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Essay: Luigina: A Story of Love and Resilience in World War II Italy

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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LUIGINA

“Accept all external events. Treat death like childbirth, something natural that must happen to you.”

“Treat anything you can endure as in your own interest.”

Marcus Aurelius

Meditations

How did a person like me, living in a small village on the North Yorkshire Moors, meet a woman like Luigina?

Prologue

The first occasion that I met Luigina, was around April 1981. She was the first cousin of my step mother, Fiorella. My English mother had died in mid-1980 and after a few months of mourning, my Dad had re-connected with an old flame he had met in Italy in World War II.

Dad had been a sergeant in the British First Division and worked in Military Intelligence. He had fought at the first battle of Monte Cassino in 1943 and had then taken part in the landings at Anzio in January 1944. It was during his time at Anzio that he was recruited into British Military Intelligence. His commanding officer was Brigadier General WRC Penney. However according to surviving records, the only Allied Intelligence Unit operating out of Anzio was an American one. So presumably, Dad was operating in coordination with American Military Intelligence.

Sometime shortly after the Anzio landings, Dad was sent to Sheffield in England for training in sabotage and explosives use. He mentioned to me that on one occasion he had met Barnes-Wallis, the British explosives expert in Sheffield.

After the break-out at Anzio in May 1944, he was sent by General Penney to join a Partisan Group based in the Perugia Area, north of Rome. His orders from Penney were to create as much damage and havoc as possible to the German military units there, to aid the Allied advance north of Rome.

It was here that Dad met Fiorella. On one occasion, both Dad and Fiorella had attacked a platoon of Germans near Spoleto, in a ravine straddled by an old stone viaduct. They then found themselves pinned down in a small cave in the side of the ravine by German snipers. They had made love in the cave when they thought they were going to die. Fortunately, a group of partisans commanded by ‘Giorgio’ has distracted the Germans with rifle and mortar fire, long enough for them both to escape.

As a result, Fiorella fell pregnant. Being an unmarried woman and pregnant at that time in Italy was a disgrace.  So, even though Dad was already married to my mother in England at the time, he married Fiorella in the Cattedrale San Lorenzo in Perugia a few months later. They had their photograph taken sitting on the fountain in the Piazza IV Novembre, at the side of the Cathedral. Nine months later, Fiorella gave birth to a baby girl. They named her Gabriella. The baby was adopted by Fiorella’s brother and his wife, who lived in Civitella d’Arna. It was not until many years later that Gabriella discovered who her real parents were.

Dad was intending to stay in Italy after the war was over, divorce my mother and officially marry Fiorella. Unfortunately for Dad, British Military Intelligence had other ideas. He was sent back to England in late 1945 where he lived in Ealing, London with my mother. For the next several years he worked in a secret intelligence unit in London for General Penney.

Fiorella and Dad met several times in the 1950s and 1960s in London. I can remember being given some Italian coins by a woman at Acton Town railway station. She was on her way home to Italy. She was very emotional and was crying. She asked Dad to ‘come to Italy with me.’ Dad replied, ‘What will we do with him [me]?’ She replied, ‘We will tell everyone he is ours.’ Dad hesitated for a while before saying, ‘No, it wouldn’t work.’ She got on the train. Both of them were crying.

The only thing I knew about ‘Fiorella’ in my childhood was that every time that name was mentioned, Dad and my mother would have marital fights that would last for days. I showed my mother the Italian coins I had been given by the woman at the railway station, when Dad and I returned home. I quickly realised the level of antagonism that the name ‘Fiorella’ generated, so I never asked about her again.

***

It was not until the 1980s, that I heard this name again. My mother had died in July 1980. I was working at Nottingham University as a research fellow, when one morning in October, I received a phone call from Dad. He bluntly informed me that he had re-connected with an Italian woman he had met in the war called Fiorella. She was shortly coming over to England to meet him again. She would be staying with my Aunty Lorena, (Dad’s sister) in Englefield Green near Windsor.

