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Poem: "Husband by Hand" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Husband by Hand"

This is your free serial poem, selected by the audience in a poll, since the September 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl met the $150 goal.  It was prompted by laffingkat and jenny_evergreen.  minor_architect also wanted to see another Fiorenza poem with magical aspects, and marina_bonomi and I have been discussing Italian fairytales.  One of my favorite fairytales has been written down with such names as "Sir Marzipan" or "Mr. Semolina," and an Italian version is "Pintosmalto."  However, Fiorenza takes a rather more practical approach.  If you look closely, you can see multiple motifs that are traditional to European fairytales.

Sfogliatelle  are Italian pastries that resemble seashells and may contain various types of filling.  Filone  is an everyday yeast bread.

See a lovely illustration of "Husband by Hand" drawn by meeksp.


Husband by Hand


In Fiorenza's village there lived a merchant
and his two lovely daughters.
Otoniel wished for his daughters to marry,
but they kept refusing.

One day the younger daughter, Bettina,
came to Fiorenza and said,
"There is no man in this village
that I want to marry,
but my father will not leave me alone."
Then she showed Fiorenza an old, worn book.
"I found this book of spells in the attic,
in a trunk that belonged to my mother.
I want you to help me make a husband."

"Could you not simply go with your father
to Fermo the next time he needs to trade?"
Fiorenza asked, dubiously riffling through the book.

"I asked," Bettina said as she spread her hands,
"but he refused to let me travel with him."
Fiorenza snorted.  "Then he must not want you to wed
all that  badly, after all," she said.
"Well, I don't particularly want to die an old maid, either,"
said Bettina.  "Won't you help me?"
"I suppose we can at least look at the spell,"
Fiorenza relented.

"Here, this is the page," said Bettina.
Fiorenza read the recipe and the incantation
that came with it.  A frown grew and grew as she read.
"Half a hundredweight each of Palermo sugar and sweet almonds,
bottles of rosewater, rubies and pearls and thread-of-gold ...
a trough of rosewood and a trowel of silver?"
She threw up her hands.  "This recipe is ridiculous!"
Fiorenza declared.  "If you made a husband out of this,
he would look like a foreigner,
and doubtless run off to marry some princess."

"Well, what do you think I should do?"
Bettina asked.

"We will just have to make a new recipe for the spell," Fiorenza said.
"You may certainly ask your father for some sugar and almonds,
but we will need flour and a pair of dried plums as well.
You must gather some eggs and milk a cow,
to give your husband a connection to this village.
We will scrub out a watering trough and mix the dough in that.
Then you must shape your husband with your own hands
and tell him all your hopes and dreams.
Finally we will ask the baker to let us use his largest oven,
and you will have a husband made of good country bread."

"What about the gold?" Bettina asked.
She pointed to a line in the spell.
"It seems important."
Fiorenza laid a fingertip on Bettina's locket
that the girl wore in remembrance of her mother.
"You already have all the gold you will need."

So they gathered up the sugar and flour and dried plums.
Bettina worked hard to find the rosy eggs
and to milk the patient red-gold cow.
Fiorenza helped her clean the trough, but insisted
that Bettina do all the kneading with her own two hands.
Meanwhile Fiorenza prepared a batch of sfogliatelle
and filled the pastries with sweet almond paste.
She enjoyed baking as a hobby, though she wouldn't want
to do it for a living.  The two women worked all night.

Near dawn, they laid out their dough on two boards.
Bettina removed her mother's locket from around her neck,
kissed it one last time, and pressed the golden heart
into the chest of the dough-man. 
They recited the incantation over him,
but they would not know if the spell succeeded
until he came out of the oven.

Next they carried everything to the baker.
"We are baking a great many almond sfogliatelle,"
Fiorenza said to him.  "If you let us borrow your big oven,
we will give you some of the pastries after they are done."
Fond of Fiorenza's baking, the man readily agreed.

It was so early that nobody else was around to see them,
and the women quickly stuffed the dough-man into the oven
while the baker was busy with his own work.
Then they added the sfogliatelle  and closed the door.

