Summer in Italy is traditionally a time of marital infidelity. Not that Italians are terribly faithful to begin with; depending whose statistics you believe, many or most have betrayed their husbands or wives, and some do it regularly, at any time of year. (For the record: NOT speaking from experience here.)
But, when everyone’s away from home, things get even wilder. There’s a saying: “Ferragosto, moglie mia, non ti conosco,” which requires some explanation.
Ferragosto, on and around August 15th, is the big summer holiday, when you can confidently expect that EVERYTHING will be closed and almost everyone will be away from home. August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but having a holiday at this time reflects the long-standing Christian tradition of co-opting the older pagan festivals, in this case the month-long RomanÂ feriae Augusti(feast in honor of Augustus, the deified emperor). Nowadays, “Ferragosto” refers to the week or so around the 15th, as well as the day itself, much as Americans would refer to the “4th of July weekend” (note that Italians take a week, while Americans only get a weekend!).
So the translation would be: “[On] Ferragosto, wife of mine, I don’t know you.”
I perceive a dual meaning in this that I’m not sure was originally intended. Obviously the husband is speaking, so it could mean: “Wife, I’m pretending I don’t know you because I’m with my lover.” Or it could be the man taken aback by his wife’s behavior: “I’ve never seen you like this.”
Either case apparently applies. Every summer there are stories in the paper about people being caught out by mischances. Some years ago the police, in an effort to curb street prostitution, published the license plate numbers of men caughtÂ in flagrante in their cars with prostitutes. There were loud complaints about the invasion of privacy, and several cases which probably ended up in divorce court: the men had been ostensibly working hard back in the cities while their families were on vacation at the seaside. Their wives were not pleased at what hubby was doing for recreation, outside of all that hard work.
Today there’s a tongue-in-cheek editorial inÂ Il Corriere della Sera about the dangers of cellphones during the summer vacation: how do you stay in touch with your lover, while spending intensive time with your family? A call at an inopportune moment will require a level of acting improvisation that most of us simply aren’t up to, and your spouse will be watching like a hawk for the opportunity to grab your cellphone and review its list of calls made and received (erasing the list is an admission of guilt). The article concludes: “If you have nothing to hide, you can have fun watching others. Every time a cellphone rings on the beach, in a restaurant, or in an alpine refuge, look around you: you’ll see terrified husbands and wives.”