A week later, I travelled to Englefield Green to meet Fiorella. She was a small framed, dark haired woman in her early sixties. She had an Italian rustic face and a slightly deformed left arm. Apparently, her father had broken her arm when she was a child and the break never healed correctly. She was very polite, but seemed understandably nervous when we met. But we found we had a lot in common and got on OK. I was working at University and had a PhD. She was a teacher of English back in Italy and had a PhD in Classical studies. She stayed with my Aunt for a few months. Around March 1981, my Dad phoned me again to tell me he was going to marry Fiorella. The service was held at the small Catholic Church in Englefield Green. It was a very simple service with immediate family and a few friends. To my surprise, many of my father’s friends who were there, I had never seen or even heard of before. All were ex-British army squaddies who had their Italian wives with them. I began to strongly suspect that my father had a secret life whilst he was married to my mother, that none of us knew about.

***

In April 1981, I was on my way to Ponta Felcino in Umbria to stay with Dad and Fiorella for a few days. I flew into Leonardo da Vinci Airport, near Rome. They were both there to meet me. From the airport, we got a taxi to Rome Central Railway station. Fiorella insisted we drove past the Baths of Caracalla on the way. As I mentioned before, Fiorella had a PhD in classical studies. She had studied the “Life of the Roman Emperor Caracalla.” She graduated in 1943, although because of the corruption under Mussolini’s fascist regime, she had to re-sit the oral examination again in 1947. I remember she took great delight in describing to me how he died. He was stabbed in the back by one of his bodyguards whilst he was reliving his bowels by the side of the road a few miles outside of Rome! Quite an ignominious end to a brutal emperor.

We boarded the train to Perugia at Rome Central station and after an hour’s journey passing through the Italian countryside, passing Assisi on the way, we arrived at Perugia Railway Station.

We hailed a taxi in the Piazza Vittorio Veneto and drove along the straza della Molinella to Fiorella’s flat which was located in an apartment building overlooking one of the main piazzas in Ponta Felcino. Fiorella’s flat was on the third floor of the building, which we reached by lift elevator that required a five lira, aluminium coin to operate. The flat was large (by English standards), but was economically furnished and had marble floors and gold-plated taps in the bathroom. Most of the furniture in the living room was dark, antique wood. There was an imposing wooden desk in front of a tall wooden bookcase. It was here, Fiorella told me, that she used to do her homework marking her pupils work in the evenings (she taught English at the local secondary school). There were two bedrooms, each with large wood framed beds with very comfortable mattresses. After having a meal at the local pizzeria, we returned to the flat in the late evening and I went straight to bed and soon fell asleep.

***

When I awoke early the next morning, I could hear a flurry of activity coming from the kitchen. When I walked in, Dad was having breakfast, Fiorella was drinking an espresso coffee (too strong for me), which she brewed in a tiny aluminium percolator. Fiorella had begun washing clothes and was about ready to begin ironing. She said to me “Bring out your best shirt, tie and suit and I will press them for you.” “Why?” I asked. Dad became impatient with me and said, “Just do as Fiorella asks, get your clothes and stop arguing.” “But why do I need to have my clothes ironed?” I asked. “Because we are going to Luigina’s for dinner tonight,” he replied. “Who is Luigina?” I asked.

“Luigina is Fiorella’s cousin. She is a very important person from an old influential Italian family. She is held in high esteem in Ponta Felcino society,” he said. “Oh, OK” I replied, then tucked into a hearty breakfast. After I had finished breakfast, I stood up and looked out of the apartment window. Dad came up behind me. I was looking down onto the Piazza Garibaldi, in front of the apartment block. In the middle distance was a bell tower of the nearby Church of San Salvatore. In the centre of the piazza was a statue of Garibaldi, the Italian civil war hero. “Three British soldiers died on that statue when we liberated Ponta Felcino in 1944” said Dad. “Why was that,” I asked? “The German’s used to booby trap statues during their retreat north of Rome. They did this because they knew the first thing the British troops would do after entering a liberated city was to climb onto the statues in the main squares and put a British flag on top. So, the British authorities made it a court martial offence to climb statues after that.”

