My Italian girlfriends don't understand me. One of them even said, 'Haven't you finished with that swimming thing yet?' And another, 'But why do you have to go skiing every weekend?'
(To which I reply, 'I've come here to swim, mate. I'd rather die than sunbake.' Astonished look. The real meaty stuff of culture clash.)
So sport. Whaat? Sometimes my girlfriends have been known to paddle at the pool. Or on our Corsica trip, they cool off after the sunbathing. It doesn't seem a natural thing. Few can hold a tennis racket, or throw a ball hard, netball-style. Many used to ski in childhood but don't anymore because, you know, it's so expensive, so far and.. you know, far. Some hike in the summertime, but it's a punctuation mark, an adventure. I remember the best holidays of my younger years of parenthood were the Dolomite hiking trips - kids in backpacks and scarves on burnt necks, Austrian food in the evenings and the kids getting a projectile vomit bug, one by one, with Mum here being the shifting target.
I'm talking about regular exercise, the type where your heart beat gallops and your sweat brinks and your lungs turn inside out. I love it. I'm no prize-winning athlete, nor ever have been. But it's there, this marvellous animal fix, almost as greasy and delightful as sex. Here are this non-Italian woman's tips for a muscly winter season:
1. Never entertain the idea of practising sport with your sixteen-year-old daughter. It is certain to make you feel unfit, inelegant, improper and INVISIBLE. Don't think you will ever exist next to her flowing golden hair and fresh curves. You won't even be lucky enough to be labelled a MILF, because they don't know what MILFs are in Italy.
2. If you seriously start exercising, empty out your cupboards and fridge. No more processed foods. Buy stuff that you actually have to cook. Lean steak, cabbage for salads and a good chopping board. A friend of a friend once asked me how I keep slim and I replied, I swim a hundred laps and eat cabbage salad every night. MEL I WAS ONLY JOKING
3. Eat protein after running/swimming/rowing/skiing. Eat carbs two hours before. Drink water, not coffee. I know, it hurts.
4. If you swim, give in to ugliness. I mean, embrace your lumps and gorilla legs, wear that nuns' costume with pride. What I love about turning up at the pool is being a mess - turn up in your worstest clothes and shock them mothers with their terracotta foundation and blonde highlights. Delight in your smeared mascara afterwards and stride out with a beanie over your wet hair (cardinal sin).
5. Don't greet fellow joggers. Unless they are over eighty. They will follow you, ask your Facebook details, crop up every time you round a corner at the supermarket, the vet's, the bank. Be aloof. Wear ear muffs. Speak a foreign language (Albanian? Finnish? not English, which many people are convinced they are able to speak, unless of course you need a new batch of English students.)
6. If you are fortunate enough to ski - meaning there is snow rather than grass on the slopes as the snowline rises, and rises - enjoy the oxygen high, there is nothing like it after the grimy cityscapes below. If you are a beginner, get lessons, ski teachers have great thighs. If you are an expert, get more lessons, ski instructors have even better thighs.
8. If you HATE exercise just concentrate on how good you will feel afterwards. DO NOT reward yourself with chocolate - it's a brief sugar high and your body is crying out for wads of spinach, your favourite meat or meat substitute. Ever cooked a fantastic quiche with spinach and feta cheese?
9. If you hear a distant thumping as I did the other day - relax. It's not a daytime disco some idiot has set up along the bike track. It's your blood - your wiring - thudding through you. Hit it, sister! We Are Family!
10. If you ever end up with biceps like Madonna forget exercise and go back to sex! You've made your point. Don't get stringy.
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PS Anyone who takes sporting advice from me - Italian or otherwise - you are crazy. MEL I AM SO SORRY. YOU CAN STOP NOW. PLEASE STOP
PPS Grazie mille to friends and fellow bloggers who left a comment on my page on expatsblog.com. I think we should go out for a virtual mulled wine together in some lodge above the snow line...