Monday, February 26, 2007

Sulmona: Land of Candy-Coated Almonds

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.

Sunflowers, anyone?

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 PiĆ¹ 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.

23 comments:

Ambra Celeste said...

Oh I loved this post! 5 confetti each! So funny. So... that explains why my mother in law insisted on five confetti each. (Like you I thought there was plenty room for more in each little package)! Luckily, I went with the flow. Congratulations on the upcoming nuptials.

Ms Adventures in Italy said...

I used confetti from Pelino, too!!! Small world. We should have chatted before, I found out about that 5 confetti thing. :) This was at the California wedding so no one really cared, but I put a little note inside explaining why there was 5 ;)

It's getting closer!!

Ash said...

A lovely post and wonderful photos! At weddings in Africa with my Afrikaans family we had sugared almonds too.

They had to be pink and white and there had to be 5, tied in a little tulle bag with a ribbon around the top. I wonder if the number is a tradition inherited from the Italians?

Thanks so much for sharing. Now, if any of my boys ever marry an Italian girl I will know just what to do!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ok, ok... va bene, va bene... I surrender to tradition!

Luckily I discovered I could just slip the ribbon off without untying it, remove the dangerous extra 3 confetti, and slip the ribbon back on without anyone ever having to know the difference. Fatto.

But I'm still being a little deviant: some of the confetti are filled with chocolate instead of almonds. Ale wanted them and so tradition can go by the wayside on that one...

liuia drusilla said...

Hi! I'm a newbie here, I've been reading you since I found the gorgeous Nutella day post ^^.
Here in Spain we also give out confetti in celebrations (specially at baptisms), they're called "peladillas" and they're almost always white -but there's no problem with numbers as far as I know... Well, I can't remember my own baptism ;).
We eat peladillas in Christmas mostly, anyway ^^.
Auguri! ^^

Delina said...

Your blog is a wealth of information Shelley! I knew nothing about the number of confetti or the colour schemes!

Great choice about the chocolate confetti. Much tastier.

BTW shame you didn't go for the peacock confetti. ;)

Clare Krishan said...

Linked from Amy's OpenBook,
http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/2007/02/rome1300.html#comments
where I noted the Orthodox also use Jordan almonds in celebrations including Lent!

Please forgive me if my "trivial pursuits" kind-of-response to the issue of odd numbers seems like too much information, but reverence for odd numbers goes W-A-Y back, eg St. Augustine wrote in the 4thC:

"And at the same time we must bear in mind the meaning of the phrase, "replenish the earth." Marriage replenishes the earth, virginity fills Paradise. This too we must observe, at least if we would faithfully follow the Hebrew, that while Scripture on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days relates that, having finished the works of each, "God saw that it was good," on the second day it omitted this altogether, leaving us to understand that two is not a good number because it destroys unity, and prefigures the marriage compact. Hence it was that all the animals which Noah took into the ark by pairs were unclean. Odd numbers denote cleanness. And yet by the double number is represented another mystery: that not even in beasts and unclean birds is second marriage approved. For unclean animals went in two and two, and clean ones by sevens, so that Noah after the flood might be able to immediately offer to God sacrifices from the latter."
from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/30091.htm

Carole said...

Ciao Shelley,

I have been waiting for this post about the confetti. You have outdone yourself! You are so funny & informative in how you deliver your message. I had no idea they give them out for graduation too. I've been missing out on the collection!

I remember having to make all those bombonieri here in the States, although molto semplice compared to the extravagant ones in Italia. See, even some of us who left have to carry on tradition. The only difference here is that gli invitati are so happy to receive them.

I'm glad you're surrendering slowly to le tradizioni, why fight it or try to make sense of it. Hang in there, it's going to be a beautiful wedding and I will surely miss your postings as the time nears.

Gaby said...

Ciao Shelley,
I have arrived to your blog from Liuia's. In Argentina we have italian and spanish traditions and we eat "confites" or "´peladillas" in Christmas :)
I'm a knitter too; there are nice yarns in Italy.

Regards from Buenos Aires

Valerie said...

But where's the photo of your little bomboniere? The chocolate almond confetti are wonderful, btw. Sulmona is charming place. Glad you got the whole good luck thing straightened out. Phew. Who knew the secret to marital success was rooted in the number of confetti in the packet?

christina said...

