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Monday, August 27, 2012

An Oddball Italian Destination

Long before I ever considered buying an Italian scooter or visiting Italy, I became a bit obsessed by an iconic photograph by a woman named Ruth Orkin entitled "American Girl In Italy 1951".

According to the Ruth Orkin website  (where her daughter acts as curator of her mom's photo archives) the backstory for the famous photo is as follows:

 "In 1951, Life [Magazine] sent my mother on assignment to Israel. From there she went to Italy, and it was in Florence that she met Jinx Allen (now known as Ninalee Craig), a painter and fellow American.

The two were talking about their shared experiences traveling alone as young single women, when my mother had an idea. “Come on,” she said, “lets go out and shoot pictures of what it’s really like.”

In the morning, while the Italian women were inside preparing lunch, Jinx gawked at statues, asked Military officials for directions, fumbled with lire and flirted in cafes while my mother photographed her. They had a lot of fun ... my mother’s best known image, “American Girl in Italy” was created as part of this series."

Here's the iconic image:


[click to embiggen]

The subject of the photo - Jinx Allen / Ninalee Craig - who is now 84, still insists that she did not feel threatened by the glances and, um, attentions of the male bystanders.  I guess we have to take her at her word.

The photo's composition and complexity is such that to this day I can't look at it without finding some new architectural detail, cultural cue or facial expression.  

But aside from the classic old scooter off to the right, the part of the picture that always grabs my attention is the guy closest to the girl who seems to be making kissy noises, and may or my not be making an obscene gesture with his hands.

I'm not sure why, but once this picture had gotten under my skin, I always hoped that if I ever visited italy, I'd be able to track down the location and see what it looks like today.

As you know, Zahava and I spent a very nice vacation in Northern italy this summer (tourist photos to come in the next few posts, I promise!), and a little research gave me the approximate location of where the photograph had been taken (Piazza della Repubblica in Florence).  

A little playing around with Google Earth and Google Street View brought us to a corner of the Piazza that is not only home to a historic cafe called, of all things, Gilli's... it is also the place where the famous photograph was taken.

After Zahava and I had finished seeing Michelangelo's statue of David (among other incredible works of art), the Great Synagogue of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio... we strolled over to the Piazza della Repubblica and had a beer at Gilli's.

Afterwards, I snapped a photo of Zahava on the famous corner:

Zahava Florence

And she was nice enough to snap a memento of me standing on the corner:Me Florence

And in case you can't see what I'm doing, yes... I'm making kissy noises at my wife (and resisting the urge to complete the moment with accompanying hand gestures):


No, no girls... hands off.  Zahava saw me first!  :-)

[Observation: Doesn't the stone-faced guy next to 'Mr. Kissy-noises' in the Orkin photograph look exactly like Ray Liotta?]

Posted by David Bogner on August 27, 2012 | Permalink


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Can we get an audio on the kissy noises please?

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Aug 27, 2012 3:35:29 PM

Love the hat!

Posted by: Drew | Aug 27, 2012 10:20:35 PM

loved that picture!! also was in that piazza last summer.

Posted by: gabrielle klein | Aug 28, 2012 11:16:18 AM

When we travel, these are the places that are most memorable. The touristy places are all fine, but there's something about having that personal or mental connection.

Our first evening in Jerusalem included a stop at Kever Shmuel NaNavi... a bit off the beaten touristy path, but very close to where my cousin lives. Watching the sun set over the hills of northwestern Jerusalem from there - now, that was a moment to remember.

Your Italy trip sounds wonderful... can't wait for more pics 'n' stories.

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 28, 2012 5:34:40 PM

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