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The Kiss with the American Girl February 14, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

February 14, 2015



See our poster of The Kiss on the wall, above the wine racks?


   Last week, I received this email from one of our all-time favorite Cyrano friends (if you haven’t seen her at the shop yet, Lanie’s the Chinese-looking version of Aussie actress Sarah Snook with glasses on). The email was simply entitled, “Poster”, and the entire text read as follows:




   The link sent me to an article posted the previous week under the heading “That’s Me in the Picture: Ninalee Craig Photographed by Ruth Orkin in Florence”. Written by Ninalee Craig, the article recounts her adventure as a young woman in that city, during which she was famously photographed on the street being ogled at by a swarm of Italian men.

   I picked up our email conversation from there.



    Hey, thanks for emailing this link!

    Weren’t you telling me about this photo before?  I just finished some more reading on this American Girl in Italy photo by Ruth Orkin and it turns out that the subject, Ninalee Craig, was wearing a bright orange shawl on that day in Florence.  This detail isn’t appreciated by the public because the photo is in black & white, but that shawl helped paint a laser beam target on the young (Ninalee) that must have caught the attention of admiring eyes from a zillion miles away.

    Here’s a photo (of Ninalee) from 2011, wearing the original orange shawl.



    You were the one telling me about it in the shop, no?



    Nah, it wasn’t me.  Maybe it was Fatima or Dian?  I vaguely remember someone trying to talk about it because of the Robert Doisneau poster of The Kiss on the shop wall, but I’d never seen it until now.



    I thought that was (the) poster on your wall. Not The Kiss.


   It was a welcome case of mistaken identity.

   Even though our poster of The Kiss by the Town Hall has actually been on display at the wine shop for many years, I easily appreciate how it was confused with American Girl in Italy. As it turns out, Orkin’s snapshot is frequently compared to Doisneau’s, such that the former is widely regarded as the nearest rival of the latter for the honor of being the most iconic photograph in history. “American Girl was rumoured to be the second-bestselling picture of all time,” wrote one art critic, “after Robert Doisneau’s famous The Kiss.”

   “The world that I was trying to present,” Doisneau once explained, hopeless romantic that he was, “was one where I could feel good, where people were friendly, where I could find the love I wanted. My photos were proof that this world could exist.”

   Both Doisneau’s and Orkin’s photographs passionately express the same post-war sentiment – Doisneau composed his shot in Paris in 1950, while Orkin snapped hers in Florence in 1951. With Europe emerging from years of reconstruction and austerity, Parisians and Florentines felt the freedom to once again celebrate daily life with amorous generosity, renewing something special that had always flourished in two of the most captivating cities in the world.

   The difference is that, while both pictures convey the same reawakening feeling of the era, American Girl is best celebrated as a romantic symbol of mis-adventure.

   “It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time,” happily explained Ninalee during an interview in 2011, in which she corrects the popular misconception that she was being harassed. “Italian men are very appreciative, and it’s nice to be appreciated. I wasn’t the least bit offended.”


American Girl in Italy


   Back in 1951, Ninalee was exploring Europe as a carefree 23 year-old solo traveler (something that she says was far more unusual for a single young American woman to do in those days). Arriving in Florence, she befriended an equally adventurous fellow American, 29 year-old photographer Ruth Orkin, who happened to be staying at the same hotel. With great excitement, both girls went on a daytime excursion around the city, with Ninalee as the camera subject. At six feet tall and with eye-catching, non-Latin features and complexion, she caused heads to turn wherever she went, setting the stage for that famous shot with those men on the street.

   “Oh, and that poor soul touching himself,” she further revealed in her article posted by The Guardian. “I was used to it. It was almost like a good luck sign for the Italian man, making sure the family jewels were intact. When it was first published, that was occasionally airbrushed out but I would never consider it to be a vulgar gesture.”


Ninalee asks for directions from an attentive military officer.
Even the guy on the bicycle can’t help looking back.


Definitely no WiFi yet. Still, Ninalee says the American Express
office was the place to pick up the latest news from the States.


Posing through a beaded curtain next to the magazine covers.


Flirting and being seen to do so with style has always been
a fashionable sport in this town.


Going for a spin with her new friend…in his MG!


Ruth Orkin and Ninalee on the balcony of Hotel Berchielli,
having just returned from a fun-filled day.


   Of course, Ninalee is gregariously clear about where she feels her picture stands among the most famous photographs in the world.

   “The most famous! Let’s get it right!”

   Then again, it doesn’t really matter if ever one is more famous than the other, does it?

   I can have The Kiss with the American Girl at the wine shop. Even though they’re two different pictures set in two different cities, both heroically stir the same romantic spirit in all of you who are truly Cyrano friends.

   Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.





[ Read the follow-up post, American Girl’s Footsteps. ]







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