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MATTY ZIMMERMAN/The Associated Press

My suitcase does not hold an assortment of basics that can be worn in 10 different ways. Instead, I dress for the city, or the place I am visiting. I aspire to dress like a local. My clothes need to blend into the scenery, to compliment the architecture – to feel like they belong. Sipping latte at a café, my clothes say, "I have just stopped in on my way to the market to see what I can find for dinner." I don't want Giovanna from across the street stopping in and seeing the "tourista" taking up her regular seat. My clothes need to show someone new has moved in to the Quatiere. And I had packed my new perfect-for-Italy skirt: It reminded me of gelato. Tiny stripes of pistachio green, blush peach, lemon yellow on fine summer cotton. It was cool in the heat. Hidden pockets in the seams and fine pleats that made it swing when I walked.

We set out early, and with my newly practised Italian, navigated our way into the centre of Milan. In the smog-filtered sun, it was just as I had hoped. Milan was on sensual overdrive. Everywhere there were lithe, stylish women and lusty-eyed men – everyone looking as though they just tumbled out of a lover's bed. Voluptuous Renaissance architecture competed with obscene graffiti tags. Everywhere fine soft leather, rich fabrics and shoes. Oh. My. God. The. Shoes. The city was heaving with people and activity. Coincidentally, Fashion Week was in full swing. Achingly thin models were everywhere, striking bored poses wearing "the next new trend." Milan looked just like the sartorial puttana that she is.

To avoid the crowds, we detoured to Via Dante to stroll its wide pedestrian avenue. Bold red carpets dotted the cobblestones ahead, left behind after the glittering Designer events held the night before. Like lipstick unsteadily applied, they formed a tipsy path to the Duomo.

Just five steps after leaving the red carpet, it happened. A roaring noise erupted below my feet and a tornado of air exploded upwards. In a nanosecond, my skirt rose like tissue, up and over my head. I didn't have time to think or to hold the material down. I raised my arms like a preying mantis in an effort to flatten my skirt, but it was useless. The air was so strong that the light fabric was forced upwards to the cloudless Milanese sky.

My friend swears she was yelling, "Step off the grate!" I think the blood pounding in my ears prevented me from hearing her. I was mortified. I was in Milan, my skirt was over my head and my – thankfully clean – white lace underwear was displayed to all. An eternity passed and finally the roaring stopped. The train below cleared and my skirt dropped down over my trembling legs. I emerged from my cotton chrysalis to see the laughing face of a man walking straight toward me. I couldn't keep up with his Italian, but I am pretty sure he said, "Thank you for the view." I think he was laughing with me – at least, that is how I choose to remember it.

Behind him was a street performer – the kind that dresses elaborately and stands immobile for hours. Dressed as a Renaissance prince, he was all ruffles, buckles and bows. Stepping off his pedestal, he turned and removing his tri-cornered hat, executed a deep bow in my direction. I looked around and my husband and friends were laughing like idiots – tears rolling down their cheeks. They were surrounded by a few others all holding raised cellphones. Crap – I would be on YouTube and around the world in no time. Cafés lined the street and no doubt some got more than they bargained for with their morning lattes.

Unable to contemplate the implications of having shown my assets to all of Milan, to my friends and to God knows who else I began to laugh. Tears streamed down my face washing away some of the embarrassment. It was then that I realized my skirt had been over my head. My face wasn't visible. So, displayed for all the world to see – I would not be recognizable.

The skirt stayed in the bottom of the suitcase for the rest of the vacation. It no longer reminds me of gelato. But it does remind me of Milan. It also makes me think of that old nursery rhyme.

I saw London

I saw France

Milan – they saw my underpants.

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