Sunday, November 4


We just had a long weekend because Nov 1st marked ‘I Morti’, or Day of the Dead…or, more pleasantly, the day after, All Saints Day. It’s a wonderful holiday observed by many in the traditional fashion: visiting cemeteries, eating large meals, or others, less so inclined, taking 4 days off to the mountains.
And, actually, I love the traditions of Old Europe, like enjoying those family gatherings (best with distant cousins..both in lineage and geographically speaking), having a less consumer-oriented Christmas, taking walks after the evening meal. In fact, when we onlookers see things ‘changing’ over here, we find Italians generally picking up some of the worst habits of America and making them their own -- and none of us are all the happier about it.

But one thing that could change for the better are the card companies. You know, cards for any occasion. While you can find some imported cards nowadays with great graphics but blank inside, what happens when you want to send something for a more – errr- traditional event?

It happened to a friend of mine who discovered that an American colleague’s father had passed away. He wanted to send a heartfelt card, expressing appropriately the sentiment, perhaps adding his own message on the inside. On a mission, he tried various cartolerias, where one does, in fact, by carta (or cards).

Knowing that he was barking up the wrong tree from the get go, he decided to hedge his bets: “Do you have something – say, a nice CARD – for someone who is in mourning?”

- Well, Signore, usually one sends a telegram.

Getting a bit provocative since he knew he already was fighting a losing battle: 
“Yes, but, don’t you think that, for someone who may not understand the Italian tradition, say, a foreigner, receiving a telegram under these conditions might actually be somewhat, ahhh, frightening?”

Blank stare, so he continues:

“You know, telegrams are sometimes used to bring important – even very urgent – messages to people and…given the circumstances, I just don’t think it would have the same impact in America as in Italy.”

- Well, okay, why don’t you send the traditional blank white or ivory card with a matching envelope?

“Do you have anything else?”

Yes, the blank white card with a black line going through it.
(He looks at it and decides it does, well, provide the appropriate imagery of the finality of the situation…kind of like looking at the EKG line in an episode of ER). Audaciously, he presses on: “Could you help me write a message in there? I mean, what should one write?”

- That’s a very personal thing, Signore, and no, I cannot help you.

At which point I received a call and sent him to a U.S. website where they actually offer a number of somber messages just for the occasion. When I ventured, ‘why did you even bother?’ He simply stated that he wanted to "At least get her to think out of the box…I don’t know…I was a man possessed.”


Anonymous said...

Great post. I've been through the same EXACT scenario... I searched high and low for condolence cards and after being told 12 times that I should "send a telegram" (who knew people still did that?!?) the only other options offered to me was a tiny little white note card that was supposed to have a black line of it, but since they were out of those I was told to merely draw a black line in the corner.

Anonymous said...

Admit it you are homesick... or just missing Hallmark§

Francesca Maggi said...

Well, I would definitely admit that I am homesick for those aisles and aisles of cards -- even to celebrate your divorce -- in America! That, and the aisles and aisles of breakfast cereals!!!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Unfortunately a couple years back I was initiated into this whole "mourning" ritual when a family member here passed away. I was kind of taken aback that people send telegrams but that is definitely standard practice and the "right" thing to do among Italians. We had to start a file with all of them so we could perform the proper response ritual...sending those morbid white cards with the black line across the upper left corner. I found them so creepy and sad, and yet, you wouldn't believe how incredibly hard it was to find them. In the end we got "lucky" because the funeral home provided us with some.
*Shiver.* I miss Hallmark too, let me tell you!!