U CIAURU DELLA BUONANIMA
“E` bedda e sapi cuociri bene. Spiaci chi e` schetta.” Ciminna’s octogenerians said, lamenting Rosalia’s destiny as a spinster.
There had been plenty of proposals over the years thanks to her good looks. But she preferred to live at home with her parents and prepare her elaborate meals for them – no one’s meat pies rivaled her ‘mpanatigghi.’ Now that both her parents were gone, she despaired and Ciminna’s vecchieredde fretted, “Avi chi maritari.” So they scoured the neighboring villages high and low to find her a husband. But to no avail – until a month later.
“Joey Piscitello?!” they shrieked, when they learned he was in town. The Piscitello family had emigrated to Brooklyn a lifetime ago when Joey was a very young boy. He eventually married Connie, the young, dark-eyed spitfire of Sicilian heritage whose family hailed from nearby Baucina. Now in his late fifties, feeling lost and lonely as a widower, he returned to Ciminna in search of companionship and perhaps even a bride. “’Un e` troppu vecchiu?’ Dona Maria, protested. “O iddu o nuddu,” the others declared. They all shook their heads in agreement and started planning the introduction.
Santa Maria Maddalena’s church bells rang loudly the spring morning of May 1st. Dona Rosalia was newly-wed. The vecchieredde were at peace and all was well again in Ciminna. And maybe even forlorn Joey would be happy again.
Rosalia relished her chance to impress her new husband with her culinary skills and planned a sumptuous menu for her first home-cooked meal.
“Amore, non ti piace?” she finally asked after she watched him solemnly and laboriously chew and swallow the caponatina, then the pasta alla Norma and then the bracioline without even a hint of pleasure.
“Bonu e`,” he muttered, unconvincingly, as he barely touched her creamy cassata.
“Dimmi la verita`, Joey,” she insisted, knowing he was trying not to hurt her feelings.
“No, no. Bonu e`. It’s very good, Rosalia. Grazie.”
She saw through his good intentions and was intent on pleasing him. She told herself she’d have to do better. And she knew she could.
The next day she went to Palermo to buy fresh sardines. She would win him over with her parents’ favorite dish, pasta con le sarde. When she asked whether he liked it, he replied in the same forlorn manner as the day before. But this time the reason became clear, “Bonu e`. Ma ’un e` comu chiddu chi fascia a me povura Connie.”
Stung by the memory of her husband’s deceased wife, Rosalia sought the counsel of the wise Ciminnite. They would know what she should say now that Connie’s spirit loomed large over the newlyweds. “A megghiu parola e` chidda ca ‘un si dici,” her neighbor, Dona Mimmi, said. Rosalia would follow her advice and prepare one of the dishes that Connie used to serve him. Surely that would please him.
Despite her efforts, the same sad scene repeated itself the following day and the day after that.
Disheartened after a week of trying so hard to please her new husband, she thought, “Chi me lo fa fare.” Instead of laboring over another elaborate full-course meal, she simply emptied the prior day’s left-over ragu` into a pot, put it on the stove, turned the flame on low, and went next door to Dona Mimmi’s for a quick chiacchieratta.
“Gia mezzujornu e`,” Dona Mimmi said, when the church bells started ringing.
“Oh, mamma mia, il ragu`!”
Rosalia rushed home to the smell of burnt sauce. She immediately turned off the flame, opened all the windows and door. “Dio mio, cosa dira` Joey?” she fretted, and desperately tried to neutralize the acrid odor when suddenly she heard her husband’s footsteps. Anxious to explain what happened, she turned, only to see his big, broad, grin and hear him cry out.
“U profumu di la buonanima!” Chi bonu!”
Louise Belulovich practices law in New York City. She is the daughter of an Italian refugee, one of the so-called the “profughi Giuliani” or “esuli Istriani”, who was born in Pola, Italy, now, Pula, Croatia. Pursuant to the Paris Treaty of 1947 the family was compelled to choose whether to remain Italian, which meant leaving Pola as refugees, or to remain in Pola/Pula and become Yugoslavs. Her family joined the mass exodus from the entire region of Istria and they left for Turin. With her writing, she explores issues of cultural identity, immigration and exile.