Moretta

Moretta

by Bo_Emp

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Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.

1.

Giulia has taken a long bath and is now fresh and ready for a long busy day. It’s the monthly day for visiting her oldest sister Catarina, and she has been invited for lunch as usual at her twin sister Adriana, who will join her to visit Catarina. Her husband has left for work just before she came out of the bath. It would have been nice to have him to accompany her, but he can’t visit Catarina anyway, as she is a nun, living in a convent with minimal contact with the world outside. Female relatives can visit, that is all. Giulia has heard that the current fashion started as a special dress for women visiting convents. A part of the dress, the Moretta, ensures that women remain quiet, which was then only used in convents. Giulia has always suspected, that the nuns themselves like talking perhaps not quite as much as other women, but enough that to keep a wow of silence day after day, can’t be done without physical restriction. It is therefore natural that they require such measures taken for outsiders, who enter the convent for a few hours.

Her husband is a doctor owning a medical clinic, which gives an income for a life free of worries. Their house is large for two people. They pay a middle-aged couple, where he is gardener and doing maintenance, and she has a maid. Most of her dressing she can handle without a maid, but sometimes help is required or just nice, especially when undressing. The maid will not accompany her today either. First Giulia expects to be home late, and there needs to be someone to serve her husband and cook his dinner. Second the maid is pleased as well, as she can clean the house without being interrupted by the needs of Giulia all the time.

Giulia has just finished doing her hair and her makeup, which gives her a doll like face, when there is a knocking on the bedroom door “Yes,” says Giulia and the maid opens the door saying “I’m sorry to disturb you ma’am, but my husband is outside with a repair man. He says there is a problem with the plaster ornamentation, and they need to go through all rooms to decide what to do. It will take a quarter of an hour.” Giulia has plenty of time. She has counted on arriving at her sister for more than an hour before lunch to chat with her. A quarter of an hour later isn’t important, and besides men’s business always comes first. She says “Let them come in five minutes. Just put my gloves and my neck stretcher on, then I’ll put my dress loosely on, and tie it right, while waiting in the living room.” The maid starts with the lightly boned lace neckpiece and closes it around Giulia’s neck with small hooks at the back. Now Giulia’s head is locked in a fashionable high and upright posture practically making any head movements impossible. Meanwhile Giulia has put on a pair of thin white leather gloves reaching the middle of her forearms. A lacing from the wrist and up makes it impossible for herself to take the gloves off. Where the laces start at the wrist of the left glove hangs a short chain ending with a clip to lock the wrists together, when attached to a matching ring on the right glove. The maid laces her gloves. Giulia then puts the dress over her head loosely knotting its ties at the back of the neck, and puts on long white stockings reaching her knees. Ready to go she puts her feet in a pair of slippers. Then she takes her Moretta mask, which is always close by even when she is not wearing it. They go to the living room together. The maid continues to the entrance, while Giulia sits down in the sofa and masks herself.

A couple of minutes later she hears voices, and shortly after she sees the gardener with another man. The repair man obviously enjoys the sight of a beautiful and fashionably dressed mid-twenties woman sitting like a doll at the corner of the sofa. Giulia is sitting with her body turned sideways to have a full length view of the living room. It is bad manners changing position, while the men are in the room, so she only gets glimpses of them, while they cross the room a couple of times. After some minutes the men continue to the dining room, and shortly after she hears them move on to other rooms. In the meantime Giulia tightens the closing of her dress and ties it properly. Giulia has never talked to men except her father and husband. And with the same exceptions she haven’t shown her face to men since puberty. It is the privilege of women of wealthy families to show their beauty through what they wear, and to be able to protect their modesty by never talking to men. Giulia loves to walk through the town without being looked at for her female attributes of which she has plenty, but for her delicate dress. She can watch others without anyone can see, what her face might reveal about her mood or impressions. At about the time promised the maid is back saying the men will remain outside for a while.