On the far side of the piazza from Fiorella’s apartment, was a building that had a quadrangle shape. In each of the four sides was a heavy wooden gate with a classical colonnaded entrance. Inside the building was a paved, quadrangle courtyard. The four sides were constructed with sandstone and brick, some of which was plaster coated, but in places the plaster was falling away. It was four stories high. The lower three floors were occupied by the Carabinieri, the Italian military police. The local Coroner or ‘Medico Legale’ had his chambers on the ground floor of the same building. Dad said, “That building is owned by Luigina; the Carabinieri rent it from her. The Head of the local Carabinieri, Alexandro Bellini is Luigina’s Uncle. Luigina and her family live on the top floor.” Fiorella interrupted “The building is called the ‘Palace.’” Dad said, “Fiorella and Luigina jointly own a vineyard. They bought it after the war using gold bars that Fiorella and I captured from a convoy of German troops we and the other partisans ambushed near Genoa in Northern Italy in early 1945.”

Luigina Part Uno

Later that evening, I was taken over the piazza to the ‘Palace,’ by Dad and Fiorella. We entered the building through the colonnaded entrance, then opened the heavy wooden doors and passed into the paved quadrangle. We climbed three flights of stairs and finally reached the entrance to Luigina’s ‘Palace.’ Fiorella knocked on the door and a servant opened it. He took us into the reception room where Luigina and her husband Cesarino were waiting to greet us. That was the first occasion I met Luigina. How can I describe her? She was of average height, about sixty years old with dark hair and slight wrinkles on her face, but I could tell that in her youth she must have been very beautiful indeed. Her husband, Cesarino was in his mid to late seventies and fairly short, had greying hair, but otherwise was a picture of health. His eyesight was still so good he didn’t need glasses to read and he was energetic and loved the company of interesting people. After being introduced by Fiorella, we all shook hands and walked straight into the rustic kitchen which had terracotta tiles on the floor and an old wooden rustic table in the centre. We had passed an ornate dining room on the way. In hindsight, I think it was a complement that we ate with Luigina in her rustic kitchen. It implied we were one of the family.

Off one end of the kitchen was the cooking area. The family cook, who had been with Cesarino and Luigina since they were married in 1942 was called Beatrice. Her daughter, Debora was also there. They were treated like family members too.

The building I was now sitting in at the dinner table had three floors of Carabinieri below us. I remembered thinking that they must have provided good security protection for Luigina!

***

After everyone had their fill of wine from Luigina’s vineyard and we were all a bit drunk, Cesarino began to talk about all the women he had had, in front of Luigina. She shouted at him, “If you don’t change your ways, you will end up in Hell!” To which Cesarino nonchalantly replied “Hell is a good place, that’s where all the bad women are!” Luigina looked furious, but said nothing more.

After the meal was over, Luigina asked me to accompany her on a tour of her ‘Palace.’ The house had fine dining rooms with venetian glass chandeliers, a magnificent lounge room with large oil paintings of Cesarino’s ancestors in their civic robes. Nearby were spectacularly furnished bedrooms. She then took me into one room which had earthy brown coloured walls with framed oil paintings. These, she told me were her ancestors. Each framed painting had a light globe above for illumination. As we went past each picture, she told me who they were. This one was the Governor of Perugia in the sixteenth century, another was the Treasurer of the Florentine Republic in the fourteenth century. All her ancestors had been important government officials from the thirteenth century onwards. However, one painting had no light above it and was in darkness. Luigina walked straight passed it without comment. I could make out in the half-light an evil looking man in Cardinal’s robes. “Wait a moment, Luigina” I remarked, “Who is the person in picture with no light above it?” She hesitated for a moment, looked at the painting, then at me and with a look of disgust on her face remarked, “He was the Governor of Assisi during the Spanish Inquisition!” I did not ask any more questions. I did wonder if he had had several virgins burnt at the stake during his period in office!

As we both turned to leave the room, I noticed a huge oil painting of a beautiful bride covering the whole of one wall. The bride was a beautiful dark haired Italian woman with the body of a goddess in a white wedding dress. She looked about sixteen or seventeen. I turned to Luigina and asked who this beautiful woman was. She smiled, winked at me and said, “That was me on my wedding day.” But she explained further, “Except, I was not dressed in white; I was actually dressed in black.” I hesitated for a few seconds then asked “Why?” I was eagerly awaiting the answer. She remarked that, “I was married when Mussolini was in power. He decreed that all women are sinful, if not in deed then in thought and so no woman can be married in white before God. He ruled all women must be married in black.” I remember thinking that Luigina would have looked very good in black!