Fiorenza and Bettina lingered
to keep an eye on their baking,
though they were quick to pull the baker's goods
out of the other ovens when the loaves of bread were done. 
The baker thanked them absently,
already busy with the first customers of the day.
Fortunately he was engaged in selling a basket of filone
when the screaming started.

"Help!  Help!" yelled the bread-man.
"Let me out of this oven before I burn up!"
Fiorenza yanked open the door
and Bettina pulled him out of the oven.
He had a round face with toasty skin,
dark eyes and dark brown hair.
"My name is Arrigo," he said to them.
Fiorenza left him to Bettina
while she took out her sfogliatelle.

"Now, what was all that noise about?"
the baker asked as he hurried over to them.
"Oh, we were just worried that the pastries might burn,"
said Fiorenza.  "I'm sorry if we distracted you.
Here, have some almond buns."
She filled a basket for him, and collected her own,
and then she was ready to leave.

But when Bettina and Fiorenza turned around,
the bread-man was nowhere to be seen.
"Where is Arrigo?" Fiorenza asked.
"I don't know!" Bettina wailed.
"I pushed him just around the corner
so that the baker wouldn't see him,
and I told him to stay there, but now he's gone!"

They looked and looked,
but they found no sign of Arrigo.
Fiorenza clenched her hand on her basket,
and Bettina sniffled, trying not to cry.
At last they gave up and parted company,
heading toward their homes.

As Fiorenza walked past the church, however,
she heard Bettina's sister Bianca arguing
with Don Candido.  Bianca wanted him
to perform a wedding at once, while he protested
that it would be improper without her father.

Now Bianca was a lazy, greedy girl
more interested in a man's looks
than in his ability to be a good husband.
She had not shown interest in any of the village lads,
so naturally Fiorenza became suspicious.

Fiorenza snuck up on them and peeked into the church.
There stood Bianca with an arm around Arrigo.
Quickly Fiorenza ran to find Bettina.

"You must bring your father to the church at once,"
Fiorenza said to Bettina. 
"Your sister Bianca is trying to marry Arrigo."
"How can I stop her?" asked Bettina.
"Well, Don Candido won't perform the ceremony
without your father present," said Fiorenza.
"Once you bring your father to the church, you must
tell him that Bianca is trying to steal your intended."

"What if Arrigo likes her better?" said Bettina.
"All the boys say that Bianca is prettier than I am."
"You made him with your own hands," said Fiorenza.
"Find some way to remind him of that."

Fiorenza hurried back to the church.
"There is no need to fight like cats on a fence,"
she said to Bianca and Don Candido.
"Bettina is bringing her father here,
and I have plenty of sfogliatelle  to share
with any guests, so there is no reason
why a wedding cannot take place shortly."

Bettina showed up with Otoniel in tow,
plus a number of other villagers
trailing along to see what was going on.
"Arrigo is to be my  husband, not Bianca's,"
Bettina announced before the crowd.
"No, he's mine," her sister protested.
Arrigo said nothing.

"This is no way to behave in a church,"
Don Candido scolded them. 
"Clearly you are not ready to get married
if you cannot even agree on who is marrying whom!"
Both Bianca and Bettina were pleading with Arrigo.
"Well, who did you intend to marry?"
Otoniel demanded, turning to him.
Arrigo only shrugged.

"I'll just remind him who he really loves,"
said Bianca.  She grabbed Arrigo and kissed him.
He gave no sign of approval or protest.

Next Bettina clasped Arrigo's hand in hers
and pressed her other palm to his chest.
"Remember who gave you her heart," she said.

Then Arrigo smiled.
"You did," he said to Bettina.

Bianca squealed in outrage
and stormed out of the church.
The other villagers crowded near, though,
eager to see if there would be a wedding after all.
Bettina looked at her father, who nodded his head. 
"You have my blessing," he said.
"I just want to see you happily married."

So Don Candido conducted the ceremony
and Fiorenza handed out almond buns to all the guests,
and Bettina took her husband by hand and led him away.

