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Black Lamb

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They used to do it in Italy

April 1st, 2007

BY DAN PETERSON

,span style='width: 55px;'>Marriage, Italian Style. This 1964 film classic by Vittorio De Sica, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren at the height of her beauty and sexual power, says it all: marriage, in Italy, is something different from marriage anywhere else. Part of this is due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its stand against divorce. The result was that, for years, marriage was a one-shot deal. No seconds.

This brings us to the all-important figure of the mistress. I coached the Virtus Bologna basketball team for five years, 1973-78, when people supposedly had to toe the line with regard to marriage and fidelity. Yeah, right. I’ll say this: I did not know a single Bolognese man over thirty-five with decent economic means who did not have a mistress. I mean, they were like status symbols: Mine is better than yours.

There is a famous anecdote in The Italians, by Luigi Barzini, in which a married couple go to the opera. The wife, using her binoculars, says, “Dear, who is that beautiful young girl with Mario?” The husband says, “My dear, please be discreet. That’s his mistress.” The wife then scans left and sees her husband’s mistress, seated in the loge section, then scans to Mario’s mistress and says, “Ours is better!”

What about the mistresses? They are, invariably, young and beautiful. They have also made a pact with the Devil. They know their man will never divorce. It’s a trade-out. Her man provides her with an apartment, which is in her name, an income, trips, gifts, and all the other trappings that such beauty comes to expect. The girl builds up her bank account, her estate, and prepares for her future. It’s a deal everyone accepts.

We must also discuss prostitution herein. In 1958, a law was passed, the Merlin Law, named for the female senator who pushed for its enactment. It closed all the bordellos in Italy. At that time, the Italian man had the reputation as being the ultimate Latin Lover. All of a sudden, the prostitutes were on the streets and the Latin Lovers were picking them up, and their image as the top lovers was irrevocably shattered.

In recent years, the institution of marriage in Italy has undergone some changes, with laws permitting divorce, great opposition from the Vatican notwithstanding. It used to take at least five years for a divorce and the Vatican often had to give its okay to “annul” the marriage. Now things are simpler and the number of divorces has skyrocketed, as thirty years of bad marriages hit the courts all at once.

There are also still some “marriages of convenience” in Italy, which means marriages arranged by the families of the supposedly happy couple. This is another fading institution, which was common in southern Italy. Like many such practices, even in the deep South, this is going by the boards quickly, as today’s young people have mobility, computers, cell phones, credit cards, and minds of their own.

We still see a lot of May-November marriages: she’s thirty and he’s sixty. That may be a stretch but not really. We still see many marriages in which the wife looks young enough to be the husband’s daughter. I should know. I’m seventy-one and my wife is fifty-five but looks thirty-five. I have white hair and she does not have a gray hair on her head. She is often asked how her “father” is doing, as index fingers are pointed at me. She loves this.

Something rather new on the horizon, though, is the wife who takes a lover. Yes, this has always existed here, as everywhere, but it’s much more common now. The magic words are “Personal Trainer.” If a husband in Italy hears that his wife is going to the gym to tone up, he likes the sound of that. If he hears she is working with a PT, he knows that PT is her lover, perhaps on more than one occasion. It’s written in stone.

So today everyone is a “player.” This is also due to Italian women emerging in the work place. Nothing puts a strain on marriage like having the wife, still young and attractive, dressed perfectly as all Italian women always are, in some office or on the road, where other men, window shopping, are hitting on her. The jokes about the traveling salesman are also common here, but they are not applied to the traveling saleswoman.

Finally, the number of marriages in Italy has fallen off the table. People are just not getting married anymore. The man lives at home, with Mom and Dad, until they pass away, then inherits their house and stays single. Or, he marries when he is over forty. Or the couple just lives together and that’s that. Whatever, the figures are way down and the Italian government is wondering why and doing lots of studies to find out what’s up.
Why these lawmakers are wondering is a question itself, seeing that many of these same men have May-November marriages, have been divorced and remarried, have mistresses (perhaps more than one) parked here and there, know their wives and lovers are toning up with their PTs, and like the situation just as it is.

Still, Sophia Loren, Italy’s most gorgeous widow, has never been linked to anyone else. Damn! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Peterson | Link to this Entry

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