Excerpt from Prologue, “In the Courtyard of the Five Giulias”

We are all Giulias, the girls in our family, named as a sign of respect  and according to tradition after our grandmother Nonna Giulia. We are the daughters of four brothers and a sister, and if we had been born in a different time we might have grown up all together, probably within the sun-bleached walls of an ancient villa, up in the mountains of Calabria or along the Mediterranean coast. My cousins and I would have never been alone.

Our days would have begun when we heard “Giulia, wake, it’s time” whispered into our dreams by the low soft voices of the old women, our duennas, who looked over us night and day. Still in white nightshirts, long hair falling, barefoot, we would rush across the stone floor of our night-chilled bedrooms, up the high steps leading to our windows. And in each small room the tall, crystal-paned windows would be pulled open and the heavy wooden shutters pushed out, open, and the rooms of the Giulias would fill with blue light and the soft warm breath of early morning. Leaning out on age-old windowsills of pink marble, we would call to one another until the courtyard echoed with the overlapping sounds of our names: Giulia di Nicola…Giulia d’Antonio…Giulia di Vito…di Rocco…Giulia di Sofi.

But the duennas, running up behind us with shawls outstretched, would scold us away from the windows, lead us back into our rooms, to small cushioned prie-Dieus so they could listen to our prayers. The hushed cadences of our hurried litanies as we petitioned for the health of our family, for the quiet repose of those we had lost, for the strengthening of our faith, for the forgiveness of our weaknesses, for humility, for grace. We would call on the Madonnas—di Lourdes, di Pompei. Beseech all the saints—San Francesco di Paola, patron saint of our land; Santa Giulia, our namesake; Sant’Antonio, of the birds; San Nicola of the sea.

Excerpt from Chapter One, “The Contadina Ladies”

They lied to me when I was young. What they taught me had nothing to do with the truth of the world. They lied to me with their promises and with their silences, and sometimes they lied to me outright.

“Your family are the only ones you can trust.”

“Believe us when we tell you this: The less you talk, the more you keep inside yourself, the better it is.”

“Better for a woman to be patient than beautiful.”

“Beauty is nothing if you have no one’s respect. Your reputation is everything.”

“Anything. Boys will say to each other anything and everything. Anything you do or say, they report to one another, and then your reputation is lost.”

“Save yourself for one man–we’ll tell you that now, clear as day.”

“The day will come when you’ll be grateful you listened. You’ll find a good, smart man who makes you feel like a million bucks. And what a wedding your daddy will give you! I see it already.”

“I see you with many babies, a nice house. Then your father, how proud he’ll be. Think of your father.”

“Your mother, God rest her soul, would have told you these things if she could. She’d want you to know these things. That’s why we tell you.”

“We tell you because we love you and want you to be happy.”

“Your happiness, Giulia, is the only thing we want.”

Reprinted with permission
The Courtyard of Dreams Copyright © 1993 by Anna Monardo Doubleday