Who is this guy? Cavaliere Felice
It was later that we discovered that Felice watched us go by and was amused. Then, of course, it was a long walk home and I told my mom, uncle, and aunt what happened. I wasn’t sure what my aunt and uncle were saying to one another but my mother just said my name in a disapproving way; but I told her that I didn’t even pay notice to him for attention.
Off to College
That next day we were supposed to leave for Perugia and while we were gathering our stuff to leave we received a letter from the Cavaliere’s house boy. In the letter it was asking permission if he could come and greet us and welcome us to his home town. It was also inviting us to a fundraiser for the tuberculosis camps up north for the children
. My mother told the boy that we thank him very much, but we will be leaving for school in Perugia and that she would send a donation on the way out of town.
After that we went to the railroad station and Rosie and her father accompanied us. While I was at the window with my passport, Rosie and I saw the Cavaliere come right through the office without stopping as if he owned the joint! Then later when we went outside and waited for the train on the platform, I told Rosie, “Maybe he came to catch a train for himself to somewhere else.” Just then another train was pulling into the station and the Senator got off and recognized the Cavaliere and they left together. I said, “See, he was just coming to greet the Senator.”
Then our train came and we were lucky enough to get into a compartment with only two other women sitting by the window. That was wonderful, so we put our stuff away and sat in that compartment. Just before the train departed a man came into the compartment and said, “Oh, my hat and luggage!” There was already a hat and some luggage when we came in, so it appeared he just found the right compartment of where he placed his items. I didn’t pay much attention to him though, I did not think I had seen him before and I didn’t recognize him or who he was.
He was looking around and I remember thinking he was looking for some room to sit. One whole side of the compartment was full and it was just my sister and the lady on the other side. He took his hat and luggage and put it up above and then sat down. I wasn’t feeling very well and decided to step out of the compartment to get some fresh air near a window. The train was starting, so we said goodbye to my cousin and uncle and off we went.
My sister came out to the hallway and said to me in English, “That thing is in the compartment! It’s the Cavaliere!” and I said, “Don’t pay attention to him.” She said, “What do you mean don’t pay attention to him? He is right next to me!” Then Virginia told me that she was going to go in there and see what he is saying to mom. I looked into the window and saw that he was talking to mom. So I told her to go in and that I wasn’t going to bother with the trouble.
My mama had a hat on. It was a beautiful hat–Italian black leather with a large brim. She angled it down and covered her face so he couldn’t see her. So with no one really talking, he bent down on one knee to see under mama’s hat and asked, “Excuse me mam, are you sleeping?” My mother pushed her hat back and told him she was only resting. He asked, “Are you Signora Curro?” She responded that she was and he introduced himself, “My name is Felice Lipari and I had the pleasure of knowing your husband,” which was not true–he had never met my dad! He said later to me, in order to introduce himself he thought he would have to have a conversation.
To backtrack just a little, when my dad had come to see the notary, Felice’s father, in the past, my daddy had brought the notary a fountain pen. Which at that time a fountain pen was a big deal and whoever had one it was a big deal. In Italian “notary” is pronounced “notaio.” So Felice’s father knew my father when he was a younger and now he knew that he was grown up and had done very well for himself so he was interested in him. They discussed their families together when my daddy had come to sign over the land back to my grandmother.
Well once before, the notaio said to my father, “To bad you don’t live here because maybe we could have arranged something between your daughter and my son.” He then gave a picture to my daddy of Felice, his son, and my daddy had my picture in his pocket and gave my picture to the notaio. This was before my mother, Virg, and I had come here to Sant’Agata; but I was not aware of this till much later.
Anyways, so Felice said to my mother, “I had the pleasure of meeting your husband and in fact this is the fountain pen that he gave me.” Well he pulled out the pen that my daddy gave to his father! They were talking and what not when my sister came back out and said, “You aren’t going to get away with staying out here, you better come in the compartment.” So I entered and sat on the opposite side. That is when my mom introduced him to me. When my mother introduced us, she was about to say “Cavaliere” but he interrupted her and said, “No, just Felice Lipari.” In other words, just a simple name and no title. Virginia had recognized him right away, but I never paid any attention to him so I didn’t know who is was.
That’s what I really liked about him. What I admired about him was that when he talked to my mother, he didn’t use his title. My mother knew about him and was going to say his title, but he told her not to worry about it.
I was wondering how he had ended up in our compartment when there were others with more room. He knew everyone of course in town and I found out later he told the young porter that when the train stops to follow “those people” and see where they sit and if possible find a room for me and put my hat and luggage on the chair in that compartment. We didn’t see the boy put his stuff in the compartment before we took our seats.