***

Fiorella told me after we returned to her apartment that nobody knew who the father of Debora was. Beatrice refused to tell anyone, except her parish priest, Father Giuseppe who was a second cousin of Luigina’s husband Cesarino. She flatly refused to tell even Luigina. Beatrice’s daughter had been born about eleven months after Luigina’s marriage to Cesarino.

Of course, Luigina had suspicions who the father was. Cesarino fervently denied he was the father of Debora. At one point in their marriage when Luigina had developed strong suspicions of Cesarino’s guilt (largely as a result of local rumours), she had used a ruse to take Cesarino to the Cathedral in Perugia where she forced him to swear on a bible in front of the Cardinal of Perugia (who was Luigina’s second cousin) that he was not the father of Beatrice’s child. He fervently denied it and swore on a bible he was not the father. Luigina believed him. But, she remarked “If I ever find out you are, it will bring disgrace to me and my noble family.” However, local rumours abounded that the next day Cesarino went to visit the Bishop of Assisi (his Uncle) and had an extended confessional, following which Cesarino had to perform a number of ‘Penances.’

Luigina and Cesarino had been married in June 1942, when she was seventeen and Cesarino was thirty-five. It had been a fiery courtship. Luigina had been in love with one of her classmates at school called Silvio Bernini. He was from a relatively poor middle-class family with few influential connections. Luigina on the other hand, was from an old influential Ponta Felcino family and her mother pointed out to her that a marriage between her and Cesarino would create much wealth for both families. She had to do what was right for the family. “But I could never love Cesarino, he is too old,” she said to her mother. “Then get yourself a secret lover,” suggested her mother. “I did” she said, with a little wink to Luigina. Luigina thought carefully about what her mother had said. After several nights of passion with Silvio, she broke off her love affair and announced she was going to marry Cesarino. Three and a half weeks later they were married in what was one of the most affluent wedding ceremonies that Ponta Felcino had seen in half a century. The newly-weds went on honeymoon to Cesarino’s family estate near Genoa at the foot of the Italian Alps. Life began to settle down after their return to Ponta Felcino and Luigina became mistress of the household. The building had belonged to her father, but he gave it to Luigina as her dowry.

In 1943, Luigina gave birth to a son Ernesto. She went into labour three and a half weeks early. The family doctors were concerned the baby would be too premature to survive. To everyone’s surprise, the baby was the size of a normal full-term infant at four kilograms. Cesarino attributed that to his strong family constitution.

A few months after the birth of Ernesto, rumours began to reach Luigina’s ears that Cesarino was having affairs with other local women. She was furious. “It is an insult to me and my family,” Luigina shouted at him in a fit of anger. Luigina was very sensitive about her family’s reputation in the eyes of the local community. In fact, family reputation was THE most important thing to Luigina.

***

Early the next day, Fiorella got a call on the apartment phone. She picked up the phone, ‘Pronto!’ It was Luigina. She had asked for me to go with her to visit her relatives in Perugia. Fiorella said they were pharmacists. I was to meet her at the paved quadrangle inside the “Palace.” When I got there, her chauffeur was waiting next to the car. He gestured to her that I had arrived. I greeted her with a smile. As we were about to get into the car, a man came over from the ‘Medico Legale’s’ office and started to talk to her. Luigina then went back to the house to get something for him. He could speak English, so we talked while we waited for Luigina to return. “I am the Medico Legale (Coroner)” he remarked. He had wanted to study medicine and law since he was a schoolboy, but his family were lower middle class with little money, so he thought he would never achieve his dream. However, when he finished his schooling, he was luckily awarded a scholarship at Foligno University. The chairman of the committee that awarded him the scholarship was Luigina’s great uncle. Even though, he said, he was not the brightest candidate in his year, when he graduated he got the job of assistant to the Ponta Felcino coroner. Over the years, with hard work and dedication he had reached the position of Coroner. He mentioned that he was in the same class at school as Luigina.

