Chapter 46 White Widows

I just finished watching I Girasoli, a 1970 film by Vittorio de Sica, starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.The film relates the story of a wife who finds her husband, missing in action in Russia after World War II. The Italian soldier, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is found almost frozen to death by a sympathetic Russian woman. Mastroianni’s character stays in Russia, marries the Russian woman and together they have a child. Loren’s character refuses to believe that her husband is dead, so she searches for him in Russia. The film reminds me of the white widows in Calabria and throughout the Mezzogiorno.

In the Mezzogiorno, traditional widows wore black, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Some older widows today still do. Italian-Americans know this well.

Not every southern Italian family lived the dream of coming to America. Many meridionali left for America abandoning their wives and children. In the Mezzogiorno, abandoned wives are called vedove bianche (white widows). They are widowed despite the fact that their husbands are still alive, thousands of miles away, many of whom remarried and fathered children. Their story is one of the saddest in a land reeking of sadness.

I’d like to share with you my readers a poem by Maria Zaffina who lives in Lamezia Terme, a town within a half-hour drive from Miglierina. Her poem, which I’ve summarized for you, describes this tragic sociological phenomenon.

Le vedove bianche

Americhe: paradisi sognati                    I’m going to find my fortune in the Americas.
da chi ha poco o nulla.                            You stay here with the kids.
“Vado io a tentare la fortuna,
tu resta coi bambini”!Varcato l’oceano                                     After the first few letters from across the ocean
dopo le prime lettere,                            it’s good-bye family!
addio famiglia!

E le “vedove bianche” non si contano. White widows don’t count in this world.
Che fare?                                                    So it’s back to taking care of the old,
Ci sono anche i vecchi                             the old who don’t have a pension.
da mantenere,
loro non hanno la pensione.

Si va alla “giornata”                               We slave for rich and dissatisfied bosses,
“sotto padrone                                        forever washing their clothes.
o a lavare il bucato
ai ricchi “speculativi”
e mai contenti.

Di “lui” intanto                                    Of “him” in the meantime
più nessuna notizia,                           no more news,
ma il “panno rosso”                            only the “red cloth” remains
rimane, solo                                         to command respect.
per incutere rispetto.


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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