From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 58
La Mia Fidanzata (My Fiancée)
The citizens of Gioviano always seem to be looking for ways to laugh and have fun. So, one of the games that I play in order to bring a little mirth into the lives of the several widows of the village is to pretend that Tuna, who is the same age as my Mother--90-- is “la mia fidanzata” or fiancée.

Each summer when I first arrive I ask the other widows of the village, “Dove la mia fidanzata?” (“Where is my fiancée?”) which elicits smiles, giggles, and gossip. Tuna is one of my very dear friends and one who I especially enjoy teasing about our “illicit relationship.” Until her son-in-law, Giampaolo, moved his restaurant to the bottom of the hill, “La Tuna” would sit on the patio outside surrounded by the old men playing cards.

When I would approach, begging for love and affection, she would grin from ear to ear, and attempt to strike me with her bastone (stick/cane). These pretend violent acts directed toward me would soon subside. Then, I could sit next to her without too much fear until I would try to kiss her hand and ask her when she would ever relent and marry me. The other widows of the village enjoy the spectacle, for in Italy, every aspect of life is a dramatic event, especially when played out in the public forum.

The explanation that I give, much to the delight of the audience is that Sue, my wife of nearly 40 years, is only my American wife and that according to International Law one is married only in his or her country of origin. So when I am in Italy, I am unmarried and thus must continue to beg my Italian fidanzata for her hand in marriage. This foolishness has been going on for at least 20 years now, which doesn’t seem at all unusual to the Giovianini who have seen such courtships last that long and perhaps longer.

Italian men often tend to marry somewhat later in life than do Americans. Thus it is not surprising to see Italian men still living at home under the watchful eyes of their mothers into their late twenties and early thirties, during which time they may have a series of fidanzate. Otherwise, they may stay engaged to their first love for many years until they are able afford a home of their own or until their family home can be divided into separate apartments for married children if it is large enough.

Being fidanzata (engaged) in Italy is not nearly as serious a promise or obligation as it is in America. When each of our daughters and our nieces would go on a date for the first time with an Italian boy, the gossip mill would immediately pronounce them to be “fidanzate.” Furthermore, some of these Italian males, being the creatures that they are, had more than one relationship going on at the same time and perhaps more than one fidanzata, each one likely believing that she was the one and only.

This summer, with the restaurant gone, the passageway in front of the former restaurant was rather lonely, and I had to seek out la mia fidanzata. Her apartment is down a rather steep set of stairs, and I worried that she might not be able to negotiate them at this stage in her life, the fate of many of the elderly who live out their lives in the hill towns of Italy.

I went down the stairs and knocked on the door, expecting “La Tuna” to be confined to her apartment. I was greeted by Gigino, her son. Tuna was happily fit as a fiddle and immediately demanded to know where her regalo was. Every year, if time permits, I go on a little shopping spree and buy her a token of my affection. However, this year, I was tied down to my computer trying to complete this book.

The big mistake that I made many years ago was in the selection of flowers to give to all of my elderly Gioviano “girlfriends.” I made the terrible faux pas of purchasing “graveyard flowers” for them, not having the foggiest notion that each type and color of blossom in Italy has a special meaning. I was so embarrassed when I found out what a fool I had been. So now when purchasing flowers as gifts, I always ask the florist what kind of flowers represent friendship and not some kind of hidden message that the poor recipient belongs in the camposanto.

I am looking forward to many more years of begging my Italian fidanzata to marry me while dodging pretend blows from her bastone.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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