Giulia takes her mask off and walks with it to the wardrobe in the hall, where her outer dressing is. First she checks herself in the full length mirror to make sure she is presentable to her sister and perhaps other women, she has invited. The blue silk dress with built-in bodice accentuates her breasts without showing anything, and its long sleeves and neck opening have beautiful lace edgings. The skin in the neck opening is fully covered by the lace of the neckpiece. Her head is the only part of herself showing. Her makeup and the neckpiece accentuates the look of a decorative doll that all fashionable ladies strive for.

Now she takes off her slippers and puts on long, nearly to the knees white leather boots with pointed toes and high heels. They have to be laced all way up the shaft. At the ankles facing the other boot small rings are attached. From the ring of the right boot hangs a small chain ending with a clip, which she connects to her left boot. Then Giulia covers her head with a white embroidered linen hood with lace edging. With a drawstring the face opening of the hood is reduced to leave only her eyes, nose and mouth free. Most of her chin and her cheeks are covered along with her neckpiece and a part of her blue dress. She takes her long thick outer dress in red with gold embroidery and puts it on. It has an even wider neck opening, but due to the hood her indoor dress does not show. She reaches to the back of her neck to tie its cross-tied laces. The dress nearly touches the ground all way round and has long wide sleeves ending with a large bell opening. At the waist of the dress a hand muff in fur is permanently attached. The last dress item is a black silk veil, which she puts on top of her head. The veil reaches below her elbows. Her view has become dark and blurred, but orientation is no problem. With one hand she lifts its front and with the other she puts her mask on. The mask is held in position, not by straps, but by a leather covered wooden protrusion going into her mouth. She simply clenches her teeth around it, until she wants to take it off. This of course means she is mute while wearing the mask. The mask is beautifully crafted and shaped in soft thick black leather. It has only two nearly circular openings for the eyes, restricting her breath a little, as the only airway is through the eye openings down to the nose. And sweat has to evaporate through the openings as well making the face hot quickly. Giulia rings for the maid. Then she folds her hands inside the muff. After a minute the maid comes and with a skilled movement she finds the clip inside the muff and attaches it to the ring of the opposite wrist. Giulia is now locked inside her dress and unable to do much, as she can’t unlock her wrists by herself.

The maid opens the front door. Giulia carefully starts walking. She is only able to take small steps due to her chained boots. And due to her straight neck, she has to bow at her waist, if she wants to see what’s immediately in front of her, which further impedes her walking. Besides walk a little and see a little she can only do, what a fine lady is supposed to do in public: Nothing. She is a slow moving dress and nothing else. But she advances towards her sister’s house slowly but surely. She has to walk less than two kilometres, which will take her nearly an hour. Her husband has clearly instructed her always to walk, when visiting her sister, or other places at similar distance. As a doctor he knows how important exercise is to maintain good health.

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2.

The streets are busy. Men and women of all kinds, from ugly to pretty, from children to old and from poor to rich are seen. But when it comes to fine ladies beauty and age are impossible to find out. These women differentiate only in dress details like colour or embroidery. Giulia is confirmed in her highly fashionable look, as colours from red to yellow are dominating among the Moretta women. Although she is walking very slowly, she gradually gets warmer, because the clothes don’t let the small amount of heat she is producing get away, and the late spring sun, even on a hazy day like this, heats her layers from the outside. Nearly an hour later, when she reaches the door of her sister’s house, she is feeling hot all over, and her hood is damp especially on her chin, where it collects the sweat running down her face under the mask. A bell is hanging from a rope at head level. As she can’t pull the string, she has to push the bell itself with her head to make it sound. A few gentle rings are sufficient, as she is expected. Adriana’s maid opens the door.

