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Laura Lipari Interview Part IX: Old World Customs and Love

I was flattered from all these interested men, but my mother told me not to misunderstand, because right now is the time of the year when you are in love with love. I remember thinking that my mother was right, that all these boys can’t be in love with me. But out of all of them I really liked Mario Bellini. He worked in a bank as a banker. Mario would come, when he had the time off, to try and find me and spend his time with me. My mother didn’t mind it, because I told her I liked him very much, but I was not in love with him. I even told him so. I told him that I wanted to keep our friendship and years from now we will come back and you will meet my children and I will meet your children. He didn’t want to hear that! Well, we left Paris and when we got back to Sant’Agata I wrote to Felice knowing he went looking for us in Perugia, cause he wasn’t back yet. So I told him that I was sorry he was sick and I hope by the time the letter reached him that he is well and recovered. I didn’t want to write, but my sister said since he wrote to me and was coming up to see me, that I should send him a letter. In his previous letter it also said he couldn’t wait till I would come down and to write to him and let him know when I was coming. He just wanted to know how long he had to wait. I remember him saying, “When I have problems, I try to figure them out as soon as possible and I don’t wait.” Later he told me, “Can you imagine my disappointed when I arrived and found out you just left and I didn’t know where you where?” But his family was going to let him know the moment that I send a response or if they heard about where I was. He had someone to check the trains for the American’s every day too! So after that, we got a letter from the boy from my husband’s home who brought my mother a letter from my future father-in-law asking for permission to have his son call on me and welcoming my mother to her native town, very formally. What could my mother have said? So she said of course he can call on her and thanked him for the formal gesture of welcoming her home. So the boy brought the message back to Felice’s father. Then we got another note asking when we would come to the house. My mother figured to get it over with soon because we planned to go back to the states soon. So she asked if 5 o’clock that Saturday would work and Felice’s father said that was perfect. In one of the previous letter that Felice had written to me declaring his love and so forth, he also had said that if we were to meet on the streets of Sant’Agata and I ignored him, he would not bother me but love me from afar. Well we did meet on the streets of Sant’Agata and I didn’t even acknowledge that I knew him. My uncle and my mother were furious with me later, “You did a terrible faux pas,” they said; I should have at least been civil. But I told my uncle that he treats Felice as if he was a prince and my uncle said, “Well, he is to us.” My mom, uncle, and sister all said I should have at least said good evening. That is when we got the letter from my father-in-law asking my mother for permission for his son to call on me. My grandmother, of course, wanted him to come and they all thought I was acting foolishly and not European. He did come over though. This part would make a beautiful film. We were all in the parlor and he was standing across the room, my sister was on one end, I was on one end, along with my uncle, mother and everyone else; we were all just standing around the room. If I didn’t see this happen, I wouldn’t believe it. Well we talked about the weather, politics, and this and that and we were getting nowhere. Finally, me and my big mouth said, “Excuse me, but I believe the Cavaliere Lipari came to have a few words with me. If it is okay with the rest of you, would you mind leaving us alone so we could talk?”  You would have thought I had shouted! My grandmother got nervous; Felice stood up straight right away; Rosie and everyone else just said, “Oh yes, of course.” They all Indian filed right out the door. Then my cousin Rosie closed the door and my uncle said, “What are you doing?” And she said, “Well dad, they said they wanted to be alone.” So my uncle made sure to close the balcony windows so the neighbors wouldn’t see just the two of us alone. Then my grandmother went to the next balcony to see that she was there. It was very european style; I didn’t know this at the time-I didn’t pay attention. So I started and just went on a blue streak; I didn’t give him a second to talk. I tried to scandalize him. I remembered about the two other American girls and I thought if I could make him look bad that it would be easier. I told him I didn’t want him to misjudge me, but I grew up in a very different environment. An environment where women were very independent and I am one of those women. I do what I like and speak to whom I like; like other men. Then I said to him that I have been told that you know when you are in love. For example, someone told me once that she had her hand out and then the boy put his hand over hers. She said she just felt tingles down to her toes when their hands touched! They were in love and married each other. I