I Regali di Ornella

Ornella’s gifts

The last note had ceased to echo in the grand hall. Giovanni didn't play often, but when he did, it was to underscore the moment. It was his preferred way of contributing to significant occasions. His style, though not a professional pursuit, held admiration, especially considering his inclination towards lively jazz—a preference not always aligned with Ornella's taste. For her, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and, to a certain extent, Chet Baker epitomized jazz, transcending generational boundaries.

Snow had begun to settle on the fields, and the landscape was starting to resemble a cherished white Christmas card. Family gatherings, once more frequent, had thinned out since the new generation had started their journeys, even away from the hills of Tuscany. Christmas remained the most important time to reunite. Total white was the family's unwritten rule: a white Christmas was a value everyone agreed on. Whether it snowed or not, everyone followed the custom of dressing in the purity befitting the occasion.

'A dress is a garment. A garment is a habit. And a habit is what says who we are.'

Ornella had repeated this to her granddaughters when they asked about this tradition. In the days leading up to it, the chaos of arrivals had disrupted the quiet routine of the farmhouse, filled with walks among the vineyards and attentive care for the horses.
Alice was the last to arrive but the first to want a complete tour of the estate. Her flight had been delayed due to bad weather, and the worry of not making it in time for dinner had accompanied her throughout the wait.

The look between Ornella and Alice, as she stepped out of the car, was one of understanding. Grandmother and granddaughter had always had their language, unknown to the rest of the family. In what might seem a distracted expression, Ornella could read the child's disappointment at the rain preventing her from going to the stables or traces of a quarrel between cousins.
Overtime, Alice became adept at reciprocating sentiments with a mere twitch of the lip, comprehending her grandmother's opinions on Giovanni's music without the need for spoken words.

As they linked arms to tour the villa, Alice delighted in feeling the fabric of Ornella's Isveita trench coat. Like when she was a child, her fingers traced the grooves along the sleeves, stopping at the hem that fastened the button. Her grandmother's figure was that of a mature woman who had maintained a slender line, and the overcoat, kept in place by a belt wrapped but not tied, lent her an air of natural elegance. A bit tighter, and it would have accentuated her decisive character; a bit looser, and it would have revealed her awareness that went beyond mere appearances.

The cold of the fields had taken Alice back to the years when Ornella had taken her to a village festival in distant lands. In the midst of diverse languages, varied traditions, and far-reaching ceremonies, Alices grandmother imparted the wisdom that traditions are the life force that animates our world. Alice had lost herself in the colours of the festival clothes.

“Color is the joy of life: you have to know how to dose it to give it meaning. White is not its absence, but the simplicity that makes it stand out.” Ornella had told her, letting her try on one of her necklaces. Alice often remembered this lesson when she started transitioning from business suits in the office to evening dresses. Even under a less bright sun, thousands of miles away, the rule was still valid for her: it was her way of staying true to the family, even if her professional choices had led her down other paths. Discussing it with Thomas, her boyfriend, she wondered if there was a sense of guilt in this and if Ornella had sensed it.

The snow-covered scene blanketing the trees led to a post-dinner gift exchange. On the ground, a bright mantle reshaped the landscape and muffled the sounds coming from the farmhouse. The sincerity of the gesture could not be influenced by anything else. Only the youngest were allowed the exuberance of childhood, and after a dinner of impatience, they were able to hide under the piano legs, where the parcels awaited them.

Alice, who had impatiently suffered this decorum in past years, was the first to find herself there, now that for her the pleasure was in giving rather than receiving gifts. With the charm of the family matriarch, Ornella had led the change of scene after dinner. Her confident steps made her Acqua Amara dress sway, the fabric of which rose to encircle her neck, echoing her elegance. Instead of her necklace, an elegant cameo was prominently displayed on her chest, securing the dress's drapery. “This is for you, Alice.” she had surprised her granddaughter with a box that appeared out of nowhere. The composed gratitude of her niece sought Ornella's face, who now granted her that exception not allowed to other adults. The ribbon yielded with little resistance.

White was worn and white was in the box. Inside, a splendid Raffaello shirt presented itself to her eyes, a nod to the icons of others times and seasons, reminding Alice of Ornella's summer receptions. A memory of lands of the South and earth scorched by the sun, of men and women authentic in their simple beauty. Lifted in length, the shirt hinted at the shape of a woman inside: one could guess the figure in the soft fabric of the puff sleeves, refined by a sophisticated play of materials that ensured their movements composed freedom. On the collar was the same button as on the grandmother's dress: a finely chiselled cameo, its bronze standing out against the whiteness of the garment.

“This is for the path you've chosen: even in the office, style matters.” the words reached a still-smiling Alice. “...and this,” she continued indicating the other package from which a dress similar to the one Ornella was wearing could be guessed, “is to remind you that there's more to life than just career.”