Inside the maid unlocks her wrists saying “Welcome. It is Mrs. Andretti?” Giulia bows a little as a yes, and the maid continues “You may unmask and walk into the living room, as Mr. Leopardi has agreed to stay in his study until Mrs. Leopardi calls him. May I offer you a towel?” Giulia removes her veil, mask and hood, and is handed a hot damp towel, which feels refreshing on her red glistering face. While holding the towel against her face the maid has untied her outer dress at the back of her neck. Giulia drops the towel on the floor, as the maid lifts her dress at the back and at the shoulders removing it. Her outdoor dress gone Giulia can check her blue dress and tidy her hair. And a shelf under the mirror contains items to fix her makeup. The maid has left with her clothes, which she will dry and brush, before putting them in the wardrobe. Satisfied with her appearance, Giulia takes her Moretta and walks into the house with her small steps. In the living room are three women. In an armchair sits Raphaella, sister-in-law to Adriana, and on an ordinary chair next to her sits a masked and veiled woman, which Giulia assumes is Raphaella’s unmarried daughter Valentina. At one end of a sofa sits a woman about thirty, whom Giulia does not know. Bowing for the three other Giulia sits down in the other end of the sofa. She has to sit on the edge to be able to turn her body to look at the other woman saying “As you might have guessed I’m Mrs. Andretti, Adriana’s twin sister. But please call me Giulia.” The woman says without looking at Giulia “I’m Mrs. Borelli, Sabrina. I have become acquainted with Adriana, because our husbands have business relations. And then I live out near the convent, meaning I’ll join you on your way out there.” Giulia sits back in the sofa now facing Raphaella saying “Nice to see you again Raphaella. It’s been a long time. And now Valentina could go for a married women, were it not for her mask and veil. Are there any plans for her marriage?” Raphaella says “It’s good to see you again Giulia. You still look like on your wedding day. No, there are no definite plans for Valentina. She has just turned sixteen, so it can wait for a year perhaps two, without becoming a subject for rumours. But of course my husband and I are making inquiries.”

Then Adriana enters the room immediately saying “Welcome dear sister. You must excuse me I haven’t been here to receive you. The maid needed an extra pair of hands in the kitchen for some minutes. But everything goes as planned. Lunch is ready in an hour. You have said hello to Sabrina?” Sabrina and Giulia bows. Adriana continues “And a wonderful dress as always … But I see there haven’t been any women of the house in here since your arrival. I can’t have an indecent sister able to run unnecessarily around.” Saying that Adriana bows down in front of Giulia and puts her chained hands between Giulia’s boots to move her chain clip, so it clips the rings on her boots directly together. Then she clips Giulia’s wrist chain to the opposite wrist. Now, like the other guests, Giulia is unable to walk and to do much on her own. Adriana sits down in the empty armchair. She is wearing gloves, neckpiece and dress like the others, but has only slippers on her feet, and for that can move her legs freely. But of course she sits with her legs close together, and as she wears gloves, her maid has locked her wrists together before leaving the kitchen. Now she is sitting with hands folded in her lab and her mask covering her hands like the other. There is a lively talk among the four women about clothes, the latest rumours and scandals, and who would be a good match for this and this maiden, as women all over the world has always done during all times. Valentina can only listen and learn, and that is why she is present.

The maid enters standing in front of Adriana waiting. After Adriana has made her saying in the current subject of the conversation, she adds “Yes maid?” No one speaks for a moment, then the maid says “Lunch is ready ma’am. May I go for Mr. Leopardi, who would like to say hello to his guests?” Adriana says “Yes that would be fine maid.” While the maid goes out all the women except Adriana grab at their masks and put them on. Two minutes later Mr. Leopardi stands in the door to the living room. He says “Welcome in my house Mrs. Borelli , Giulia, Raphaella and Valentina. It’s always a pleasure to give a lunch, where women can meet, solve all their problems and create new ones. I wish you all an enjoyable meal and a nice visit to Catarina.” Then he returns to the study, where the maid meanwhile has brought a tray with his lunch. As he leaves the maid enters. The three women put their masks down in their laps again. Next the maid goes to the two women in the sofa to move the boot clip from holding the boots together to chain them together, while Adriana does likewise for Raphaella and her daughter. They all walk with their limited steps and locked wrists into the dining room. Valentina is closely following her mother. They choose to sit as in the living room, with the two women from the sofa on one side of the table, and the two women from the armchairs on the other. Finally Valentina is seated at the end closest to the living room. They all sit a little out from the table, as they must have room to bow their torso to see what’s directly in front of them on the plate. The maid now gets down on her knees crawling under the table to move the boot clips once more to lock the ankles together again. Up again she then goes around the table unlocking the wrists of the four women. They are ready to eat. Valentina is still masked, veiled and with locked arms. She will have a late lunch, when coming home. Now the chat continues mixed with eating and drinking for another hour. The maid supervises what is going on, so she from time to time can take out empty dishes, bring new or refill and keep their glasses filled. As long as everything is in order she just stands in the doorway hands folded in front of her. As times goes by talking increases, drinking decreases and eating has almost stopped.