Luigina returned and gave him a parcel. We then drove off towards Perugia. Luigina mentioned to me that in her youth, she had a keen interest in the work the Coroner did and would spend hours in the Coroner’s rooms learning about the subject.

We arrived in the centre of Perugia just after ten in the morning and parked outside a pharmacist’s shop. Vittoria, the pharmacist, was Luigina’s third cousin. They too had gone to school together. “So, you know the Ponta Felcino Coroner?” I asked. “Yes,” said Vittoria. The shop looked more like an apothecary’s laboratory than a pharmacist. There were bottles of sulphur, mercury, thallium, arsenic, naphthalene, naphthyl amine, charcoal and a whole host of herbal substances too.

We were taken to the lounge room at the back of the shop, sat down and had a coffee and a lunch of pasta. Luigina began to tell me about Vittoria’s ancestors. They had all been ‘pharmacists’ or more correctly, apothecaries for generations. Vittoria had one ancestor in the seventeenth century who was notorious. Her name was Madam Tofana. She was clearly a person that Vittoria liked to boast about. Giulia Tofana was an alchemist who specialised in herbal remedies. However, she was notorious for producing one ‘elixir’ in particular that was popular with young wives who had become weary of their husbands. It was a clear colourless, tasteless liquid called ‘Aqua Tofana.’ Over a period of about twenty years, Madam Tofana was able to assist many hundreds of wives, weary of their boring husbands. She would give the young woman a small glass vial filled with ‘Aqua Tofana’ which the young woman would put in her husband’s meal at dinner. The husband would always feel fine after the meal, except he would develop an insatiable thirst later in the evening. The next morning, his wife would wake up to find him dead beside her. She made a lot of money selling this ‘elixir.’ When her crimes were finally discovered, she was treated by the male judiciary (understandably) quite harshly. She had been responsible for the deaths of at least six hundred men in Rome alone.  She was forced to wear a heavy lead boot around her legs whilst in prison. She was tried and hanged.

***

The next day, Dad and Fiorella took me to the ravine with the stone viaduct near Spoleto where they were pinned down by the Germans in 1944. They reminisced together about the event. About two days later, they both went out one night, dressed to the nines and Dad was wearing his war medals. They didn’t say where they were going. When they returned about one in the morning, they were arguing furiously with each other. It became clear to me from their arguments, that they had been to the annual local Partisan reunion meeting. Listening to their arguments, it became clear what must have happened. It was late in the night and everyone must have been the worse for alcohol. One old Italian Partisan must have said something to my Dad along the lines of “The Partisans drove the Germans out of Italy; The British army just filled the void behind the retreating Germans.” My Dad must have said something like “We partisans were like a bee stinging a bear; we were an irritation, but could not have forced them out. It was the British army that drove the Germans out.” It must then have degenerated into a yes, we did, no, we didn’t. Fists were raised, but Fiorella must have stepped in to end the fight.

When I entered the kitchen the next morning, Fiorella was crying. She said to me, “We were there when Mussolini and his mistress were killed by the Partisans in 1945 in Piazzale Loreto. We should have stopped them cutting off Clara Petacci’s breasts, but we didn’t.” Dad replied, “If we had tried to stop them they would have turned on us; she was dead anyway. There was nothing we could have done.”

I returned to England a few days later and continued by studies at Nottingham University.

Luigina Part Due

It was six months later before I returned to Ponta Felcino again. As before, we all went to dinner at Luigina’s ‘Palace.’ However, this time a shock awaited me. Cesarino had now lost his sight, couldn’t walk without assistance and had developed diabetes. His hair had turned white and was falling out in clumps. His lips had a distinct bluish tinge. Luigina blamed his condition on his Un-Christian behaviour over the years. The next day, I was walking with Fiorella to the local vegetable markets in town when we were passed by some of Cesarino’s family. These women were quite nasty to Fiorella. They had a short shouting match in Italian that I didn’t understand. But there was a lot of arm gesticulation and pointing. I heard Luigina’s name mentioned by these women along with ‘Aqua Tofana.’ Fiorella looked at them indignantly, flicked her hand as if swatting away a fly and walked on. She told me afterwards that Cesarino’s family believed that Luigina had poisoned Cesarino because of the sudden and unexpected appearance of his illness. They apparently suspected thallium poisoning, or as they called it ‘Aqua Tofana.’