told him that you can know when you are in love and told him this story. So I asked him if he would mind coming over and sitting next to me. So he got up, walked over to me, and sat down next to me. I put my hand down on the couch and said, “Put your hand over mine.” And he put his hand on mine and I looked down and said, “I don’t feel anything.” My mother and sister were so in awe later that I would do that to him. But I wanted to shake him off and prove that I was not in love with him, so I told him that I wasn’t in love with him because I didn’t feel a thing. Then I stood up and quickly said, “What time is it?” And I told him he better go home because I was sure his mother was worried that this American girl was keeping him out really late. I opened the door without giving him a chance to say anything and my last sentence to him on the way to the door was, “Come in everybody, we are finished!” In the meantime, while we were by ourselves the lights had turned off. Well when the lights went off, our fourteen year old cousin Rosie was very romantic and said, “Do you think he is going to kiss her?” She was hoping! but in the meantime, we were in the other room drinking a little liquor and we were a little tipsy. Rosie came up and kissed me on the cheek pretending to be Felice and she was re-enacting what may have been happening in the other room! Anyways, Felice went around and shook everyone’s hands and said goodnight then began to exit. I went back to the parlor and he went down the steps, but then all of a sudden I heard someone say, “Laura, the Cavaliere can’t get out. The doors downstairs are locked.” My grandmother said to me, “That’s a sign he is going to stay here!” And she said she wasn’t being superstitious but the fact that he was going to leave but the doors were locked is a sign; it was meant as an omen that he is going to remain in our family. It took us about a half hour to get him outside. What had happened was my uncles step-father had locked the door thinking that everyone was inside and ready for bed; he didn’t think there would be reason to go back out. So when he was going to bed he locked the doors. He thought his son, my uncle, had just forgotten to lock the door. So my uncle went to wake his father up, but it took awhile to do so. In the meantime, Rosie thought about tying the sheets together and letting him scale outside the balcony. My uncle said, “That’s just what we need, let the whole town see the Cavaliere sneaking out of our house!” After he left, my grandmother said to my mother, “Did you teach your daughter anything? How dare you let her stay and talk to the Cavaliere alone on his first visit!” My mother said, “Mom, she startled me. I couldn’t say in front of him ‘No, you can’t!’.” Then my grandmother was saying to me that he wouldn’t return now, seeing how I treated him poorly; so I told my mom not to worry about him anymore. The next morning my mom was having coffee with her sister and her mother and while we were there-and of course I got up later than the others-by the time I got to the breakfast room around ten o’clock, a boy came with a giant bouquet of flowers. I saw them and told my grandma he isn’t coming back but he sent flowers! And my grandmother said, maybe he knows you don’t understand our ways and that she wonders what his mother is thinking. Surely after the flowers were delivered, another boy came with a little note, “Signorina Laura, forgive me if I am disturbing you, but I am asking for permission to speak with you. Last night you did all the talking, you didn’t give me the chance to say one word. May I come at the regular hour?” And I turned to my grandma and said, “What do you think?” And she told me that I owed him that much. So Felice came that evening and told me that I was judging everything my own way and not giving him a chance to let his feelings be heard. He said to me, “The girls in our country are not slaves. They are not locked behind doors; they are free.” Then he told me about the outing that they had where all the boys and girls came. He told me that the boys stayed in one hotel and the girls, the other American girls were in another; very respectable. They took the girls home the next day and everything was perfectly alright. I apologized to him and told him I didn’t mean to make up excuses, but I just was trying to tell him that I didn’t love him. He said, “Will you give me a chance to prove differently?” I told him I already knew and he didn’t need to waste his time. But he asked to continue seeing me for the remaining days that we were still in Sant’Agata. I told him at this point that it was too bad that I was leaving pretty soon, but that we could develop into a platonic friendship. He said, “Oh no, I want more than a platonic relationship.” I told him that is all I could offer and if he wanted more that he better say goodbye right now. But he said, “No, that’s alright,” and that he would take me up on the offer to be friends. Felice asked when we were leaving, and I told him we already had the tickets and would be leaving soon because I needed to go home and teach. We had to go to the travel office to make sure our travel plans were in order. We really needed to leave as soon as possible because school had already started and I had to send them