Raphaella, knowing that the maid must be at the door, gestures her to come, and says in a low voice “I would like you to move the boot clip of Valentina and me. We’re going to the bathroom. The maid crawls under the table. Raphaella and Valentina rise, Valentina moving behind her mother, and they follow the maid to the bathroom, where they both enter. Raphaella handles the clothes for Valentina, so she can use the toilet without using her arms. Then Valentina uses the toilet herself and they go back to the dining room. Raphaella stops at the end of the table saying “Thank you for a lovely lunch Adriana. It’s been a pleasure talking with all of you. You have a new appointment soon, so we won’t delay you. Hope to see you all again some time.” A mix of goodbyes comes from around the table. Valentina and Raphaella go with the maid to the entrance. At the wardrobe the maid unclips Valentina’s wrists, while Raphaella takes and holds her veil. For a brief moment Valentina removes her Moretta, while the maid puts her the hood on. She immediately puts it back on and then she lifts both her arms to receive the outer dress, which the maid puts over her head. As soon as Valentina has her arms in the sleeves the maid ties her dress. Meanwhile Valentina puts her hands in the muff and Raphaella locks her wrists together. Raphaella then places the veil on Valentina’s head again. Valentina is ready to go and Raphaella can now dress herself. She puts the hood on herself. Then she holds her hands high and the maid puts her dress over the head and ties it. Now Adriana is with them to say goodbye. She just kiss cheek to cheek with Raphaella and then holds her mask in front of her face. When Raphaella opens her mouth wide Adriana presses the mask lightly against Raphaella’s face, who bites down to be masked. Raphaella places the veil on her head and as an extra goodbye holds both hands to Adriana who takes them in a squeeze. Then Raphaella puts her hands in the muff, Adriana locks her wrists, and Raphaella and Valentina walk out the door, which the maid has opened. Adriana sees Valentina following Raphaella very close on their way to the street. The only difference between the dress of married women and maidens is the thickness of the veil. Maidens like Valentina can only just see moving objects, so if she stops tailing Raphaella closely, she is lost. Raphaella can’t keep an eye on Valentina often, because to do this, she has to stop completely and turn her entire body.

Now Adriana changes to boots and they all puts on their outer dress helped by the maid. Adriana says “Are we ready to mask?” Giulia says yes, but Sabrina says “I’m ready, but at the square outside the convent I would like to show you something.” Adiana says “Ok, you take the lead at the end.” Now they all three mask, veil and put their hands in the muff, and the maid locks their wrists.

3.

The three women slowly walk towards the convent. It’s nearly the same as walking alone, as they can only communicate with each other, or others for that matter, by bowing or twisting their torso. The convent is close by. They reach it after only thirty minutes of walk having covered a distance of 800 metres. Now Sabrina slowly moves away from the convent across the square in front of it. They are in front of a cafe opposite the convent. Sabrina goes up close to its wall and bows, touching a sign on the wall with her head. Giulia goes up next to her and reads the large letters “WOMEN ONLY ROOM INSIDE” They enter the cafe and immediately a man behind the counter comes and guides them to a door at the back, which he holds open, while they pass. Inside a waitress meets them and unlocks their wrists. They take off their veils and Morettas. The small room with six tables of four chairs has only two free tables, and they sit down at the closest. The waitress arrives immediately with three small towels saying “Do you want your ankles locked?” They all say yes while towelling their faces. The waitress then bows down at each of them locking their ankles together. When finished she says “Coffee or tea and perhaps a piece of cake?” While thinking they all hand the towels to the waitress. Giulia says “Coffee and cake please.” The others say “I would like the same please.” The waitress goes.

