Sunday, June 01, 2008

lettera d'amore

The other night after dinner Lara proudly presented us with her son Davide's first (of many) love letters. Davide, whom I mention from time to time here, is 5-and-a-half. He and I build drippy sand castles together at the beach. He knows my Italian is not so sharp and so it's usually me who builds the sand castles while he barks out instructions and keeps an eye out for anyone in a bikini who might stomp on it. After a few bikinis walk well past he usually stomps on it himself.

That's Davide. He's a typical boy. He loves his plastic monsters, The Gormiti, his Power Rangers and gelato with panna. He is mad for DVDs like Monsters Inc. and Wallace & Gromit (sub-titles don't matter to him) and race cars. Now he's old enough to get love letters. Or una lettera d'amore.

I have to admit, before I'd even seen the letter, I was a bit dismissive. Sappy love letters are for girls. And love letters written by small children with shaky penmanship and poor grammar is the stuff only a mom could swoon over. So when Lara handed it to me, already safely sealed in a protective laminate, I wasn't expecting much.

How wrong I was. Our deconstruction of the letter went on at least a half-hour, and could have gone even further, but everyone at the table shut me up. This love letter was a piece of genius, twisted, sappy genius. Call it Shakespeare meets Wes Anderson.

Davide's admirer is six, a full six months older than Davide. The maturity shows. Let's call her C. (It's only fair.)

With your typical love letter, of course, the formula rarely changes. You get a single narrative line, particularly with those who've mastered only the present tense and cannot go more than three words before mistakes pile up on the tracks and those unsightly scribble corrections start to mar the narrative flow. Between the blotches there is the address to the object of the desire ('Dear so-and-so' or 'My dearest so-and-so'); feelings are communicated ('When I see you I feel...'); wishes and hopes are expressed ('I want us to live together forever...') And, an x-filled salutation seals the compact.

C ripped up the old formula and started at work on an incredibly detailed plea that was dripping with symbolism. Firstly, she took the sheet of paper and turned it landscape-wise and divided the sheet into separate message boxes for the full effect. In one of the message boxes she wrote (and I am translating here)

Dear Davide,
I want us to have three, or six!, small children. I love you. C

C repeated the "ti amo" elsewhere, which is a sweet touch because Italians usually use the less specific term of endearment "ti voglio bene" ('I want you well'). Don't get me started on "ti voglio bene". It could be the least romantic line in any of the Romance languages! When I hear it I cannot help but feel the recipient is being cheated, like the speaker is considering his or her options. The proper response to "I want you well" should be, "You damn well better!" which translates roughly to "lo dovresti!"... In any case, C doesn't fall for the banal trap that her Roman classmates might. Nah, she poured out her heart using the most literal, unambiguous term of endearment there is. You go, ragazzina!

The rest wasn't so clear. C took a piece of wool material and sewed a pocket, which she glued to the lower right hand corner. Inside the pocket she placed, naturally, a single die and a plastic Spiderman wristwatch. The die, Stefano believes, symbolizes that her feelings for Davide is a game of chance. A roll of the dice. Yep, pretty much sums it up. The Spiderman watch could be a reference to "forever" or to the promise "I'll be waiting for you to turn 6 like me". To Davide, it meant Spiderman! In fact, Davide went right for the wristwatch when the letter was presented to him after school. He didn't bother with much else, which had us all feeling the poor girl has cruelly learned far too quickly in life that Roman men are more interested in fancy wristwatches than expressions of "ti amo". We all sighed in unison.

We're not finished with the letter though. The capper, for me anyhow, was the paper itself. The letter was written on the back side of a page that had been snared from an instruction manual. On the flip side was a photocopied page -- Chapter 23 of an instruction guide to Lotus Notes, it read.

The symbolism? We had no explanation.


claire said...

Lovely story! And I know exactly what you mean about "ti voglio bene" - what a cold phrase for such a warm culture... :)

Anonymous said...

Lovely letter... but aren't kids growing up a bit too quickly nowadays?? Geez, there's plenty of time for heartbreak and heartache in her future.
Call me a fogey but when I was 6, the last thing on my mind was "love"" or boys. I just wanted to play with my friends.