One late summer’s afternoon in our family summer house on the island of Stromboli, our gardener/construction worker came to visit to settle some payments for his work. My mother and father sat with Angelo, that was his name, and served coffee before discussing business. As the cicadas buzzed in the trees and the evening descended upon the island, the conversation turned, as it often does in the south of Italy, to more pleasant topics, namely gossip.
Angelo was a rugged Sicilian transplanted onto the tiny island of Stromboli in the mid ’70s, and afer all these years the islanders still called him ‘the Sicilian’, even though his little home town was just a few miles away, visible on the nearby coastline. His livelyhood came from doing maintenance and small construction in the winter months for the homes of vacationers while his wife did gardening work.
“Don Emilio,” as Angelo respectfully addressed my father, “I have to tell you the story of what happened to my wife and I when we went to a wedding last month in Sicily…” Angelo then proceeded to recount the events.
A traditional Sicilian wedding is a giant operation
The previous month, in fact, Angelo and his wife attended the wedding of a distant relative’s daughter in a tiny Sicilian town. The father of the bride was one of the most important men of the city, so the wedding was planned more than a year in advance and the preparations had envolved practically half of the available local workforce. P.s. A traditional Sicilian wedding is a giant operation featuring dreamlike handmade wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, horse-drawn carriages, overpacked catholic cerimonies, incense, choir, organ music, church bells tolling across town (rivalling parishes try to outplay each other), gargantuan banquets, opulent diplays of arguably the best pastries in the whole mediterranean world, rivers of wine and swarming hordes of far-arrived and distant relatives bearing gifts.
Two of these distant relatives were Angelo and his wife, Maria. They arrived in Sicily with the early morning hydrofoil boat in the port of Milazzo and then got a ride with other relatives in a small Fiat Panda overloaded with humans and wedding gifts. As the car climbed the hill roads towards the town, small posters and larger manifesti lined every country wall and municipal road sign, wishing the soon-to-be-wedded youths all of the best. They arrived in a central square dominated by a splendid Sicilian Baroque Cathedral of the 1500’s and, at last, found parking. A seemingly entire population swarmed in a happy festive mood.
Unbeknownst to everyone, a true drama was about to unfold
About ten days previous, the cousin of the groom, a young boy of seventeen, was making the rounds on his Vespa one evening delivering the last printed invites and the typical decorated bomboniere and remembered to also stop at the newlyweds’ future home to drop off a few partecipazioni. He parked in the street and knocked on the door but noone answered. Seeing that a light was burning inside he went around the back to leave the package on the back porch but… as he was about to leave, he suddenly heard what he thought was a cry for help! He immediately turned back and fine-tuned his attention and heard the same voice lamenting as if in deep pain. He carefully looked into a partially opened shutter fearing some sort of accident, or worse. It was much, much worse: the boy clearly distinguished the future bride and the groom’s best friend engaged in a deeply passionate… embrace.
“Ci penso io, vai a casa adesso.”
The shocked boy tiptoed away and wondered what to do until his ‘blood’ convinced him to go and tell his cousin, the groom, what he saw. In Sicily something like this often results in murder, so the boy had a very hard time deciding what to do.
“Did you tell anyone else?” was the reaction of the groom, a hard working and well respected young man, “does anybody else know?” he again asked with fire blazing in his hazel-green eyes as he grabbed the boy’s shoulders and stared straight into his soul. “ No Antonio, no! I swear, I came straight to you without stopping!” Antonio, this was the groom’s name, let go of the boy and said calmly: “Ci penso io, vai a casa adesso.” (I’ll take care of it, go home now.)
The boy got back on his Vespa and rode away feeling deathly frightened, as if a terrible storm was about to devastate the lives of two entire families… Antonio was a great young man but also someone to be feared when wronged.
The day of the wedding…
So on the day of the great wedding the town was in festa and the swallows looped, screeching merrily in the Sicilian spring sky. The orange trees were in full bloom as the cathedral filled up with their fragrance and cheerful attendees. All seats were taken and a conspicuous amount of people had to stand in the side naves to attend the cerimony.