Adriana turns on the chair facing Sabrina and says “What a brilliant idea with a cafe for women. Where did you learn about that Sabrina?”
Sabrina says “I live close by remember. I pass here nearly every day, but of course I haven’t read the sign. Women rarely look at signs while veiled. The sign is for men, who pass it to their wives. I was shopping with a friend some weeks ago, when we passed, and then she did like I did for you, walked up and touched the sign.” The waitress arrives with their orders. After drinking and taking a bite Gulia says “Have you been here often?” Sabrina says “I think this is the third time. It’s the first time it is nearly full. Maybe it’s because it’s visitors day at the convent.” Giulia turns on her chair to look at the other tables. Except at one table it’s all Moretta women. But of course working women can in general not afford to come here. The non-Moretta women are probably accompanying some of the ladies.

She notices two women still masked and veiled in here. Maidens like Valentina, who are always masked and veiled except when sleeping, bathing or explicitly asked something by their parents. Giulia thinks of her own time as maiden. She was very proud, when her parents told her that now she was a young woman and gave her a Moretta and veil. But even though she had seen what little older girls could do, it was a shock from her innocent childhood life. First of course she was immediately nearly blind, second she had to get used to only listening and never expressing her own views, and then whenever her mother did not want her to work, her arms and legs were locked, meaning she could do nothing. Shortly she felt it like a relief to walk somewhere with the small restricted steps, after hours in a chair with legs and arms locked. She had of course been angry often at the beginning and tried to cheat a couple of times. The mask was easy enough to remove, but the few times it went off either because of her anger or by accident, and it had been spotted, it had been strapped to her head and she has been sent to bed immediately fully covered and locked up. Depending on her father’s judgement she had been administered from a few days to one month sleeping with wrists, ankles and neck locked and in mask and veil. She had also for a month or so pleaded her parents at all occasions to find her a husband as soon as possible, to be able to decide some more herself. But after something like six months, she had got used to it. She was beginning to like the feeling of protection and anonymity in public, and she accepted her movements were restricted and controlled by others. She soon found that it really was educating sitting like a fly on the wall, which nobody took notice off, while all sorts of scandals, rumours and erotic subjects were discussed among the women her mother met with. During all that time, when none of them were punished, her twin sister was usually close by, as she of course received the same education. But it was like being alone, as they could never talk and often not see each other. And then came marriage, which was a return to freedom, where she most of the time herself decided when to mask and when to be chained. She had of course learned that restriction of women showed their high status, was fashionable, made them behave properly and avoid accidental misbehaviour. All of which was highly desirable, and if there were no strange men in the house, she could just call the maid to get free. While all these memories has crossed her mind Giulia has emptied her cup and plate.

Sabrina addresses her “Giulia, you have been turned towards the other table for several minutes. Is there something wrong?” Giulia now turning directly towards Sabrina says “No. It is just those maidens missing this fine coffee and delicious cake, which made me think about my own years like that.” Then Adriana comments the subject “I detested my life like that at the beginning, like you did I remember Giulia, but then I got used to it, finding our parents knew what they were doing, and now I sometime wish I was more veiled and restrained unable to do something about it, just like a maiden.” Giulia says “I have these feelings as well from time to time, but if you really want to live a restricted and secluded life, you should have become a nun like Catarina. Which reminds me that we are on our way to visit her. The clock on the wall up there has just passed three, we better go.” They gesture the waitress, pay and say goodbye to Sabrina. Then they mask and veil and the waitress locks their wrists and gets their ankles changed to be able to walk. They all three walk out in the square, where Sabrina as a final goodbye makes a deep bow and then goes to the right, while the twins walks to the convent entrance.

