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Thursday, April 29, 2010


I Promessi Sposi

Donna Maria Rosaria came to the Festa with ribbons for the girls, candy for the boy, and a Cassata cake from the town's bakery. This was Don Paolo's favorite dessert, and she meant it for him almost exclusively. She was going to talk to him. Their families went back as far as they remembered; their grandparents owned adjacent lands, shared holidays together, were padrini to each others’ children.
They were practically family.

Her father had dug the main channel that allowed water to come over to the Loggia from the little creek on their land;  the Rapolla family were able to install pipes and pull water to use for household use. The four of them, Paoluccio. his younger brother and sister, all played  in the mud for days while the channel was being laid out, making sail boats out of newspapers, singing songs about going to America like Columbus. Don Teodoro, the patriarch, deeded land in exchange for those water rights, land that will belong to Mingu when his mother dies.

Before Natalino came along and swept her off her feet, she had been interested in Paoluccio's innocent courting gestures, reading The Promessi Sposi book under the very arbor his mother and her mother had cultivated, the same one the two of them would be sitting under for the Festa of San Rocco on this hot August afternoon.

How easy life had been for his family, with the help of the men in her life, her grandfather, her father, her husband, and now her son.

The Rapollas survived on the backs of others, she thought. It's about time they realized that.

She would find the right words to soften Don Paoluccio’s heart. Didn’t she help him find the woman of his dreams? It was she who had been in the same convent in Naples with Marianna. It was she who told Paoluccio about such a beautiful woman from such a wonderful family. If it hadn’t been for her, Paoluccio wouldn’t have met her and her family. The Fabrizi took him in because they trusted the smart  Maria Rosaria, their daughter’s best friend, the one that Marianna followed to the small town of Venosa for summer vacations.  Doctor Fabrizi would not have allowed his only daughter to follow him into the wilderness of Lucania if he hadn't trusted Maria Rosaria's judgement.

It was all her doing.

He owed her.

The arbor overlooking the vineyards was set up with long tables, plates of salamis, olives,  figs, grapes, almonds  scattered around;  pitchers of Vino Santo and Moscato at one end; selected tablecloths identifying special seating for some important guests. People  arrived on horseback, in buggies, or on a four wheel cart pulled by oxen. Neighbors, workers and their families, Don Paolo’s boyhood friends, associates from his military days, almost a hundred souls showed up on this Festa.

Gemma's entire family had been hired to  help with cooking, cleaning and making men and beasts confortable. This kind of feeding happened on feast days and on harvest days.

The main meal arrived on rolling carts, Timbale,  baked pasta with varieties of meat and cheeses, all baked in  molds like  giant timbles, rich meat sauce and formaggio on the side. The second course was grilled capretto and agnello, young goat and lamb skewered and basted with garlic, rosemary and wine, aromas spreading for miles. Bowls of salads and fresh greens accompanied the capretto.

Families and neighbors took turns toasting and singing.

At the head of the table, Don Paolo toasted to everyone's good health and  good harvest and passed the wine jugs around. A couple of people played harmonica and mandolin, and people broke into songs. Mingu would have been the first one leading the singing, but he was busy somewhere.

Graziella noticed her father and Donna Maria Rosaria sitting together. Good sign, she thought.

She hoped her life would come to a rest soon, in Naples, among her sweet grandparents. If only she could settle the situation between herself and Mingu!  She needed certainty in her life, one way or another. Her sisters and little brother would be fine for a while. Yes. She needed space to find her life's destiny. She wondered if Mingu would follow her. Or, if he too would leave the Loggia in protest, and join the army and the cavalry he so missed.

It was late afternoon when the meal came to an end; cool breezes and the sound of birds and insects down by the river brought a lazy solace to all. Some people felt like taking short walks around the garden, or down in the vineyards glistening with ripe grapes as far as the eyes could see. Horses grazing leisurely in the pasture would have distracted them, and they would have felt an invitation to sit  by the river and feel blessed on this hot afternoon.

Mingu noticed his mother talking non-stop. Graziella noticed her father nodding and agreeing. They each wondered what would come of all that talking.

Don Paolo was contemplating his time on earth and the people he cared about.

Mingu was getting nervous, needed to speak to Graziella, to reassure her that things would work out.

Going around the arbor, he heard Don Paolo's voice,“And now, before we go any further, Donna Maria Rosaria and I have an announcement. Where are those two? Has anybody seen the love birds?”

Everybody looked around, noticing Mingu at one end of the arbor and Graziella coming from the opposite side.

“As I was saying, Donna Maria Rosaria and I would like to announce the engagement of our children Mingu and Graziella. This union is blessed by our two families and our dear departed spouses in Heaven. These children have a lifetime of blessings bestowed upon them.Congratulations, you two!”

The harmonica player started playing Mingu’s favorite song. Everyone clapped. Everyone started singing, “Te voglio bene, te voglio bene assai..."

Donna Maria Rosaria’s eyes welled thinking of all the  generations of Rapollas and D'Ambrosios chained together, going through life making and breaking promises to each other. The souls of her father, her husband and San Rocco will blessed the new couple, she thought, and joined her son in song, providing a soprano sound. Her past and her future blurred for a second. This land will be united after all, she thought.

“This land will be blessed by many generations,” Don Paoluccio whispered to her, as he stood up to make another toast.

Mingu and Graziella stood side by side with a glass of wine in their hands, smiling incredulously.

Soon, they were surrounded, ladies pulling Graziella aside, asking questions; Don Paolo shaking Mingu's hand;  children dancing around everyone.

It was dark when people headed back home with a full stomach and a story to tell about the new couple.


  1. I have chills, Rosaria, for the depths of these stories. As they appear, as they rest, the harmonica and mandolin, the table set, the buzz of family all about, as they appear two dimensional they offer such a soft and heart filled place. But families like this were so very complicated, any one's place within the family so many sided. While I lament how our society and families are structured now, too loose, too frayed, there is a freedom granted there now, but there was a different kind of worth granted in the past. Neither perfect, I suppose. The past, certainly seems to be richer though.

    I am glad they all clapped. Gravity lifts then and there.

    I love how you fill in the stories, Rosaria.


  2. Yes, relatives has much more input and power and that sometimes (most times) made life difficult. Nicely written!!