Her apartment wasn’t as luxurious as she had described, nor did she in any way resemble her photographs. It wasn’t a question of over-zealous photo shopping: these were simply pictures of someone else.
‘It is because I want to be anonymous,’ Carolina says. She is in her early 30s, definitely not 22, and while she might be described as blond, her original color has won back a lot of its lost territory.
But aren’t you afraid that customers will feel cheated?
‘Pff,’ she waves, lighting another cigarette, ‘that is their problem.’
Maybe she’s right: I can see how the men who have taken the time and effort to get to Carolina’s apartment, which is quite far from the city centre, and a 20-minute walk from the metro station, might be prepared to overlook the discrepancies. Because it wasn’t that easy to find a sex worker in Rome, at least one who wanted to talk to a journalist. Despite being the seat of the Catholic Church, Rome has all kinds of sex workers, they are just not out in the open as in many other cities. I had read, just that week, that the mayor of Rome wanted to change that and had launched plans to create a red light district that would keep prostitutes off the streets so they could ‘exercise the world’s oldest profession without disturbing the citizens.’
Carolina hadn’t read it, she says. ‘I don’t believe what is in the papers, especially when politicians speak.’
But would you work there?
‘No, of course not!’ she said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. ‘I am not a street hooker.’ It is the most common form of prostitution, however, as Italians have a marked preference for sex in cars, because it’s cheaper than going to an escort. I was told that many of these street hookers are illegal immigrants, African women, or junkies, or Eastern European women controlled by Albanian gangs. You saw them standing alongside some of the bigger roads leading out of Rome, such as the Via Prenestina and Viale Palmiro Togliatti.
And of course it would blow your cover.
She used to be a fashion model, she says. ‘I have travelled all over the country for shows.’ She searches in her phone to find a picture of herself on a catwalk. ‘Here, look.’ She doesn’t look like the girl in that photo either, but I assume it was taken in her better days.
What did you want to become when you were younger?
‘A model and a singer. I was in X-Factor, in 2007.’
Were you on TV?
‘Almost.’ She lights another cigarette.
What do you want to do when you stop doing this job?
‘I don’t know. It is okay for now. I have enough clients and I can live like I want to, and I can buy nice things.’
Do your friends know that you are a sex worker?
‘I don’t have friends. I don’t see the point of friendship.’
In the corridor a man and a woman are yelling at each other. ‘These bloody neighbors again… They make a lot of noise, especially their baby. My clients don’t like the sound of crying babies.’
You don’t live here, I guess. The apartment is almost empty, apart from a flat screen TV, a couch, and a bed.
‘No, I live in a better neighborhood. With normal people, not with these idiots,’ she says pointing at the wall.
You said you travelled a lot, through Italy, but have you been to other countries as well?
‘No, and I don’t want to. I’m Italian and everything I want is here. This country is the best: it has beautiful landscapes, and old buildings, beautiful people.’ For the first time I see some positivity, but it’s brief: ‘But people from other countries come here. The Africans, the Chinese, the Bulgarians. They are ugly and stupid. Many of them are criminals, didn’t you know that?’
Do you vote?
But I thought you had to?
‘I never vote.’
What do you think of Europe?
‘We don’t need them.’
Time to leave.