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4.

The outer door can be pushed both ways, allowing restrained women like Giulia and Adriani to enter just by leaning against it. Inside is a small room for waiting, while a nun is called. This is done with a bell string, which comes out of the wall to the left of the door leading further on. The string is thick and attached to the wall allowing it to be moved by weighing down on it by hands in a muff. Today there is no need to ring. At the monthly visiting hour there is usually a line of waiting women, and when the twins enter there are two women waiting. To the right of the door is a sign hardly readable through Giulia’s veil. But she has waited many times before and knows, what it says, as she sees it: ‘No speaking allowed inside the convent. Men only admitted if absolutely necessary. Women only admitted wearing Moretta’. Giulia thinks this sign must be many years old, dating back to the times, when convents have introduced the Moretta to allow women visitors to enter, with minimum risk of breaking the silence. Since then the idea of keeping women silent more generally had spread out in the society, so it is now worn by all patrician women, to allow them to go around in public without revealing their identity, neither by showing face nor their voice. This convent wants so little outside contact, it has limited visits to female relatives only, and to one hour the first day of each month. If this falls on a Sunday, visits are moved to the following day. This allows the visits to take place in the privacy of each nun’s cell, and to avoid any coincidental contact between nuns and visitors. Two older nuns take care of the visitors, and the rest of the convents approximately sixty inhabitants, at most meet their own visiting relatives.

Ten minutes after arriving it is their turn. A nun is holding the door open. As they enter close to each other, she understands they are together. Inside the next room, she unlocks the wrists of the first to enter, which is Adriana. She then folds back her veil to let her look at a list of the nuns hanging on the wall. Her gloved finger has found the name Catarina, and she holds her finger there for the nun to see. The nun then goes to a pole sticking out of the wall with a lot of cotton ribbons hanging over it. After some searching she has found two with the name Catarina embroidered at one end. First she ties one around Giulia’s left arm at the elbow, then she does likewise with Adriana, who meanwhile have veiled and put her hands in the muff, so the nun can chain her wrists. Now they have to wait for someone to guide them to Catarina’s cell. While they wait Giulia once more admires the simple but fully covering habit of the nuns: A plain black gown touching the floor all the way round has no sleeves, but two slits from where long white gloves appear when necessary. A white circular collar is lying over the shoulders. The head and the neck is covered by a white hood. But attached at the top of the head and flowing down the back to the thighs is a black veil. In the face opening of the white hood is revealed a white piece of cloth thin enough to show two darker areas where the eyes must be. It suggests the eyes are just covered by the thin cloth and the rest of the face further covered under the cloth. The nun has written Catarina on a list of visits and has put her hands inside her gown. She is standing facing the wall with her head bowed. Nuns do not wear neckpieces.

After some minutes waiting the door leading inside the convent opens and another nun gestures them to enter. As soon as she has closed the door her hands disappear inside her gown. They are in a large hall with several corridors and a staircase leading both up and down. The nun goes to the upgoing stairs. She turns around waiting for them. She walks much faster, which shows her legs are unchained. When they reach her, her hands appear through the slits and she bows down and unchain their boots. Now they can cautiously walk up the stairs, with the nun behind ready to support them, as it is still difficult in long dresses, which they can’t lift, and no arms to keep balance or hold at the rail. On top their boots are chained again and now they walk down a long corridor. At every 3 metres on both sides are doors with a small name plate to their right. It is totally silent except for the clicking of their heels, the barely audible sound of their ankle chains and the sound of clothes moving. Giulia knows there is a nun locked up behind most of the doors. Just before the corridor ends the nun goes to a door on the left. She slides the door bolt open and pulls the door towards her.

