Women in balance: Today

Davide Rampello

In the mornings I often go for my regular double-shot espresso (large cup, please) at the small pastry shop on the corner.

The sweet smell of butter blends with the fragrant aroma of vanilla pastries and the various brioches. I savor the dense froth in the cup, with deliberate slowness.

People come, people go. It’s the Milanese version of a ritual played out all over Italy.

At the till, the waiter’s welcoming smile soon allays any notion of haste.

Behind my Sri Lankan friend I notice a sign in gold letters, decorated with tiny stars and a half-moon: “Tout commance par un reve.” I am charmed by the gentle sound of the words and the long, lingering note of that final syllable.

I may, perhaps, have found the ingredient that was missing for a more complete understanding and interpretation of Wanda Ferragamo’ story.

Sunday, August 7, 1960, was perhaps the most tragic and painful day for Wanda Ferragamo: the day her beloved husband died.

Yes, Salvatore had departed, but she was not alone.

She had six wonderful children and in her heart she had the energy and the dreams that, together with Salvatore, she had devised, created, and made part of her life. Her deep love kept her going in her desire to carry on, to turn those plans and dreams into a reality.

In Act IV of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final work, the bard rounds off his tale of kings, usurpers, and magic with two extraordinary lines that reveal, and convey, a unique and surprising comment on the nature of man: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

This is nothing short of a poetic synthesis of the new man that Italian Humanism had created, and shaped…

Dreams, visions, and plans determined the nature, the substance, and thus the quality of the woman or man who conceived them.

In stating that “He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind,” Leonardo referred to the absolute determination of those who do not get distracted when they have a goal to achieve; this is the sentiment that is found throughout the industrious Renaissance. However, Shakespeare alighted upon a truth that goes beyond Leonardo’s obsessive determination.

What you imagine, and dream, or plan, pursue, and accomplish will determine your nature. If the dream is big and driven by noble intentions, your nature will also be so. If it is not, then your nature will tend toward brutish intentions, as Giovanni Picodella Mirandola put it, writing some time earlier.

Ten years prior to Salvatore Ferragamo’s demise, the movie Cinderella came out in postwar Italy’s cinemas. This is the fairy tale attributed to the Brothers Grimm that Walt Disney produced, and turned into a magical, wonderful piece of cinema.

The soft, mellifluous voice of Ilene Woods in the part of Cinderella can be heard singing: “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” This happened to reflect very much the spirit and nature of Italians who, having left behind them the pain and horrors of war, had embarked on a project of reconstruction, in an attempt to realize the dream of a free and prosperous country that was on its way to economic and social wellbeing.

It just so happens that, a few short days after that tragic August 7, on Thursday 25, the 17th Olympic Games were opened in Rome. The dozens of hours of Eurovision broadcasts produced by RAI offered an image of the accomplishment of the Italian dream.

An image of efficiency and new-found beauty. The Olympic Village, the stadiums, and the sports facilities bore witness to the nature of this dream and the genius of its designers: Pierluigi Nervi, Luigi Moretti, and Adalberto Libera.

Wanda Ferragamo, who up until then had lived alongside one of the leading lights of this fantastic Italian dream, decided to continue the project and herself become one of the protagonists of this rebirth.

Her decision was swayed by love: to fully accomplish the dream conceived together with the man with whom she had decided to live. Her “nature” was nourished and shaped in the awareness of this major project.

Love, understanding, rigor, education, sensibility, intelligence: talents which, in equal measure, allowed her to be a loving and thoughtful mother and a far-sighted, shrewd businesswoman.

Her actions, deeds, letters, and writings all reveal her gifts of quiet thought and reflection, her cultural references, and her great faith in life.

Aequilibrium, from the adjective aequilibris = of equal weight (aequus = equal; libra = weight): when the two scales bear an equal weight.

Work, family, responsibilities, difficulties, the people one cares for and loves, grief and pain, plans, hope… must all be harmonious parts of the “dream,” they have to be in a state of balance in our very core and in the substance of things.

Wanda very much sought and desired this balance.

Today, on top of the constant, chaotic din of the obsessive display of people’s ordinary, everyday details, we see the violent effects of the ailments afflicting the planet: pollution, climate change, drought, desertification, and the reduction of biodiversity. Now,violence and horror threaten our lives.

The personal experiences that many contemporary women have chosen to narrate in the film that accompanies the exhibition reveal a clear-sighted awareness that each one has of herself. Some express this with a natural tenderness, others with cynicism, some with bitterness, others with intense feeling.

And when it comes to balance? In some cases, this is an inherent part of daily experience, in others it is absent.

What emerges is a striving after and a desire for determination, backed up by an awareness—that prerogative of women—of their “biological autonomy,” which in some instances will go on to form a different social group, or community.

To go back to the words of the English bard, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”—what are these women’s dreams exactly, and their plans for the future? Above all, what is the substance that gives sustenance to them and to their desires?

Hearing their voices, what I pick up on is a dis-enchantment that makes them totally in control of the “material” aspects of life but distances them from the “song of life.” Wanda Ferragamo and the women who, like her, lived through the years of the “Italian dream,” managed to hear the song, the “chant” that gave substance to their dreams and projects. And this may, perhaps, be why their stories, even today, still en-chant us.