***

As I was laid in bed in the early hours of the next morning, I was suddenly awoken by the sound of Dad and Fiorella talking. They were not talking loudly by any means, but the conversation was very intense. I put my ear to the wall and I could hear their conversation clearly. Fiorella was telling Dad that one of Cesarino’s sisters had died about two months before. After the sister had received the last rights from the local Bishop, who was one of her uncles, she sent a message to Luigina requesting her to come to her bedside immediately. Luigina went. She then told Luigina a dark family secret. This was that the father of Beatrice’s daughter Debora was Cesarino. But the sister made Luigina promise never to do anything to Beatrice or her daughter, because Beatrice would have been powerless to resist Cesarino’s advances because he was such a powerful person. This was even more so, in that Beatrice had been a virgin from a poor family. Luigina told Fiorella that she left the bedside furious at Cesarino’s betrayal. He had even lied to God! Luigina’s immediate concern was now for her family reputation and how, if this became public knowledge around Ponta Felcino, her standing in society would be ruined. That night and the following day, Luigina said nothing to Cesarino, but made a rushed and unexpected visit to her family of apothecaries in Perugia. She had returned later in the same day with a small glass vial containing a white crystalline substance. A couple of weeks later, Cesarino’s health began to deteriorate.

***

Luigina’s family doctor, (who was of course another of her relatives) had examined Cesarino several times, but could find no explanation for his sudden illness. When an independent doctor came at Cesarino’s family’s request, he suspected thallium or mercury poisoning. Consequently, he put Cesarino on a course of treatment for these substances. His health slowly began to improve. His hair stopped falling out and his sight began to recover somewhat.

***

When I met Luigina the next day, she told me Cesarino’s health had begun to improve and she was going to take a trip to see her family in Perugia for a short respite for the day. She asked me to go with her. I agreed. On the way, she spoke at length about the importance of family reputation and how it was the most important thing in life. When we arrived at Vittoria’s pharmacist’s we again retired to the lounge room at the rear of the shop. During their conversation, Vittoria was very surprised when Luigina told her that she was pleased that Cesarino’s health seemed to be improving. They both agreed it was an amazing recovery. We went into the storage area at the rear of the shop. To further assist with Cesarino’s recovery, Vittoria gave Luigina a glass vial containing a small quantity of a waxy brown substance that had a fishy odour. Vittoria warned Luigina not to get the substance on her hands or clothes and to burn anything that came into contact with it. This included the glass vial and any remaining substance after use.

I then returned again to Nottingham University to continue my studies.

***

A couple of months later, I had a letter from Dad telling me that after initially making a recovery, Cesarino’s health had begun to deteriorate again. He had been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of liver and testicular cancer. Apparently, Luigina was still putting his condition down to his hedonistic life style. But Cesarino’s family had other suspicions. Rumours began to be heard around the town that Cesarino’s family might be planning something unpleasant for Luigina. So, in response, the Chief of the Ponta Felcino Carabinieri, (who was Luigina’s Uncle) ordered an armed guard be placed at every entrance to the quadrangle for the next two weeks. His public explanation was that recent ‘intelligence’ had suggested a possible terrorist attack on the head-quarters building.

***

Another letter arrived from Dad about four weeks later. Cesarino had died. A Coroner’s inquest had been called. Cesarino’s family lawyer had requested an autopsy to examine the body for signs of thallium or mercury poisoning. The Coroner’s Court ordered an autopsy be performed. In order to avoid any suspicion of interference with the tests, no one with a family connection to Cesarino or Luigina was allowed in the autopsy. The autopsy was conducted by the Coroner himself. He had no family connection to either party and his position as Coroner gave the tests an air of extra authority and authenticity.