To the left covering the entire length of the room is a bed. The floor to the right of the bed covers approximately the same area. Up against the outer wall opposite the door is a closet a little higher than a human. High upon the outer wall is a window giving plenty of light, but so high it doesn’t allow a view over the convent’s fine garden and the countryside behind. The walls and ceiling are white. The only wall decoration is a crucifix at the end of the bed on the corridor wall. The entire floor is covered by a plain brown woollen carpet. Kneeling on the carpet with her head to the floor and nearly touching the closet is Catarina. She remains in that position as they enter. The nun taking them here gestures them to sit on the bed, which is without bed linen, just a mattress. Sitting very close, and Giulia touching the corridor wall, there is just enough room to avoid touching Catarina. As soon as they sit the nun at the door bows down and locks their boots together. Then she leaves locking the door behind her. Giulia figures it has taken a little more than half an hour to get here from the cafe. It means it is not yet twenty to four. The visiting hour is from four to five exactly. They can only wait and maybe pray like Catarina.

The minutes feels long in the complete silence, Giulia even thinks she can hear her own heart beat. Suddenly the sound from a close by bell tower is sounding through the entire convent. Giulia counts, one, two, three, four. They are both sitting a little sideways to be able to just partly see Catarina. She has hardly moved since their arrival. After what feels like a minute her head slowly rises, she gets to a standing position and turns slowly round facing them. But of course her face is just a white cloth surface like the two other nuns they have seen. Now her white gloved hands appear and she bows down to Adriana, who is closest. First she flips the front of Adriana’s veil down her back and then she unlocks her wrists. Next she puts her hands on her upper arms and greet her cheek to cheek, or rather cloth to mask. Then she takes a side step to the left and does likewise to Giulia. She turns momentarily away to take a large notepad out of a drawer in the closet. On top of it with large letters is written ‘Giulia’. She holds it front of Adriana, who moves her torso from side to side and points to Giulia. Now Catarina knows it is Adriana in the yellow dress and Giulia in the red.

Following on the paper in normal handwriting size is a number of questions, she first shows to Adriana, pointing to each line until Adriana have read it and either move from side to side or bows. It is questions like: Have anyone in your home been ill since your last visit? Have you heard from out of town relatives? These are shown to both sisters, who in the rare case of an answer apart from no or yes is handed a pen to write a few words next to the question. Then there are some specific questions Catarina has thought about like: Has Valentina been engaged? and Has Giulia’s gardener planted new orange trees? Towards the end of this session the bell tower has sounded once. It is half past four. Adriana writes: How is the convent garden growing? Catarina writes: Fine oranges and potatoes, lemons not so good. Giulia writes: What is your current needlework? As an answer Catarina turns to the closet and opens a drawer, showing a partly embroidered table cover. The subject of cloth and the late afternoon sun lighting Caterina’s face makes Giulia write a question, she after so many visits still doesn’t know: Can you explain how your face is covered? Catarina hesitates. Giulia wonders if she is surprised she doesn’t know, or if she thinks Giulia wants Catarina to unveil. To help her, she hands her the pen, expecting she can describe it with a few words. But now Catarina opens another drawer and takes an item in each hand. As she turns and holds them in Giulia’s field of vision, she sees that it is a mask and a thin scarf. She’s wearing a white Moretta under her white cloth. To make sure they understand, she put the mask in the hand of Adriana, making her to hold it vertical at its mouth protrusion. Then she takes the scarf, which is a little wider than the height of the mask, put it over the mask and make a loose knot of the ends. A surface closely resembling the face of a nun appears. Giulia is enlightened. If convents have promoted the use of Morettas outside, it is of course natural that they use them inside. Maybe they have been used for many years before a black version for visitors was introduced.

As the subject is now clothes, Catarina writes some questions about what Adriana and Giulia is wearing. After writing answers, the pen is back at Catarina: Have you got any new fancy dresses since your last visit? Catarina is just about to hand the block to Adriana as the bell tower sounds. Instead she drops the pen and note block on the bed, pulls her hands inside her dress, turns around and down on her knees. Giulia haven’t heard the third bell stroke before Catarina is totally immovable, looking exactly like when they arrived. Adriana takes the pen and paper and writes at the bottom: ‘Have a nice time until next. Best regards Giulia and Adriana.’ Then she puts the pen and paper down on the bed again, pulls her veil down and puts her hands in the muff and Giulia locks her wrists. Giulia is veiled as well. Now they only have to wait for Catarina’s name to be reached on the list for visits.