The piazza and the cathedral
Angelo and Maria found their assigned seats among other family members and admired the pomp and decorations that literally exploded all around in great garlands of fragrant flowers and festoons of lucious foliage garnished by large pink and white ribbons which bloomed into giant overdecorative bows. This was all paid for by the father of the bride, as was customary in Sicily since antiquity and paid profusely too, as Don Vincenzo, such was his name, was a very wealthy producer of some of the best wine and olive oil in the region. The groom’s family, on the other hand, was a more modest but hard working lot, respected and well liked by all.
The priest, Don Cinquina, was in full dress for the occasion
When the groom entered the church a vast rustling of comments arose everywhere, all were admiring that fine young man: tall, handsome and dark-haired with a pleasant tanned face enjewelled by two calm and deep green eyes. Alongside him walked his ‘best man’ and also ‘best friend’ since childhood. In the side nave his young cousin nervously watched the groom and was sweating profusely.
The priest, Don Cinquina, was in full dress for the occasion. He was a large man and wore a black robe covered by a splendid white cerimonial embroidered tunic, hand made by a congregation of deeply religious townsladies. He also donned a stole, a cheerfully decorated green sach of silk slung over the back of his neck and shoulders which hung on both sides of his chest and ended in gold tassels. At his sides were two teenage altarboys on their best behaviour (one had a slight black eye from a recent fight).
The bride entered the cathedral in a flood of organ music and choir singing, her imposing father, Don Vincenzo, almost floating over the red carpet which lined the central aisle, was accompanying his beautiful daughter to the altar. Everyone looked at this vision in admiration: she was a truly beautiful bride!
The groom looked calm and cheerful
The groom looked calm and cheerful as he followed the bride’s progress towards him. The youths took their place in front of the altar and the cerimony got under way. Don Cinquina’s baritonal voice began celebrating with a “Cari figlioli…” (beloved children) that almost did not need amplification. All went according to plan until the bride was asked whether she wanted to take Antonio as her lawful wedded husband, followed by her sincere and happy consent “Sì!”. When Antonio was asked the same things took a strange turn: “Revend” said Antonio calmly as he turned to his side to look at the man next to him who was holding the wedding rings, “you should not be asking me if I want to take her as my wife, but you should instead ask him! My best friend and Best Man, whether HE wants her as his wife!” (general bewilderment and ice-cold stupor fell among all present!) The large priest tottered for a moment before uttering: “wh-what did you say?”
The best man turned pale
Antonio replied even more calmly but with a louder and clearer tone of voice: “ I said that you should ask this here man wether he wants to take her as his own wife, because why else would they have been together in my bed, in my future house, two thursday evenings ago?”
The best man turned pale and slowly backed up as the bride, who had herself turned from mediterranean complexion to porcelain pallor, stared in horror from her would-be husband to her lover and back again. An altar boy dropped the bucket with the holy water and broke the spell: the bride grabbed her gown, turned around and took off down the aisle in a dead run, her train fluttering behind her. The best man turned towards the sacristy door and fled as well.
Antonio stood tall and erect and began to calmly walk towards the church’s entrance, stopping near his would-have-been father in law and said: “mi dispiace, ma lo dovevo fare” ( I am sorry, but I had to do it). When he had left all were in a silent wide-eyed awe and the priest suddenly woke up as if from a bad dream and instantly turned turnip-red before shouting at the top of his voice: “Questo non è un matrimonio, questo é un bordello!” (this is not a wedding, this is a bordello!) “tutti fuori!” Don Cinquina literally kicked everyone out, physically slamming the church doors behind the last of the faithful.
“Friends! Lend me your ears!”
Once the crowd found itself out in front of the church, and the news was already spreading like wildfire reaching a munition dump, Don Vincenzo, the bride’s father, who was naturally at the center of everyone’s attention for the immense shame that had fallen upon his family, put his white Borsalino hat on, hooked his thumbs in his vest’s arm-openings, took a deep breath and announced: “Friends! Lend me your ears! Listen, we have prepared a wonderful banquet and it would be a sin to waste all that food! So let me tell you what we are going to do: We are going to eat! We are going to drink!.. and f… all else!…Those who brought a gift can take it back, otherwise we’ll give them all up for charity!” Most of the people attended the banquet.
The author Claudio Assandri while drawing the illustrations for ‘A Sicilian Wedding” at a streetside cafe in Rome.
Copyright by Claudio Assandri. All rights reserved by Italian Summers.