When Don Candido later pulled Fiorenza aside
and asked her how Bettina and Arrigo came together,
Fiorenza just smiled and said, "I may have had a hand in it,
but Bettina was the one who knew what she kneaded."

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21 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: September 16th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
*giggles* That's awesome!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm happy to hear that.
thesilentpoet From: thesilentpoet Date: September 16th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

I love the play on words there at the end, well done. Well done, indeed.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad that worked for you. I had fun with it.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 17th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
And a pun at the end... XD

Yes, I see a lot of European fairy tale motifs in there. Nicely done! :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 12:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>And a pun at the end... XD<<

Yeah, it just popped up like that. Hee!

>>Yes, I see a lot of European fairy tale motifs in there. Nicely done! <<

Thanks. I like leaving eastereggs for my readers.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 17th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Cute! I, too, like the final pun.

Almonds in the sfogliatelle filling, and none in the final recipe for a husband? Good country bread is more sensible than marzipan, to be sure, but if almonds are readily available, why not keep some in the recipe? Maybe as eyes, assuming that's not what the plums are for ...

And I do wonder at how little thought Otoniel and Don Candido (though he at least asks, afterward) -- and Betina, for that matter -- are giving to where Arrigo came from. Is Otoniel really that desperate to see his daughter(s) married that he doesn't ask anything about the groom beyond which girl he's interested in?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>Cute! I, too, like the final pun.<<

Yay!

>>Almonds in the sfogliatelle filling, and none in the final recipe for a husband? Good country bread is more sensible than marzipan, to be sure, but if almonds are readily available, why not keep some in the recipe? Maybe as eyes, assuming that's not what the plums are for ...<<

That's what the dried plums are for, yes. *ponder* I was focused on shifting the recipe from candy to bread. Almonds are a possibility, if they are reasonably found in savory Italian breads. Something to ask marina_bonomi about, perhaps. I don't know all the recipes myself.

>>Is Otoniel really that desperate to see his daughter(s) married that he doesn't ask anything about the groom beyond which girl he's interested in?<<

Yes, he is that desperate. And since this is the same man who couldn't be bothered to take his daughters husband-shopping in Fermo, I'll add that Otoniel isn't exactly made of brains either. A lot of handwaving past obvious questions occurs in fairytales. Here, I hinted at some of the underlying reasons.

Don Candido doesn't entirely approve, which is why he raises the objection. (Fiorenza isn't the only person suspicious of Bianca's sudden production of a groom.) But it's sort of his job to marry people, so there's a limit to how much resistance he can pose, unless they're cousins or something.



kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 17th, 2011 07:03 am (UTC) (Link)
How savory is the bread going to be, if she's using just as much sugar as she would have in marzipan? With sugar and eggs and plums and nuts, that could be a lovely rich sweet bread, but I don't know if that's at all traditional in Italy. (I was thinking panettonne, but the only recipe I've turned up so far that used almonds other than in the icing was for a chocolate-cherry-almond variation that sounded delicious but very non-traditional.)

(Eyes were totally not where my brain went with dried plums.)

Your characters are usually at least a bit are more three-dimensional than most fairy-tale characters. Otoniel and Bianca don't get much stage time to demonstrate more than one, though, and it's not really their story. Don Candido has less excuse, as an already-developed character, and while it is his job to marry people, is not plausibly also his job to counsel people to make good marriages that will last? Or at least to remind them that marriage is a serious committment into which one should not enter lightly?
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

*laugh*

For the *ahem* husbandly accessories one is better off using dough, which can be shaped and sized according to one's taste.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: *laugh*

Of course. If I were basing this on Spanish culture, it would be all about the eggs...
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 17th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
We both need to get our minds out of the gutter? :)
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 18th, 2011 06:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Okay...

I have added a reference to the almonds being in the bread recipe.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 19th, 2011 12:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Okay...

! I didn't mean to twist your arm into editing the poem -- I was just surprised.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 19th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Okay...

