I was in Italy for a holiday and looking around, I noticed that everyone seemed to be an expert at flirting. Everyone but me. I’m not a bad flirt, but I’m better verbally and I have that quirky girl geek aspect going. But what I wouldn’t give to be able to do that Rudolph Valentino thing with my eyes. Italians would hands down, take gold in the Smoldering Eye category of the flirtation olympics. Anyone who has watched knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The optimum gaze is a perfect distribution of elements: one part bold, one helping of searing heat, a pinch of innocence and the rest is mystery. Eyebrows are important and well groomed in both sexes. Squinting, even in the sun, is considered rude. That’s why God and Gucci created sunglasses.
The biggest faux pas is staring at someone for longer than it takes to cross the street. This will ensure you come off as creepy. not flirty. If you must take another look and you are in strolling, a second lap should be taken. If you are driving or on a moped, this is the perfect time be interested in a cafe or shop window nearby. Just don’t gawk. Playing with hair, tossing head, looking aloof, are all permissible, as long as you can pull off a potent gaze that would stun a bear at 50 paces, even in dark sunglasses (you, not the bear). On the third pass it is permissible to smile, but not with the teeth, and only if the eyes have finished making contact. This is very important.
I was a little rusty at first. For the past few years, I’ve been living in London, a city that considers eye contact to be a dubious and risky sport. I have grown accustomed to keeping my eyes to myself, even when I see people I’m vaguely acquainted with, such as co-workers and neighbours. The accepted behaviour is to cough politely in greeting and lower your eyes as you cross paths.
In Tuscany, I practiced my gaze in cafes, ice cream shops, on beaches and in parks. Once I started, I could not stop. I looked at everyone: children, stray dogs, street sellers. It was as if I had been sightless – visually starved for years. I didn’t write a word the whole time. I was too busy observing, and not the kind I usually do, out of the corner of my eye. Looking at people properly, without predatory behaviour, is less about attraction and more about philosophy. You about letting someone know you acknowledge their existence. You look, they look, and for a nanosecond you connect with a perfect stranger. Once the moment is over, you move on and start the process with someone else. Perfetto!
On my way home from the airport, I tried out my new skills. Boarding the train I picked a random man reading a Guardian. Staring straight into his eyes, I willed him to look in my direction. He fidgeted, refusing to meet my eye. In slow motion, I saw the fortress, the tar being heated, the hounds released. When he finally looked, he proceeded to glance through me with a brush off so icy, it practically gave me frostbite.
If I am to persist with this staring business, I might need a few more weeks in Italy. I wonder if the Arts Council would consider funding my research?