Sunday, May 18
Rewind three months.
On a beach somewhere in Phuket, surrounded by Posipeople I strip down to my bikini, ready to jump in the sea. But as I hang my shorts and suntop up on the spokes of a nearby sun umbrella a man I recognise lowers his glasses and looks me up and down.
“Ma sei malata? Are you ill?” He asks, wrinkling his nut brown nose at me.
“No”, I sigh, knowing full well what is coming next.
“Well why are you so white then? You look like a mozzarella. Get a bit of sun on you, why don’t you!”
Something in me snaps. I’ve heard it all before, many times in Italy. They can’t seem to understand why I am whiter than them. Normally I shrug it off and ignore them but the way this man looked me up and down, over his lowered sunglasses was quite offensive.
“OK, I’ll try to explain it for you, maybe you’ll understand.” I talk loudly so that any other person nearby that may be offended by the colour of my skin can listen and learn. “I am from England, which is much further north than Italy. It doesn’t get as much sun and most people born there have naturally whiter skin than people born in the Mediterranean. No matter how long I sit and bake in the sun I will never ever get as brown as you are, and frankly I wouldn’t want to look like an old leather bag.”
I think he flinched so I carried on.
“Let me ask you something. Do you believe that if you lie here roasting for long enough that you will become as brown as an African?”
“No, I don’t believe that.”
“Well why do you think that I should be as brown as you then? If you can understand that your skin colour is different from that of an African person, why can’t you accept that my skin colour is different from yours?”
“I just thought..”
“No!” I cut him off, “you didn’t think, you offended me. I am already aware enough that I stick out like a sore thumb amongst you tanned people, and I don’t need you telling me I look ill or comparing me to soft cheese.”
He started smearing another layer of baby oil over his wrinkled body.
“Mio Dio! Have you people never heard of skin cancer?” I asked, imagining what would happen to me if I coated myself in oil and sat in the sun for eight hours. I shuddered.
“Don’t worry, this is protection,” he said, waving the Johnsons bottle at me, truly believing as many of them do, that the application of pure oil or Nivea cream would save his skin from wrinkles and tumours. I left him to it and went to sit in the shade...
Back to Positano, mid-May. I know that sunbathing is a national past time here and having a tan is of the utmost importance. But, in my case it just isn’t going to happen. A couple of ‘white’ friends have already had brushes with skin cancer and I am not willing to take the risk. So to avoid being compared to mozzarella, this year my tan will come out of a bottle, smooth, golden and streak free, thanks to St Tropez. I will feel confident and colourful and hopefully the old-leathery-baby-oil-smothered locals will be appeased and refrain from name-calling.
at 12:19 PM