Jan 2013

Fratelli D’Italia

“Now the reason you were approved for citizenship is because you are married to an Italian. Is this still true?” The woman leaned towards me helpfully. “I imagine so, after all, a man answered your home phone. Was that your husband? Hmmm?”

“Well, yes, that is true! I would have brought him in to prove it, but he had to go to work!” I assured the woman that there was no fraud going on here. Luciano and I in fact had stood right here in this office seven years ago insisting on our right to obtain a marriage certificate.

In fact this may have been the very woman who told me incredibly that I needed to get my sworn affidavit freshly obtained from and verified by the US Ambassador in Milan corroborated by officials in Treviso. But I am not sure…I was a little emotional at the time.
But I imagine that there are a lot of comings and goings in the Mareno di Piave City Hall. And being a crew member of such a tightly run ship, she just wanted to be precise.

“OK. Well, take these documents home and think it over. You now have six months to decide if you truly want to become an Italian citizen. If you change your mind, the request will just disappear after six months.” She sat back behind her clean desk, the wide and empty expanse dwarfing her.

“No, I am pretty sure I am ready.” After all, I worked very hard to get to this point. In fact it had taken tedious communication with officials in Louisiana, California, Washington DC, Rome, Treviso, and Milan in order to establish my birth and status as a law abiding citizen, countless fees to a myriad of offices and almost three years of waiting. As if I might suddenly change my mind?

am ready…what do I do next?”

“You will need to make an appointment with the mayor of Mareno so you can take an oath pledging your loyalty to Italy.”

“Oh!” Suddenly it all was more real. I felt a tug of loyalty to America, my riotously beautiful and conflicted country…but I had come this far. And it wasn’t as if I were giving up my US citizenship. “Should I make the appointment now?” I hadn’t just shown up at this party; I know how slowly the wheels can turn here in Italy~ to get an appointment with an official within six months’ time is not easy.

The woman smiled. “Well, he works here only two days a week but I think you can call a week or two in advance.”

Perfect. I had approval papers, an Italian husband, proof of one last fee payment, and time to plan the event. Now the only thing between me and dual citizenship was a flag…an Italian flag. I have seen all the movies. One needs to show up at a citizenship ceremony with a flag, right?
Having never needed one before I thought it would be an easy item to find. Now I wonder if they are as elusive in the US, for I could not find one anywhere. In Treviso I checked in book stores, toy stores, the train station and asked all my students. “There is no World Cup this year, Serena,” they told me. “We don’t need them now.”

How could this be?

I even asked the woman at City Hall…she paused, thinking and said, “The only one we have is for the front of the building….” Her voice trailed off.

Still I searched.

Secretly I was a little sad that no one in the family helped me in my search. I got a few suggestions, but otherwise they left me to my own devices. Perhaps it was an important final step for me to take on my own. And so, since no one surprised me with a little Italian flag, I continued my hunt. Time passed

Finally Luciano said quietly, “If I had only six months to do something this important, I would have done it right away.” As usual, when Luciano speaks softly, the power of his words is shattering. With or without a flag, I went directly to City Hall and booked an appointment: Tuesday. January 22.

That very afternoon I stopped in the toy store in Mareno right down the street, where Giancarlo had suggested checking, and asked for an Italian flag. The clerk went directly to the corner of the store and placed one in front of me. The quest was over. I finally had a little plastic flag whose colors represent hope (green), faith (white), and charity (red).
Or green for the hills, white for the mountains, and red for the bloody wars. It depends on who you talk to, what side of the Piave you are from, or what dialect you speak, etc. In other words, a perfect representation of this kaleidoscope of a country I was preparing to join.

I started to study the national anthem, called inno in Italian:

Italian Brothers,
Italy has awakened,
She has wreathed her head
With the helmet of Scipio.
Where is Victory?
She bows her head to you,
You, whom God created
As the slave of Rome.

Let us band together,
We are ready to die,
We are ready to die,
Italy has called us! (Yes!)

While the words are soaking in history, melodrama and violence, normal elements of all anthems, the melody is rousing and inspires standing up a bit straighter and swinging a fist. I practiced singing it out the window one afternoon with Anna Maria standing below to help me. I swung my fist.

Fratelli d'Italia
L'Italia s'è desta,
Dell'elmo di Scipio
S'è cinta la testa.
Dov'è la Vittoria?
Le porga la chioma,
Ché schiava di Roma
Iddio la creò

Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte
Siam pronti alla morte
L'Italia chiamò! Si!

“Not bad,” she said, “but you need to practice more. Do you have to sing it at the ceremony?”

“I hope not!”

“Me too,” she muttered. I did not take it personally.

Here you can sing along, too

I asked Anna Maria and Giancarlo to come to the ceremony. Of course Luciano had already been planning on it and we all met at the tidy City Hall after I rushed home from a lesson. With my flag in hand and my witnesses in tow, we stepped into the front office. My friend in the front office, whose name I have discovered is Antonella, was pleased to see that I had found a flag and handed me a sheet of paper with these words on it:

“Giuro di essere fedele alla Repubblica Italiana, e di osservare la Costituzione e le Leggi dello Stato”
I swear to be faithful to the Republic and to observe the Constitution and the laws of the State

“But I have not memorized this!” I was distraught…a last minute hiccup? As I read the words, I unexpectedly felt my throat tighten and tears sting my eyes. Italy has changed my life in so many ways, had saved me, and now it felt as if I was finally honoring that debt. How wonderful.

My Italian family leaned over my shoulder and read the words.

“That’s easy,” said Anna Maria, “Don’t worry.”

“And anyway, you can just read it,” Antonella assured me.

All this talking was good as I collected myself and quite suddenly we were all walking up the stairs to the mayor’s office. As usual, things here move at either glacial or warp speed. To become an Italian citizen takes about ten years and three minutes as we all stepped into the mayor’s office and I stood before the man with my little plastic flag in one hand and the oath in the other. He stood, slipped the ceremonial red, green, and white sash over his shoulder, commented that my flag was a nice touch and said, “Ok, I am ready.”

“Giuro di essere fedele alla Repubblica Italiana, e di osservare la Costituzione e le Leggi dello Stato.” The paper trembled just a little, but my voice was strong.

“Ok, congratulations! You are now Italian.” He shook my hand.

“That’s it?” said Giancarlo. I could hear the smile in his voice over my shoulder…I think he was expecting me to sing.

“Yes, that’s it. It becomes official at midnight tonight. Nice to meet you and good night.”

Being in the office only two nights a week, the mayor must have a lot on his plate so we were hustled down the stairs and out the door and four Italians stepped out into the frigid January night.