Italy's Casanovas hit where it hurts
- 16 September 2013
- From the section Magazine
One consequence of the economic downturn that has gone largely unreported is the struggle some Italian men now face to woo women with the care and attention - and the lavish expenditure - their predecessors were once renowned for.
In the queue at the ice cream parlour the two businessmen jiggled anxiously and salivated like school boys as they stared at the myriad flavours of coloured gelato.
When it came to their turn though they looked a little deflated, even a little ashamed as they asked the impatient waitress in small voices for a "gelato piccolo".
"Yeah, everything's downsized here," said the taller man ruefully, looking down at his modest single scoop of chocolate ice cream.
"No money for anything now - not even for women," he added as he licked his spoon thoughtfully. "The day of Casanova is over. One woman only - and that's already too expensive."
His colleague scraped his tub clean searching out the last drops of sorbet. He flashed me a winning smile.
"The good time's finished," he announced. And then, shrugging his shoulders, he whispered confidentially, "I'm an ex-Casanova."
The economic crisis has hit Italian men where it hurts most.
With their country still in recession, with unemployment climbing above 12% and with the cost of living soaring, the Latin lover has had to rein in his appetite.
The traditional kept mistress, secretly hidden away in her fully paid-up flat, and lavished with furs and jewels has been consigned to history.
"Who can afford a double life today?" asked journalist Terry Marocco from the Italian news magazine Panorama.
"Think about it - two Christmases, two apartments, two dinners, double holiday - it's impossible," she laughed.
"Italian men are now so hard up they're having to ask their lovers to share the bill - I know one mistress who had been taken to a hotel for a romantic break - but when they were leaving, the man asked her: 'Can we go half and half?'"
Discreet enquiries around Milan suggested there are certainly fewer, shall we say, "lunchtime visits" to hotels these days.
According to surveys by an Italian casual dating website, Casanova has dispensed with the flowery niceties of wining and dining and is cutting far more quickly to the chase.
"Italian men are becoming less romantic and less gentlemanly," complained Mariangela Chimienti from the Italian online company Cdate.
"Before the crisis, a man would ask a woman to dinner, would buy her flowers before he..." she trailed off sensitively.
"Nowadays he just invites her for a coffee and a walk in the park," she added.
A recent study by the Italian association of divorce lawyers suggested Milan is the cheating capital of Italy.
But infidelity comes at a price, and it is a price most Italian men can no longer afford.
Divorce is down by 35% here since 2008 - not because Casanova is putting all he has got into his marriage, but more because he cannot afford to take anything out of it.
Splitting up in Italy is a lengthy and expensive affair.
In her sumptuous Milan apartment, Roberta Ribali, a psychiatrist who specialises in men's sexual problems, absent-mindedly stroked the plush red velvet of her therapist's couch.
"For the older Italian man, this sudden lack of money is a tragedy," she said sorrowfully.
"These men have always seen money as power and they have used their money to buy women," she sighed.
"The younger man can adapt - he can use his charm, his good looks to win over women. But for the older man who already has some hormonal problems, it's very difficult for his self-confidence," she added.
She flicked through her diary thoughtfully.
"You know there is a cheaper option for the older Casanova," she said.
"On the internet, with just a little money you can buy a nice friend. Well, she's a prostitute but she can become a friend, and you don't need to buy her furs and jewels like the traditional mistress."
She nodded, approving her idea: "Yes, this could be the solution - with the help of Viagra."
In the centre of Milan, the pavement cafes are still packed with groups of men taking their aperitivo after work and eyeing up the neighbouring tables of women.
Andrea and Fillipo, looking slightly stiff in their black business suits, listened in envy to the boasts of their friend Jacopo, who in his designer T-shirt and combat pants looked decidedly cool and confident.
"He works for an oil company," Filipo explained to me, "he basically has a girl in every country but it's cheap for him because he only stays two nights in each place so he doesn't need to buy presents and dinners."
I patted his shoulder comfortingly.
"So you've just the one girl?" I asked him sympathetically.
"Yeah," he muttered, "I don't get paid much so…"
He looked miserably into the distance.
"But at Christmas, maybe I'll get a bonus?" he said hopefully.
How to listen to From Our Own Correspondent:
BBC Radio 4: Saturdays at 11:30 and some Thursdays at 11:00
BBC World Service: Short editions Monday-Friday - see World Service programme schedule.