We were so excited to be invited to cousin Giusy’s La Promessa di Matrimonio. I didn’t have a clue what that meant – besides an event that warranted a glamorous after party. All we could figure out was the couple had to go to city hall and do something and then, a couple of months later, they could get married in the church. Was it just getting a marriage license? Was it an actual civil wedding first? This inquiring mind wanted to know!
My cousin and her fiancée, Antonio, have reserved Pontelandolofo’s Chiesa San Salvatore for a September wedding. Before that can happen – or even if they were going to have a civil ceremony – they had to head down to town hall and in the presence of an official, like the registrar, go through the process of La Promessa di Matrimonio.
On April 4, 1942, Article 79 of the Italian Civil code was finalized. La Promessa, was established. From what I read, it looks like it stopped forced marriages. Hmm did that mean the sale of brides and grooms for ten sheep and a goat? It protects marital freedom and insures that the couple both consent to marry each other. It also nullifies previous obligations – like the secret ex-husband you forgot to mention.
La Promessa is not a super binding legal contract. You can always jump ship and change your mind – as long as you are willing to restore any economic loss your former fiancée suffered.
It kind of reminded me of the day Jack and I went to the Asbury Park City with a video cameraman and a witness to get our marriage license. The couple here had to present the usual bureaucratic documents plus a couple extra – proof of identity, birth certificates, tax stamp that you paid the fee, request form for the marriage bans by the parish priest, request form for the publication of the bans and probably something else that I forgot. Oh yeah, Antonio belongs to the church in Casalduni. He had to get a letter from his priest there and supply his birth, baptismal and communion certificates.
The marriage bans, public announcement of the upcoming nuptials, take place in the church and the town. This gives advance notice to folks who may know of some dastardly impediment to the wedding and race out to stop it.
Someone told me, or I read that this civil action takes the couple from being engaged to absolutely betrothed. Sort of a throwback to the ancient request for the hand in marriage by the groom. It is also kind of the official meeting of the two families. Or simply a great excuse to have an intimate party – think engagement party!
The date was bright, sunny and hot! Jack and I parked as close as we could to Palazzo Rinaldi. It is an historic building that has been totally renovated. It even had magic doors that opened when you got close. I looked around the foyer and figured the Council chambers should be here somewhere. Seeing a directory, we realized that it was on the second floor. The second floor of an ancient building and its huge marble staircase. The staircase had a landing or two so I could attempt to breathe. Clutching my lungs we made it to the second floor and couldn’t find the room. I peaked in an office and asked. It was up yet another flight. I gasped and the wonderful woman showed us the modern elevator! Duh – the second floor in an Italian building is really the third level. I should know by now the ground floor isn’t in the count. The elevator whisked us up to the next floor. We arrived at 4 minutes to 5. The event was to start at 5:00 PM. The room was empty! Jack looked at me and asked if we were there on the right date. I checked my calendar and my WhatsApp messages. Then I assured him that it was the right time and the right date. He looked at me and we both said “questa è Italia.”
The handsome groom to be, Antonio, arrived with his family. They were decked out in cocktail dresses, jewels, suits and ties. I looked down at my casual summer dress. Gulp. Another thing I should remember is that any event is an opportunity to dress up and look fetching. Oh well, next time.
Where was Giusy? The registrar appeared with the necessary items for the signing. Where was Giusy’s family – which is my family? Suddenly, I heard heavy breathing and panting. They all staggered in having climbed three ridiculous flights of stairs. Like us, no one knew there was an elevator. It was worth the wait – Giusy looked like a movie star. Her backless white jumpsuit festooned with lace at the shoulders was a whimsical reminder that she was the bride to be. Everyone took a seat. I happily noticed a bottle of Prosecco made it’s way to the front of the room.
The registrar opened the proceedings by reading both Anonio’s and Giusy’s recorded history. Dates of birth, parents names, place of birth and residency. I knew that stuff so I didn’t pay close attention. Then she got to to the important Article 79 of the Civil Code and read part of that. The cute couple signed something and bang – it was all over. The bang was the popping of the Prosecco cork. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.
Time for the second half of the event – the party! After asking other guests, I discovered this was a Southern Italian tradition. Though others said, not everyone did it. The site, La Rossella, is a restaurant about fifteen minutes out of town. If I tell you everything we ate you will drool on your electronic device. I’ll give you the quick version. We started out side in a lovely garden. Thank the goddesses I brought my anti mosquito juice and shared it with the other barelegged women. I hate mosquitos but they adore me. The Prosecco glasses were held high to once again toast the couple and then we each grabbed a paper cone filled with crispy tempura fried pieces of fish. Yummy. The fish kept us occupied while each family group lined up for the de rigueur photos. Photos done? Check! Time to move inside and leave the marauding mosquitos for the next group.
We had an absolutely huge table set up for the scant party of 20 – absolute Covid social distancing. Then the feast began! The appetizer of steamed octopus coupled with thin slices of swordfish and salmon was exceptional. As was the wine that freely flowed. The tone of the party was light, filled with laughter and applause. Literally applause. For example, I shouted out auguri ai genitori and everyone cheered “I genitori” (parents) and clapped wildly. This happened sporadically throughout the evening until everyone was toasted.
The appetizer was followed by not one but two primo piatti! The first pasta dish was homemade linguine and clams but with a creamy sauce. The second was pasta with swordfish. I will try to replicate that one. Then came more and more and suddenly it was after midnight and out came the delicious cake with it’s whipped cream frosting and pistachio cream filling. Sigh….
Jack and I wished the couple a happy engagement and rolled out to our car. What a night! What a perfect first time experience of La Promessa di Matrimonio.
Midge (Check out my website.)
I am currently organizing both cooking, farm to table and writing adventures in Pontelandolfo for 2022! Message me for information!