When the findings were presented to the Court, the Coroner’s report concluded that there was no evidence of any poison in Cesarino’s body and his death had been due to natural causes, specifically cancer of the liver and testes. The Court therefore concluded that Cesarino’s death was by natural causes. When Cesarino’s family lawyer requested an independent Coroner perform the tests again, the Court took affront at the suggestion of incompetence by the Ponta Felcino Coroner and rejected the request out of hand.

These findings immediately squashed all malicious speculation by the rumour mongers in Ponta Felcino that there were any suspicious circumstances regarding Cesarino’s death. It vindicated Luigina’s family name and she regained her rightful esteemed place in Ponta Felcino society.

Luigina Part Tre

When I returned to Ponta Felcino about two months later, Cesarino had been buried in his family mausoleum on a mountainside, a few kilometres outside Ponta Felcino. The funeral service had been a lavish affair and Luigina had apparently been the perfection of a grieving widow. Luigina was now a picture of health. I had never seen her look so beautiful before. She was moving freely in society circles again and had reformed several old friendships. She had been particularly happy that she had re-united with her old boyfriend from school she had had a love affair with before she had marred Cesarino. His wife had died several years before.

That evening, Fiorella told me that Luigina had confided to her, (and Fiorella had agreed), that the most important thing for her was respect in the eyes of society. Family reputation is the most important thing in life. Nothing was more important than that, she had asserted. I asked as a joke, if Luigina was in the Mafia. Fiorella immediately looked me in the eye with an icy stare and said, “There is no such thing as the Mafia, understand?” “No such thing as the Mafia!”

***

The next morning, Luigina phoned Fiorella and asked for me to go with her to see Cesarino’s mausoleum on the mountainside outside Ponta Felcino. I walked over to the paved quadrangle inside the ‘Palace’ building. The Coroner was waiting for Luigina to arrive and was stood by the side of his official vehicle with the coat of arms of Ponta Felcino on the door and the words ‘Medico Legale.’ We chatted for a short time about the research work I was doing at Nottingham University. He reminded me that he had attended University in Foligno and studied Law and Medicine and that it was thanks to Luigina’s great uncle who had been chairman of the scholarship’s committee that he had had the finances to study. Luigina arrived and both the Coroner and I got in the car. Him in the driver’s seat and myself in the back with Luigina. We drove up the mountainside near Ponta Felcino and reached a clearing in the forest that had a magnificent view around the surrounding valley of the River Fiume Tevere, with the town of Ponta Felcino sitting at the bottom. As our car came to a stop in front of Cesarino’s mausoleum, two other cars pulled up at almost the same time next to us. One was Vittoria, Luigina’s cousin from Perugia. The other was Alexandro Bellini, the head of the Ponta Felcino Carabinieri, Luigina’s Uncle.

All four of the Italians then took flowers out of their cars and walked with Luigina to the Mausoleum. They all placed their flowers in turn on Cesarino’s grave. They all said a prayer together. Then Luigina came towards me. She stood and looked at me for a long time, as if there was something she wanted to tell me. But in the end, she dropped her eyes to the ground and slowly walked back to the car. The Coroner them asked me to get in the car because we were going to return to Ponta Felcino. As I was about to get in, I realised I had not asked what his name was. “I am Silvio Bernini,” he replied!!!!

Epilogue

My short time in Italy lead me inexorably to the conclusion that a high society Catholic marriage in Italy is not a bond of love between a man and a woman. It is a business agreement between two wealthy families for the mutual financial benefit of both families. Love is something entirely different.

Perhaps Italy is really no different to other societies when it comes to high society marriage. I remember an old girlfriend of mine who came from an English Aristocratic family saying something to me during our relationship that I found odd. She said, “My mother has told me I have to marry a man I have never met from another aristocratic family. They are very rich. Mummy thinks it will be a great financial benefit to both families. But, I said to her; I’ve heard he is horrible and most of his friends say he is gay. I don’t want to marry a gay! Mummy then said, never mind, if you can’t stand him get yourself a secret lover. Let him be the father of your children!”

“Everything has always been the same and keeps recurring. And that the longest lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. All that exists is the present, there is no past and no future, so the present is all that anyone can give up, since that is all that you have. And what you don’t have you cannot lose.”

Marcus Aurelius

Meditations

* Luigina in Greek means “Well Born.”

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