After that we all started talking, but after a while I went back out to the hallway. Well, Felice offered, since he knew the land so well, to point things out through the window of the train and asked my mother for permission to do so. So it was my sister, him, and I in the hall of the train as he started pointing out what town we were in and so forth. He was very charming!
The train stopped in Messina, a northwest province of Sicily while waiting for a train to come from Catania. The trains that had to go to Northern Italy, which is where we were heading, had to get on a special boat to cross the strait. So we had to wait for the train to come and be loaded on the boat. I went back and told my mother what the plan was.
Meanwhile, he had told us that he was going to Messina on business and somehow they weren’t able to finish the so called business assignment without his approval. They were keeping the office open until he came. I didn’t believe him; cause why would you go that late? It was eight or nine o’clock by that time, who stayed that late to the office?
Felice had said goodbye to us in Messina before we loaded onto the boat, but this is how I know he had a lot of clout. One of the porters came and said, “Greetings Cavaliere, can I help?” Felice handed the boy his suitcase and he told the boy to go to his regular hotel–to hold his regular room–but that he wasn’t sure when he would be arriving. As he was talking to the porter, he said goodbye to us.
We waved goodbye to Felice and then he was gone. In the compartment still were his magazines on the seat. I took them off the seat and sat down and stretched out my legs. I figured while the train was still that maybe I can recoup a little. My mother went into the hallway because she hadn’t left the compartment at all. Well she came back in pretty quickly and said, “Laura, the Cavaliere is here. He has come back to the train and he would like to know if he could accompany us across the strait.” I said, “Why?!” And my mother told me, “Don’t act that way and don’t be disrespectful. You aren’t talking to a boy at school; you are in Europe.”
So I went and said, “Cavaliere, we came across the ocean. We don’t need you to accompany us across the strait. We don’t want to bother you, you should go to your meeting.” Well he had said he told the boy to tell the men he would be in later. I finally got angry and basically told him that it was a public train and anybody can come on it and if he wants to come I’m not going to stop him. He jumped right in after that.
So when the boat started out. He asked, “Would you like to come upstairs?” Intending to stretch our legs, walk around, and get a cup of coffee. Well my mother was worried about leaving the compartment with all our luggage so my mother decided to just stay in the compartment; she said that Virginia and I could go. He began to name off more sites and cities. He had already done quite a bit of traveling–even to Africa–but he said, “I know Italy
quite well, but the only place I haven’t gone is Venice. I am saving Venice to go there on my honeymoon.” When he pointed out where Venice would have been he pointed to the wrong side, so teasingly I said, “Oh, when did they move Venice?” He blushed and said, “Oh scusi, of course I know Venice is on that side.”
As we were upstairs in the boat we looked out and saw the Madonna statue in the middle of the water. It was beautiful and her hands were raised in blessing. We both made the sign of the cross and that’s when he opened up his sterling silver cigarette case and offered my sister and I a cigarette. We both declined and said we didn’t smoke in which he put his own cigarette away too. He then offered to order me café espresso. I told him I wasn’t going to take coffee. Then he offered me a cocktail, but I declined that too. After the third negative offer, I’m sure he thought it was useless offering us anything. My sister was being very gracious, she would have taken the coffee!
So we walked around the boat a few times and then just as the boat was about to dock in Calabria, where the Calabrese people come from, we went down to the compartment because this is where the train was going to get off. Well Felice had to get off the train to make the trip back to Messina. He later said he scolded himself for buying a ticket all the way there.
In the meantime, he asked us where we would stay in Perugia. Well, at this time we weren’t sure where we would stay yet since they didn’t have dormitories. They had families that accepted the students to live with them. So we just told him we weren’t sure yet and that we were going to a hotel and then from there we would decide what to do.
Well when we got to that side of the strait, he, of course, had to get off and go back the other directions. He wished us luck and told us he hoped that we enjoyed our stay and he hoped we would meet again and that hopefully with our return to Sant’Agata we can see one another again. I then told him to give my greetings to his father and that we did expect to see him on the way back. When we got there we got off and we waved goodbye.
To be continued.
About the interviewer/author
Gabrielle Lipari is the great granddaughter of Italian and Sicilian immigrants. She grew up in Corona, California. She moved to Fort Collins, Colorado where she is pursing a History Degree at University of Northern Colorado. Her passion for History and Women’s Studies motivated her to collaborate with Laura Lipari on A Storyteller’s Life History
to gain further insight into the life of an Italian-American as well as a woman of the 20th
century. She now spends her free time working in a bookstore/coffee shop, reading, and hiking in the Rocky Mountains with her sister and boyfriend.