Oh! You’re Supposed To Toss COINS!

Mar 17

Ah, Rome, the Eternal City. Forget about San Francisco: you can leave your heart here faster than you can say Ciao, Baby!

I, however, held on to my heart, but left my underwear.

As you may know, I  am capable of losing anything. Gloves, of course, and pens and pencils, cell phones, keys, wallets, and address books, not to mention money, checks, and laundry lists, plus scarves, hats, earrings. You know, the usual.

But am I satisfied with these paltry everyday items that any idiot could lose? Not I!

Perhaps I was cursed at birth by a vindictive gypsy (perhaps I’ve been watching too many operas), but I do have a deep and abiding talent for losing virtually any thing, any place, any time. In Put That Back! I  told you about the time in college when I misplaced my senior thesis and had to rewrite it from scratch using my (barely legible) notes, and got a lower grade as a result. So young, so tragic.

But the thing that has captured most people’s imagination — and the incident they want to hear about — is that I once lost my underwear, right here, near the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

Let me explain!

I was in Rome with my business partner, Diana, and we went shopping for tennis outfits at this really nice store near the Trevi Fountain. They had good prices (that was back in the day when a dollar wasn’t worth 35 cents), and we had a ball (no pun intended) trying on all the skirts, shorts and tops that the cute Italian clerk handed us through the curtains of the teeny little fitting room. (He did seem to be lingering a little too long, and leaning in a little too far, but we’ll get to that later.) Each of us bought a few outfits, some of which I still use today, and so, mission accomplished, we hurried off in search of gelato.

Later that day, around cocktail hour, we were gathered together with Diana’s husband at the piano bar in the lobby of the very chic Hassler Hotel. I know, I know, that’s a German name, but trust me, it’s a very fancy Italian place at the top of the Spanish Steps.

So anyway, there we were, the three of us, lounging at the lounge, working on drinks of Campari (me) and Scotch (them). It was to be my last evening in Rome; they were staying a few more days. As the piano quietly tinkled in the background, and elegant Italians (elegant Italians are really, really elegant) stylishly conversed over cocktails and delicious little nibbly things, I asked my friends if they thought they’d be going back to the Trevi. If so, I wondered, could they stop in that sweet little store and see if anyone had found my underwear?

I was surprised by the loud, startled “WHAT!” — which sounded more like “WOT!” to tell the truth, since we are New Yorkers and never get that WH-sound quite right. The exclamation had issued forth simultaneously from the two of them, resulting in a kind of happy hour hush among the privileged patrons. There seemed, at least to me, to be total silence in the room. Even the piano player stopped playing, his hands poised in mid-air as he turned to stare. Remember that commercial, “When E.F. Hutton speaks . . .” and everyone stops what they’re doing to lean in and listen? That’s what happened, there in the piano bar that night in Rome. It seems that, in Italy at least, sex sells even better than financial advice. Italians are sooo wise.

Well, maybe it was the Compari, or that When In Rome Feeling, or maybe it was just me, accustomed, practically from birth, to losing things of all nations, but I didn’t think it was that big a deal.

In the shop, I had been wearing my favorite cream-colored camisole and tap pants set — silk, lace, the whole nine yards (actually, very little in the way of yardage, but very effective, lacy lingerie-wise). God knows who I thought I would meet later in that great city that fine day. Or night. Or maybe I just felt like wearing pretty lingerie. Hey, it was Rome. I was free and over. . .  twenty-one. To be perfectly clear, as well as sheer, I was wearing a bra and pantyhose underneath the sensuous silk set, so that when I got dressed (remember, we were dealing with very cramped quarters — and I was tired from all that shopping!), I guess I forgot to put on the cami and pants. It could happen to anyone, right? Well, maybe not.

The next day, I took off for New York, and my friends took off for the Little Shop of Panties, down by the Trevi, where the very good-looking young man who had been helping us (and perhaps himself) claimed that no, no signori, of course he had not found anything like the intimate articles being described to him by this crazy American couple.

threecoinsblueposter.jpgMy friends left the shop empty handed, and went to the fountain to throw in a few coins. You’re supposed to do that, you know, to insure that you’ll return to Rome. (Rent the film Three Coins In The Fountain, which was on PBS just the other night, for a schmaltzy view of Rome in the 50’s as it existed only in Hollywood films.)

But you have to wonder: If tossing coins in the fountain brings you back to Rome, what happens if you leave your underwear there. . . Will the Italian branch of Victoria’s Secret send you a catalog and ask you to pick up your purchases at the Piazza Navonna? Will you be extradited from the US and hauled back to Sunny Italy on charges of lewd and indecent behavior? Or will you return to Rome and have a hot affair with the cute clerk? He’s the perfect age by now.

Whatever. But that young man knew more than what he was telling. Much more. It is my firm belief (it’s so nice to have something firm these days) ——and very pleasant fantasy— that somewhere in Rome, someone, perhaps at this very minute, is riding around on a Vespa wearing my underwear. In my imagination, it’s a woman, but who knows. And I wouldn’t dream of being judgmental . . .

Photo by Lou Chisena

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