a telegram saying that I would be late. But we were pretty sure our boat would be leaving in the next week or so. So a few days later, my sister did not come with us, but my uncle, mother, and I went to the branch office and asked them about the travel plans. The man there said, “Signora, I am sorry but you aren’t leaving in one week, you will be leaving at a later time now.” I remember asking, “Why is that?” and the man told me the office of travel in Messina had said they overbooked and since our tickets were the last booked that we got bumped to a later time. I remember feeling so upset that we would be getting back to school so late. We went back to Sant’Agata and I was very upset. I’m not sure exactly, but I suspected that Felice had it cancelled because I knew he didn’t want me to leave. In the meantime, something else happened. We got a letter from Mr. Consolo, the friend that would always go with Felice to the promenades. They both used to flirt with the same girl and all that. So he asked permission to come and see us. I knew he was Felice’s friend and wondered why he would come and see us. So he came and talked to my mother. He said that there was no peace in the notary’s home! Even the house boy that came to deliver the letters and flowers had wished that I would return to America right away so there would be peace in his master’s house! I guess I created a lot of trouble. He said “My boss can’t eat, he can’t sleep; his mother restless; his father is beside himself.” It was a crazy uproar in the house. Before all this unrest though we had arranged to go over to meet his family. Felice invited us over to meet his family; he wanted me to meet his mother and father and his sisters. My uncle asked Felice if Saturday evening would be okay and it was arranged. In the meantime, a very wealthy girl came to town. She had gone to school with Felice’s sisters and they all knew one another. She asked Felice’s oldest sister about me and wondered what was happening with her brother and I. She said she heard a rumor that her brother was going to be engaged to an American girl. But his sister told her that the whole family was going to have a meeting with me Saturday night to be introduced. So the girl asked my sister-in-law, “Don’t you think your family is making a mistake? I have known of your brother being engaged and he always changes his mind. Don’t we have beautiful girls, better looking than the American girl, that are rich and wealthy that would give their right foot to be engaged to him? Who is she? Who are here people?” Just like in Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourg went to the Bennet’s home and said, “Who are your people?” That is what was happening with this girl and Felice’s sister. She tried to convince my future sister-in-law to skip the dinner on Saturday evening. Well my sister- in-law and her husband did not come that night, but his other sister was there. I was surprised she was not there that night, but I only found all this out later. Also Tina, the secretary, came and spoke with my mother and said that, “Felice was cooked.” In Italian it means he is hooked, like he was all in. She told my mom that my future mother-in-law was beside herself and didn’t know what to do. Felice threatened to leave and they were worried he would just marry a random girl to get out of the house. But my mother told Tina that she didn’t know what to say and that her daughter wasn’t in love with him. My mother thought and explained to Tina that her husband wasn’t even here to discuss it with him. She made very clear that I was not engaged to Felice and did not intend to be. But Tina finally said, “That won’t stop him though,” and “Signora Curro, if the Cavaliere wants something he can make the whole island dance.” So that scared my mother and thought that he was part of the Mafioso! My mom asked, “Does he really have that much power?” and Tina told her, “He could rule Sicily if he wanted.” That made it even worse, so my mother reminded her that we were to leave soon and maybe she should put me in a convent but Tina said, “Even convent walls wouldn’t keep him away.” In mother’s mind she really contemplated that he must be mafia. Knowing our mom, when she heard Tina talk about the power he had to control Sicily and even a convent couldn’t keep him out really scared her. After Tina left my mother said, “Laura, be an angel. I don’t want you to become engaged but don’t be so awful.” She told me to talk about things and be pleasant. She just wanted us to get to the boat and be on our way without further upsets. Not to mention, mom would still need to visit the notary for business in the future and didn’t want him to be upset. In those days, they didn’t have refrigeration. So Felice told the town of Palermo, city on western Sicily, that he would be needing an order of the special Cannoli’s; I loved the Cannoli’s, they were my favorite. We were talking one time and that came up, so he knew I liked them very much and decided to get them for the meeting. So he ordered a special order of the Cannoli’s in Palermo and had the houseboy take a train and go all the way to Palermo to get the Cannoli’s along with a great big bouquet of flowers. He thought of everything that he could do in this little town that had nothing.