In Caiazzo, life moves at a slower pace. Though it is a member of the Campania region, largely considered to be poverty-stricken and, at times, dilapidated, there is a cleanness–an overt sense of wealth–to the quaint town on the Volturnus (Volturno to some who prefer to show less reverence to a god of waters that is not Poseidon).
Though it is remote and seemingly unassuming, there came a time when it saw one of the most gruesome sights–an unapologetic massacre–that appeared all too common during the time of World War Two. And alas, like so many lovers during this era, Annuziata and Davide were ripped apart as a result of a heartless German-fueled extermination.
Before the infiltration, however, existence in Caiazzo, just removed enough from the fanfare of the Palace of Caserta, was peaceful. Davide Rubinacci was wise beyond his twenty-two years, and had long been an integral part of running his father’s gelateria on the primary street in town, Via Roma (ah, so many Via Romas in Italy, so little time). Like many Italian romances of the era, he fell in love with a local girl by sheer lack of selection amid such a small population.
He had encountered her numerous times before, whether seeing her in the shop or passing her by on the narrow sidewalks, but it wasn’t until he saw her at one of his favorite secret places–an abandoned cave once used by the Carbonari to plot their nationalist revolutions–that he became truly enamored.
Annuziata Marando, on the other hand, wasn’t so easily taken in by the mere ego boost of “googly eyes.” She was well-aware of her attractiveness. At the desirable age of twenty, she had long chestnut brown hair and a curvaceous figure that couldn’t be concealed in anything she wore. She knew she had her pick of anyone in Caiazzo, but had, of late, been far too preoccupied with a far more unattainable man: Alberto Moravia. After a trip to the bookstore in Naples several months earlier, she was hooked. The last novel he released, La Mascherata, was in 1941, when the war began to intensify with the involvement of the U.S. Though he had just come out with another, La Cetonia, this year, Annunziata had yet to find it anywhere. Literature seemed the farthest thing on anyone’s mind these days. When the threat of impending death looms at every turn, people aren’t exactly concerned with edification, so much as the pursuit of any instant gratification that will take their mind off of the present. Reading is not necessarily one of those things. But Davide was that rare breed still willing to crack open a book in spite of the tumultuous times orbiting the town. And when he saw Annunziata that day in the cave reading Moravia, he knew she was his kindred.
“I take you’ve read The Tired Courtesan,” Davide opened.
She looked up disinterestedly, “I am The Tired Courtesan.”
He laughed, and took her joke as an in to sit down. She rolled her eyes, and attempted to continue reading.
“I know. I buy ice cream from your father’s shop.”
“Why have I never seen you in there then?” he countered.
“I only buy it when he’s got the cart on the street.”
“I’ll have to remember to ask him to let me take over the cart then.”
“Don’t bother. I’m closed.”
“What do you mean ‘closed'”?
She sighed and slammed her book shut. “Like that, I’m closed. I can’t be reached. So don’t try. I only want to get out of this town, out of this country. I haven’t got time for thoughts of anything else,” she explained.
Davide smiled. “Why would you want to leave Italy? It has everything you need.”
“Is what I need a fascist dictator who gets in bed with other fascist dictators whenever it suits his purpose?”
A strand of her hair fell in her face and she blew it aside with her mouth. “I have to go.”
“I have to help mamma with dinner.”
“Can I see you again?”
“I’m sure you will. It’s Caiazzo.”
And so, their first meeting was emblazoned forever on Davide’s brain. Davide, who went about the next few days thinking of when he would see Annunziata again. When he told his father, Ippolito, about his fervor, he balked. “A man shouldn’t get distracted by a woman. Take it from me. I was head over heels for your mother. And she left me–us–for a richer man. The only thing worse than an ugly girl is a pretty girl.”
But Davide wouldn’t be swayed. He knew he had to marry Annunziata if it was his last act on earth. And the way events were unfolding, it could very well be. So he set about wooing her. First, it was by leaving her a bouquet of flowers and a copy of La Cetonia in the cave. Then, it was roaming the streets with the gelato cart while a friend of his, Gaetano, played the accordion and sang a song Davide had written for her called “Annunziata.” When all of this failed, he went to her house, simple enough to find after following her home one day, and asked her mother, Patrizia, if he could take Annuziata’s hand in marriage. Patrizia, who had wanted nothing more than for Annunziata to be taken off her hands (she had five other mouths to feed, after all), agreed immediately. And since Annunziata didn’t have a patriarch to consult with (he had died decades earlier in a factory accident), it was decided: Davide and Annunziata would be married.
She was, obviously, livid with Davide, resisting his sweetness right up until their wedding night in that late summer of 1943. It was only upon finding that Davide did not try to pursue her in the bedroom against her wishes that she changed her mind about him, offering herself in a shy sort of way that Davide would not have expected of her.
After that night, the love between them became real, though never exactly equitable, as this is a feat that can only be accomplished by one couple a century. Day after day, Annunziata grew increasingly ingratiated to life with Davide, helping him with his work and tending to the house he had bought for them with some help from Ippolito.
As winter approached, however, the safe carefreeness of their lives was interrupted by the intrusion of a battalion of rogue Nazis who had found themselves off the beaten path of Rome and Naples, where it was unspoken that attacks were permissible because of the city sizes. Though Davide was not Jewish, he was singled out among the men and women led to the town square based on “Semitic appearance” to be shot point blank. Their methodical slaying was put on like a production, and after they were done pillaging through the shops for any trinkets of value, they moved on.
Annunziata, too, moved on soon after Davide was killed for reasons of self-preservation. She might not have loved him as he loved her, but she knew he was a good man, and that this is probably why he died young. Good men always die young–it is perhaps how they stay good. She didn’t care who her next husband would be, so long as it was someone to distract her from the memory of Davide. She never spoke of him to her children or the person she ended up wedding, Gaetano, as it were, who still played the song “Annunziata” on his accordion while she and the children carried on the tradition of selling gelato from the cart.