It's fine. Not a major change, and a plausible one.
tuftears From: tuftears Date: September 17th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)
*arghs at the last line pun* };)

*throws a koosh*
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: September 17th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
We do use almonds in baking, and it was an even more common ingredient in the Middle Ages and Renaissance cooking, marzipan though is of Arab origin ans a staple of Sicilian cooking, it's fitting, in my opinion that Fiorenza suggests a more 'local' version for the enchantment (sfogliatelle, per se come from Naples, but maybe Captain Marino gave her a recipe).

As for Don Candido, well nowadays one can't get married in church without a pre-marriage course and having the bans out, but it wasn't always so. In Manzoni's 'The Bethrothed' (set in the early 17th century) the protagonists attempt a marriage 'by stealth' by surprising the priest (together with 2 witnesses) and saying 'In front of God and these witnesses this is my wife / husband', the marriage would have been legal. I'm definitely not going to nitpick on canon law (a little earlier than this a Bishop in my dioceses had to write a letter reminding his priests that baptizing with anything else than (holy) water made the baptism invalid and that using wine or spirits had no justification whatsoever).

It's likely that a wedding like this would have had the goodwives talking for quite a while: 'You know the merchant, Otoniel? Rich as Cresus he is, has been pressuring his girls to marry so much that they end up fighting in church over the husband to be. And you know what? He didn't even give a quattrino for the wedding feast, all that poor girl had were some almond buns Fiorenza baked.
Granted, the herbalist can bake,she has taken after her grandmother, but who has ever heard of a wedding feast like that? '...

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 18th, 2011 07:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Okay...

>>We do use almonds in baking, and it was an even more common ingredient in the Middle Ages and Renaissance cooking, marzipan though is of Arab origin ans a staple of Sicilian cooking, it's fitting, in my opinion that Fiorenza suggests a more 'local' version for the enchantment <<

I put the almonds into the bread recipe. Thanks for the confirmation!

>>(sfogliatelle, per se come from Naples, but maybe Captain Marino gave her a recipe).<<

It was the only thing I could find that seemed like a reasonable fit in this context. Most of the pastries I found were either all wrong, or seasonal ones.

I do like the idea of Fiorenza collecting recipes from all over. It's the kind of thing she would do; she is cited as "the best baker" and this fits with that. Plus someone could easily barter a recipe for her goods/services. Hm, must keep this in mind for Fermo.

>>In Manzoni's 'The Bethrothed' (set in the early 17th century) the protagonists attempt a marriage 'by stealth' by surprising the priest (together with 2 witnesses) and saying 'In front of God and these witnesses this is my wife / husband', the marriage would have been legal.<<

*LAUGH* Yeah, Christian history is full of some weird stuff, even after you get past the heresy phase when they were killing each other over divergent interpretations. I think Fiorenza's world is a little more laid-back about religion, but Don Candido still indicated that Bianca was pushing the limits farther than he considered acceptable.

>>I'm definitely not going to nitpick on canon law (a little earlier than this a Bishop in my dioceses had to write a letter reminding his priests that baptizing with anything else than (holy) water made the baptism invalid and that using wine or spirits had no justification whatsoever).<<

0_o Wow. I do know of a couple references to outrageous behavior of priests in Fiorenza's area that may come up eventually.

>>It's likely that a wedding like this would have had the goodwives talking for quite a while: 'You know the merchant, Otoniel? Rich as Cresus he is, has been pressuring his girls to marry so much that they end up fighting in church over the husband to be. And you know what? He didn't even give a quattrino for the wedding feast, all that poor girl had were some almond buns Fiorenza baked.
Granted, the herbalist can bake,she has taken after her grandmother, but who has ever heard of a wedding feast like that? '...<<

Exactly! Two eligible young women poke around looking for something. Noisy argument in the church. Bit later, one of the women drags her father to the church. By this point, everyone in earshot knows that something is going on, which is why the villagers are trailing Bettina and Otoniel into the church. In a small community, that's entertainment for the next month or so.

Yeah, Otoniel is never going to hear the end of that.
21 comments or Leave a comment