My dear readers, I must warn you that we are going into the home stretch as far as my wedding is concerned, so my posts will most likely be tapering off a bit in the upcoming weeks. In keeping with the wedding theme though, let's dive into an Italian wedding tradition and go directly to the place where it all happens.
Something I find almost uniquely Italian is this tradition of giving out candy-coated (jordan) almonds, called confetti, at celebrations like baptisms (pink or blue), first communions (white), graduation (red) and weddings (white). And people, let me just tell you that the Italians have some hard and fast rules and regulations regarding these things, some of which, as you will see, I was not informed of prior to embarking on my trip down confetti lane.
When I talk about rules and regulations, what I'm mainly referring to are some almost unspoken social expectations and traditions. Certain ways of doing things that many Italians will always look for and notice, but probably would never admit they actually care about and won't necessarily come right out and say you "have to" do. It's eternally frustrating for me, not only as an annoying perfectionist, but also as a foreigner in this country wanting to do things the "right" way. I'm wearily happy to say that I've reached a point now where I realize I won't ever do everything perfectly as expected, so I'm throwing my hands up and saying "Basta! Sono americana!" Enough! I'm American. I can't help it.
For example: you can't just go to any store and buy confetti. Oh, no siree. The "good" confetti for weddings (hence, the ones your guests will undoubtedly look for and expect) come from a small town called Sulmona, located in Abruzzo, almost right in the middle of the "boot" of Italy. Luckily this is one thing I already knew, so won't be making any brutte figure in that area. You can buy Sulmona confetti in other towns, but they cost a lot more than if you buy them directly in Sulmona.
Since Ale and I have lots of ties to Abruzzo, we go there often enough to have been able to stop by Sulmona directly to buy our confetti. Many brides will have the factory make up the "bomboniere" (favors) for them, but I was looking to do something a bit more personalized as well as save some money, so I bought little containers in the States when I was back visiting, brought them over, and decided to make my own.
Confetti don't come cheap: the plain white candy-coated almonds cost approximately €20 per kilo (in Sulmona directly) and I think you get about 200 per kilo. That's about 10 cents per almond. Egad!
We got our confetti from Pelino, probably the most famous of all the factories. Who knew, they even have an exclusive US distributor. I asked the shop owner for some small labels (I have to be able to prove where they come from, no?) for making my bomboniere, and once I got home I started filling my little containers. Each container was big enough for 8 confetti, so naturally, that's how many I put in.
Please raise your hand if you have already noticed my GRAVE ERROR.
No? Well, you see, I'm learning too. After I mentioned to some of my friends about how I made my own, and how I put 8 in each container, they looked at me funny and said that was weird. Why? Because you're only supposed to put FIVE in each. Why? They don't know. "Well, if you don't put five, Shelley, you at least have to make it an odd number." Why? They don't know. Then they see my look of desperation and bride-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown look and sympathetically say, "But no one really cares."
Me: "Well, if no one cares, why did you tell me?"
Them: "Well, actually, no one usually opens them until after they leave. So don't worry, because once they see there are 8 instead of 5, you won't even be around for the reaction, so who cares, right?"
Me: "Um. Thanks. I think." (Cut to single tear slowly dripping down cheek, with sad violin playing.)
I, being the curious and stubborn creature I am, decided that "boh" (who knows) wasn't a good enough answer for this whole "five" concept, so I did some research and I am now able to reveal the secret of why it's 5. Five, or in any case an odd number, is INDIVISIBLE, as should be any good marriage. Get it? Well now, isn't that just charming!? I know.
I'm hereby changing the rules and now declare that 8, being an even number, brings harmony and, oh, why not, let's throw in lots of children, too. Because there's no way I'm going back to untie and re-tie ribbon on nearly 120 containers. Although I will admit that the perfectionist in me is almost tempted.
Upon further research, I have learned that baptisms and first communions merit 3 confetti, but 5 is also permissable. I'm not motivated enough to find out the why on this one. Not sure how many you get when you graduate, but please do make sure they are red, tied with red ribbon, and in a bag with the appropriate color of your major. Yes, that's right. Who knew each major had its own color?
Oh, Italians and their traditions. Numbers. Social graces dictating behavior. Once I went to a first communion lunch and saw an empty place setting. When I asked who wasn't able to make it, they told me everyone had come and that was just the "18th place." What? Well, there were 17 people at the table, so they had to add an 18th place because you can't have 17 at a table together: "porta sfortuna, porta male." It's bad luck, you see. And just in case you're curious: no, they didn't bring food to the imaginary 18th person, although I would have been amused to no end had they done so.
Well folks, God only knows what might possibly happen to me, and my future marriage, with 8 confetti instead of 5. Please pray for me.
Back to our main topic though, confetti themselves. Mine are in a simple container, but typical styles include flowers and birds. Hey, I'm not going to lie to you. This stuff can get molto gaudy, as evidenced by this rather enchanting species of red-nylon confetti peacock:
Come on now, you know you want to take him home with you!
Flowers are probably the most typical. When I approached this shop, at first I thought it was a real florist:
But only on closer inspection did I realize that these were, in fact, confetti flowers:
If you're keeping score, there are 7 (ie, odd number) confetti. I don't think the ladybug counts.
Something I find entirely charming about Sulmona is that most confetti shops and packaging haven't seemed to change since about 1900. Many shop signs and packaging have a beautiful art nouveau look and feel to them (think the "Metro" signs for the Paris subway):
It's hard to make out, but this sign reads: "La Più Antica Fabbrica di Confetti" -- the oldest confetti factory.
All in all, I'm happy to report that my confetti mission is now complete, and I will forge ahead with my 8 confetti per person containers. I know, I'll be the talk of Rome for ages to come for this brash and unusual deviant behavior, but I'm willing to take the heat.