Oh wow! "Tutti di confetti" indeed. I've only seen the pink and white almonds, I didn't know they came in all those colours and were used for something other than weddings. Thanks for the great information.

And I LOVE that confette peacock. Just imagine 100 or so of those guys filling up a room.

Gracie said...

Some tips:
- for 25 years of marriage, silver confetti
- for 50 years of marriage, gold confetti
For Baptism, there're three confetti because of the Father, Son and Holy Gosth
I'd like to see your bomboniere, me too!
Good luck for the arrangements of the wedding.

Michellanea said...

Shelley, I feel your pain. I too planned a wedding here and I think it was during that time I began to truly hate the phrases "Non si fa!" and "Si fa COSI'" My take on the wedding thing was that I am NOT Italian (how presumptuous and insensitive some people can be) and the wedding was the bringing together of two cultures, so we would do things OUR way come hell or high water. People insisted that guests (meaning the Italians; hello, Americans were coming too) would be scandalized that we weren't going to chain them to the tables for 12 hours for a multi-course meal. I did a sit-down/buffet mix, and everyone seemed happy to be up and moving about the whole night (maybe too happy - some extramarital lovin' supposedly took place under a tree somewhere during the dessert buffet). I crammed as many confetti as would fit in mini Chinese takeout boxes with NO baby's breath (this was another battle). If anyone asks, say that in America we put 8 confetti. It shuts them up.

riffraff said...

ok, Yet Another Opinion on the 5 confetti thing.

In the theory I know each one represents something good for the couple: good health, richness, long life, fertility and happyness.

And don't forget golden and silver confettis, for golden and silver wedding (25 and 50 years of marriage) :)

tinakala said...

Wow, the confetti thing is a precice art. But for example, Stonians have same kind of number magic going on concerning flowers, and yes, they also have to be an uneven number, of which 3, 5, 7 are preferred. Congrats on the upcoming event!

Susan said...

Oh, Shelley, I giggled all the through this post! I can so relate! Though I was married in RI, both my husband and I are Italian. And the "rules" were endless. I opted against the candy-coated almonds (I never could stomach them and went with chocolates instead). I think half the older women who attended the wedding still hold it against me, and it's been 11 years. ;)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Shelley this post had me laughing out loud at the internet cafe. I'm sure the man next to me wants to know what is so funny.

ci vediamo presto.

African Kelli said...

Even though I am deathly allergic to almonds, I still want to eat one of those flowers.
What is wrong with me?

TinkerBlue said...

Can't wait to see photos of, and read about your wedding.

I love those flowers, they are so cute.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

You guys are so funny! I'm glad I made you laugh. I'm still half-ashamed that I took 3 candies out of every box, but in the end, take Susan as an example... people, she's not exaggerating! That could have been me! ;-)

Molly said...

Shelley, I love your blog! In Hungary, when you give someone flowers, it has to be an odd number; I wonder if "indivisible" is the reason why (as in, our friendship is indivisible)? No one has been able to tell me why yet!

I was married in Budapest last year and had to laugh as I read this post. Who knows how many traditions we broke? Who knows how many are still talking about it? But my husband is the family's black sheep and I'm a foreigner, so they let a lot slip by! :-)

PS - I found your blog from your post on "As the Romans Do" & while I first breezed through it and more or less enjoyed it (it was "book candy"), I will have to go back and look at it from your point of view. I'm paranoid now about generalizations on my own blog! I think though that making generalizations is part of putting a new world in a context that you can understand, and the next level of understanding is seeing where you were wrong in your assumptions. That said, you would think Epstein would have been to that next level.

Cheers, and congratulations on your marriage!

Anonymous said...

If I can comment on the 5 confetti topic - the five confetti are used to represent wishes for health, wealth, longevity, fertility and happiness. Odd numbers are considered lucky and even numbers unlucky for both italians and greeks (who have the same tradition with the almonds and favors).

I am Jamie, and I am the US representative of Confetti Pelino mentioned in the blog. Happy to answer any other questions. You can reach me at info@confettipelino.com.

I LOVE your blog....truly captures the essence of italian wedding traditions.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Jamie, Thanks for the info. I did eventually put the number down to five in each container... Confetti Pelino are excellent and we also love the guy in the shop in Sulmona, so friendly! Hope your work sends you to visit Italy every once in a while :-)