting to put images of important female role models as their profile picture, to make what seems to me an unnecessary statement: we're not only nuns and prostitutes), a new movie is coming out: a rich woman loses everything, and what does she do? She becomes a female escort to whore herself out of bankruptcy. It is a comedy. I only saw the trailer, and I know that in times of economic crisis comedies are a great way of lighting things up, but I don't think this is the most elegant choice. Instead, I think we should just take a step back and celebrate this day in joy and awareness of what we can still do to improve the quality and equality of women's condition. You see, I don't feel offended by Berlusconi as a woman, I feel offended as an Italian citizen.

The train has stopped in Firenze and the nun has left. We're heading toward Rome; around the city of Orvieto there are great views of hills and cypresses; on the highest mountains in the background there is some snow; two women a couple of seats ahead of me discuss rent prices. Being in New York most of the year and getting only grimy updates from the news, I always expect to land in Italy and to find a post-apocalyptic scenario. In a way I'm glad that things seems more or less the same; on the other hand I wish I could smell a little bit more indignation (from both men and women) in the air, not just mimosas.