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"Look into windows. You never know what you'll find there!"
In 1957, 30-year-old Tenente Antonio Simmarano made a routine trip to Basilicata, his birthplace, from his military base in Bressanone to obtain a leave of absence from the military.
Several days later, he had a fianc�e and a signed leave.
"I saw her through a window, upstairs from my future sister-in-law's butcher shop in Basilicata. Little did I know that my brother and my sister-in-law were already plotting to arrange a marriage between us when I asked how I could meet her," Antonio recalls.
In Basilicata in 1957, such a meeting was not taken lightly. What did the prospective groom have to offer? And what of the woman's dowry? Luckily, Antonio was considered a catch - a sottoufficiale career in the military, residence in Northern Italy, and of course, those dashing good looks. But Margarita, the object of his affection, needed something to bring to the table, as well. Arranged marriages were customary and commonly made, but only among people who had sufficient property and possessions (furniture, farm animals, land, etc.).
Margarita knew nothing about Antonio. In fact, she'd had her sights set on a certain local boy and wasn't happy about being swept away by this "northerner".
"But my opinion didn't count!" Margarita says today, laughing. After all, she'd been raised with the adage moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi (wife and beef from your own town). Her friends and family convinced her that life would be better with Antonio. The prospect of living in northern Italy was appealing - to this day, the north is considered to be the seat of higher culture and better economic conditions.
They had only a few days to meet each other. Though it was an arranged marriage, Antonio was undeniably smitten with Margarita and wanted to impress her.
"He came to my house and he, my family, and I pushed the furniture to one end of the room. Then, he placed the chairs in a circle, brought in a small musical band and we danced in the living room!" Margarita remembers fondly.
After the dancing, they talked on the sofa, sitting side by side.
"Then, I took her for a walk through town. It sounds romantic but in those days, unmarried women could not be alone with men, so we were followed by one of her brothers the whole time!" Antonio chuckles.
"Still, it was nice," Margarita says.
Despite the whirlwind courtship, the marriage didn't take place until three years later! Antonio's military duties imposed geographic difficulties that made the wedding impossible to plan until 1960. The couple wed in the town of Bernalda in Basilicata, moved to Sardinia, and then to Caserta (Naples). They moved to Trento in 1969, after having three children. After 30 years of marriage, they bought their first house.
Arranged marriages still take place today in southern Italy, though not nearly with the same frequency as they did decades ago. Would the Simmarano's recommend this type of betrothal to others?
"We have been happy," Margarita says, "but it is not ideal. In the 1950s, women didn't know there was another way to get a husband, so we weren't resentful about the arranged marriages. But plenty of mismatched people were married and, because of the Catholic Church's strict divorce prohibitions, those people had to stay married. There was no escape like there is today. Crist l'fasce u munn l'accocchia - God makes them and the world pairs them. Maybe how they get paired doesn't matter?"
Antonio's advice is more to point. "Look into windows. You never know what you'll find there!"
Many thanks to virtualitalia.com's Roberto Simmarano and his parents, who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this article.
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