Giulia is thinking about the white Moretta and the scarf. The combination both makes them silent and completely covered including the eyes, making them able to fully concentrate on their prayers and their work. She is only completely covered, when going out, where she wears the large veil. But of course the nuns are living a simple life without eating snacks or having coffee breaks, which make it acceptable to have to take of veil, hood, scarf and Moretta to be able to eat and drink a few times a day. As far as Giulia knows their dining tables are separated, so each seat is like a small box, where they can eat unseen by others. Eventually a nun unlocks the door. She chains Giulia’s wrist and moves their boot clips and they walk towards the stairs. After unchaining the boots, walking down and chaining again they reach the entrance room. Here the nun simply removes their identification ribbons, hangs them back on the pole and holds the door to the entrance open. Their visit at the convent has ended.

5.

They head directly for Adriana’s house. Half an hour later they say goodbye outside the house by leaning cheek against cheek. Giulia has only made one third of the distance home. She’s a little tired after a long day. And she’s beginning to feel hungry. But at least the sun is less of a problem now than on her way out. As before she slowly but surely advances. Finally at home she immediately completely undress and takes a quick bath before quickly eating her dinner alone. She goes to her sewing box and works for some time. Then she is ready to have tea with her husband in the living room. He is already sitting in one of the armchairs reading the evening paper, as she sits down in the sofa opposite him. The maid brings the tea and biscuits, looking for some long moments at Giulia before she leaves. It is not appropriate for her to comment on the whims of her employers. Her husband puts down the paper and then notice her saying “Why are you wearing the Moretta now? … And your eyes are covered!” Giulia takes off her Moretta, showing her eyes are covered by a black silk ribbon disappearing behind her hair and covering from the middle of her nose to just above the eye brows. At the bottom there is a lace edging. Her eyes are just visible as completely dark spots behind the slightly transparent cloth. Giulia says “Yes covered. What do you think? Now it is impossible even for men seeing a woman indoors to see how she feels about them, or anything else for that matter. There has been a gap, or rather two holes, in our protection from men. By ingratiating themselves with a family they have been able to see if a woman loved them or resented them, as the eyes are the windows to our soul. And unfaithful wives or maidens could flirt with strange men. The face must be covered completely to protect women against the intriguing of men.”

After drinking some tea Giulia says “Have another look.” She puts the mask on. Her husband after looking for a minute and drinking says “You’re right. I can only barely see your eyes moving. It is impossible to tell what they express. I agree. It is much better than wearing Moretta alone, but it is not as easy to put on and remove.” Giulia takes the mask off again and says “You’re right. It is more like the neckpiece, which you put on when going out or receiving guests to be fashionable. You wear it all the time, both with women alone or with the Moretta, when men are present. That’s why I added the lace edging. I think of it as a fashion item, that adds a little mystery to the uncovered face. I’ve made this from a plain old stocking, but it could be made with endless variations to the lacing and with embroidery on the visible surface. Of course it reduces ones sight somewhat, but as you can see I’m still able to eat and drink, and women are used to careful orientation to avoid tripping with restricted legs and arms. But I tried it with the outer veil on top. The combination makes a severe reduction of sight. It’s like wearing a thick maiden’s veil, where you’re just able to see contours and moving objects. It’s either a thinner outer veil or you have to be guided in public. For me it wouldn’t be a big problem. You often accompany me anyway. And when not, like when visiting Catarina, the maid will have to come, even if it might be a little inconvenient for you, and she has to postpone the things she do, while home alone.” Her husband says “I agree. I think you have come up with the next big fashion trend. When women restrict themselves and cover with a Moretta, which disables speaking, their favourite occupation, to be fashionable, I can’t see walking around blind in public changes much.” He was right.

Copyright © 2006, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com

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