From Wendy, our guest blogger:

But no one else seemed to be. Just then, Valentina came rushing out a different door and said apologetically that she had to meet a client for 30 minutes and could we get something to eat?  My mom was pleased.  We put our suitcases in the boutique, and just as we were walking out, I noticed a somewhat shy, handsome man in the alley who I recognized immediately to be Giuseppe Papini himself!  Valentina introduced me to him and said that he wanted to see how was my body like?  He was very kind and shook my hand and immediately looked me over, like a master mathematician with a new problem to solve.  I felt self-conscious in grey tights, faux Mary-Janes, a grey high-waisted skirt, and a green and grey checkered sweater; oh, and no make-up, since I made the rule for myself that if I didn’t look good in the dress without make-up, then I wouldn’t look good at all.  But my plain appearance didn’t seem to affect Giuseppe or Valentina, and Valentina led us away to a modern-looking cafe to eat lunch on them.  My mom and I just smiled knowingly at each other and ate our first lunch in Bergamo.

Valentina returned shortly and we were back off to the boutique.  She had 2 helpers with her, and one of them, a red-head named Erica, carried in a large clothing bag.  Valentina said that they had brought a sample to make sure this is the one I would like?   I went into the fitting room, and to my surprise, Erica and the other seamstress went in with me.  I had to reveal my ugly old bra and the holes in the toes of my tights… and they needed me to take off my bra!  Oh the horror!  But I decided to get over being self-conscious and rise to meet this moment.

When I stepped out of the dressing room in the dress, and saw myself in the large mirror across the room, I swelled with pride and thanks that I had chosen to allow something this good happen to me.  I looked at my mom, and I could tell that she knew this was what I was thinking, and that she was also thinking it and was so proud of me.  (We have always been “poor”, so all of this was way more than either of us had ever felt we deserved or believed could even happen.)

The girls pinned in the dress to make it fit me just right.  Then, they called in Giuseppe Papini.  It took every ounce of my strength to keep composed under these magical circumstances.  The designer of my dress circled me like how I imagine Michaelangelo would have circled his Madonna.  I felt like his model, and I assumed the role as coolly as I could.  Then, he started to change things in the dress; a shoulder, the train length, the back of the dress.   Valentina told me that he never does this, but since I had come all the way from California, he wanted to give me something special. The girls also slid some long gloves up my arms, and Giuseppe slid them down to the elbows so that they bunched in high-fashion around my wrists.  The finished product was something fitting for Grace Kelly or Jacqueline Kennedy to wear; and here I was in it.  I just couldn’t believe it.  My heart was bursting, and I squeezed Giuseppe’s hand and looked at him as warmly and thankfully as possible.  He smiled at me genuinely and seemed to thank me in return for having come so far on faith in his work.

[Join us tomorrow for part four.]