On this day, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite Valentine's stories that I heard when I was a child. It always stayed with me and I have somewhat lived my life with this story as an inspiration.
It was 1955 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Dora Zazzetta was 19 and just stepping out into the world. The youngest of 4 children of Italian immigrants, Dora was by far, one of the most beautiful, most charming, and liveliest girls around. She had the dark, exotic beauty of a modern day Natalie Wood with the charm and innocence of Audrey Hepburn. And what was so engaging about her is that she went through life not realizing the effect she had on everyone she encountered.
It was 1955 and President Juan Peron was in power. Evita had died only 3 years before. Dorita (as she was called) was involved in all of Peron's art and educational programs which he, with Evita, had founded to promote and motivate the young generation of Argentina. As a lover of music and having an older sister who was a professional opera singer, Dorita loved to sing anywhere she had a chance and had the voice of an angel. It just so happened that on that summer of 1955, her student group had the opportunity to perform before President Peron at the most prestigious theater in Buenos Aires -- El Teatro Colon. Sitting at his presidential balcony, Peron heard Dorita sing and was enraptured by not only her voice but by the young girl performing with such life and vigor. He called her after the performance to his balcony and told her that he was so impressed by her talent that the government would pay through a special scholarship for her to study voice in Milan, Italy, for a year. She would be staying with the Argentina Ambassador's family in Milan during her studies and travel to and from Italy by way of an ocean liner.
Dorita was ecstatic about this opportunity. Little did she know that this would change her life forever. So she traveled to Italy, with a trunk full of handmade dresses her mother had lovingly sewn for her. They were too poor and too humble to afford new clothes, but her mother was so talented that she could make the most beautiful dresses out of hand me down fabrics. So off she went to conquer Europe in her handmade dresses and take in all she could from this once in a lifetime experience.
Six months into her year long trip, President Peron was overthrown and all government programs terminated. She was recalled back to Argentina and given a second class passage for her return.
Sadly that her luck had run out, Dorita did the best she could to keep her spirits up and those around her. El Corrientes, the ship carrying her home, was one of Argentina's most prestigious passenger/cargo vessels which at one point had been an American navy aircraft carrier but at the end of WWII sold to the Argentine government and refitted for passenger travel.
Still, second class was not as comfortable or well appointed as it probably should have been. Although she was not used to luxuries, as the daughter of Italian immigrants she was accustomed to good food which was nowhere to be had in second class. According to Dorita, boiled potatoes made up the majority of the meals and after a couple of days of that, she felt compelled to do something about it. As the "voice" of the second class passengers, she made her way to first class and was determined to "discuss" this situation with the captain of the vessel himself. She found the captain's quarters and knocked on the door. A well dressed older secretary opened the door and advised her that the captain was not to be disturbed as he was having his lunch. Well, I guess that pushed Dorita's buttons as she marched right past the secretary and into the Captain's cabin where she found the handsome 36 year old captain, fully decked out in his uniform, eating what seemed to be a 6 course feast. He looked up at her in surprise and was immediately enraptured by her beauty and determined look. Ignoring his greeting and offer to join him, Dorita just let him have it about the injustice of social classes and the issue of the boiled potatoes that her fellow second class passengers were made to eat. She was so into her ripping speech that she did not even notice the captain's smile throughout her discourse. When she was finished, she marched right out and felt that she at least had accomplished the task of telling the captain exactly what she thought of him and his ship. Little did she know that she had also captured his heart forever.
Needless to say, second class enjoyed a new menu from that day forward, but Dorita didn't really know much about it as she spent the next few days in the infirmary with a tremendous bout of sea sickness due to the ill weather they encountered.
When the sea finally calmed and Dorita began enjoying walks and games on the deck with the officers and friends that seem to always flock her, she kept looking up at the bridge where the handsome but alooft captain kept watch. Having had attained his position as captain at the young age of 27 (in fact, he was the youngest captain in Argentine merchant marine history), he rarely socialized with his officers as doing so, he felt, would not be proper or fitting. So he kept to himself, alone, while everyone enjoyed the transatlantic crossing. But in his heart he could not stop thinking about that young, beautiful, vivacious Italian girl in handmade clothes. And he watched her from above, envious and amazed that she could enjoy such a carefree life.
Finally, in their last port stop before arriving to Argentina, in Rio de Janeiro, he mustered enough courage to ask Dorita out on a day trip. Having been to Rio on various occasions, he knew the places to visit and the restaurants to go to. She reluctantly agreed (as she really wanted to go with the young crowd that was sight seeing that day) but she sensed a certain sadness and solitude in this handsome man who was not much older than the rest of the officers on board.
They spent the day together in Rio, he showing her all the wonderful spots in town and later, treating her to a lovely dinner at a small romantic restaurant by the port. There was something so charming about Dorita, so alive and so contagious. She could breathe life into anyone and everyone. She adored life and life, obviously adored her. He, for the first time in his life, felt truly alive and happy. Years later, he would tell people that life for him began when he met Dorita.
It would take many years, 7 years in all, for him to finally make the jump and marry her. It is a difficult story what transpired during those years, but needless to say, the two married and stayed married for almost 50 years until his death separated them. They had four wonderful children in all and they fought all of their lives for that family to always remain together.
I am so fortunate to have been the second of those four children.
Happy Valentine's to all.