Need to get married? Call the Carabinieri


The Carabinieri — like the firemen — are always on hand whenever something hideous has occurred.   Wrecks, suicides, etc. are always dealt with by this remarkable corps; think of them as the Police Who Must be Obeyed.   (Not like all the other police around, or at least so it seems.)   The Carabinieri are serious, get-it-done officers, and never mind all the jokes at their expense.   (Example: Why do carabinieri always go on patrol in pairs?   Because one is the one who knows how to read, and the other is the one who knows how to write.   Ba-dum.)   Let me add, before anyone else does,  that they are a serious military entity on serious military duty in several places in the world, such as Iraq.

But let’s imagine — actually, you don’t need to imagine it, because it happened a few days ago — that you are a couple who has just arrived, as per months-in-the-planning,  to get married at the Villa Giustinian Morosini in Mirano, a lovely 18th-century villa in a smallish settlement along the Brenta river between Venice and Padova.   Friends — check.   Family — check.   Ring, flowers, photographer, check.   Celebrant?   Celebrant?   Official marryer-type person?   Hello?

The minutes tick by, and while I suppose somebody might have ventured a jest about at least the bride being on time, the mood could not have been what I would call festive.   The groom especially was not amused.   Because while it appears that in a civil ceremony you don’t get to choose your celebrant, you know there’s supposed to be somebody standing in front of you asking you a batch of questions and then signing some papers.

The absence of the expected official quickly passed “annoying” and was on a straight trajectory toward “insane.”   Minutes were ticking by with no sign of anybody prepared to marry these two crazy kids.   And the kids were getting crazier.  

The Carabinieri look extremely fine, even in their everyday uniform -- unless you've just done something really wrong.

The Carabinieri look extremely fine, even in their everyday uniform -- as long as your conscience is clear, that is.

So the groom calls the Carabinieri.   I love this guy!   Because while I suppose that  if he had been feeling slightly less tense, he might have called the firemen (my celebrant is stuck up a tree and I can’t get married), he knew that the Carabinieri are implacable.   They are both civil and military police, and Lino has told me that the humblest carabiniere outranks a four-star general and an admiral of the fleet.

The Carabinieri  take this seriously as any other official infraction, immediately  contacting the vice-mayor to ask what’s going on.   (I’m thinking about how amused he was to get a call from the Carabinieri.)   He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he checks the list of who’s on duty that day as the mayor’s representative.    It  turns out that it’s  a town councilor named Luigi Coro’, and the problem isn’t him, it’s the person who was on duty the day before.

Because while the bride and groom have been tapping their toes, and their watches, Mr. Coro’ has been wildly searching the municipal offices for the “wedding packet” which contains all the necessary documents, and the official register, and the tricolor sash (red, white and  green, the colors of the Italian flag) which he has to drape across his chest to signify his official status as representative of the government of Italy.   No  packet, no wedding.

So why can’t he find it?  (I imagine him emptying wastebaskets, checking the refrigerator.)  Because the person who was on duty the day before forgot to tell anybody where he put it.   I know — let that sink in for a minute.   “Oh, just put it down anywhere…”   And then, as I say, he forgot to notify anyone.   Just…. forgot.   Quittin’ time!

Meanwhile, the vice-mayor himself has arrived — the Carabinieri do tend to get your attention —  to try to keep everyone calm and the tarps on the lifeboats, and ready to step in as celebrant if  Mr. Coro’ doesn’t manage to show up.   (The vice-mayor can do  it without any of the accessories, evidently, or can produce his own, or something.)  

It must have seemed like years had gone by -- maybe even centuries -- before the celebrant finally showed up.

It must have seemed like years had gone by -- maybe even centuries -- before the celebrant finally showed up.

Forty-five minutes after the appointed time, which must have seemed much longer, Mr. Coro’ shows up with all his accessories, and the ceremony proceeds.   The vows are exchanged, the deed is done, and the two lovebirds  can finally get on with the rest of their lives, starting with the  reception and continuing on to the honeymoon and having kids and grandkids and trial separations and hip replacements and so on.

The town government was very nice about it.   They not only sent the couple   a telegram, they also gave them a 50% discount on the use of the room.

I’d like to think that the Carabinieri got some kind of acknowledgment — maybe even a thank-you —  though probably they don’t expect it.   “Just all in a day’s work, sir.”

Or maybe one of them caught the bouquet.   The one who knows how to read.

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  1. Gary Beck says:

    What’s the difference between the Carabinieri and the Polizia in Italy? I’ve often been confused to see both of them with seemingly (to the foreign tourist) similar duties…

    Someone told me that the two exist so that neither can “take over”, but I’m not sure I believe that…


  2. Erla says:

    Let me give a very rough and possibly over-simplified explanation, meaning no disrespect to either of these noble corps. The Carabinieri are one of the four Italian Armed Forces. They’ve got fairly broad powers; depending on the situation, they can act either as police or as military. The Carabinieri are military police. In fact, the Carabinieri started out as border police combatting smuggling — but the Police aren’t military. The Polizia are part of ordinary common-garden-variety “public service” (sounds better in Italian). So when there’s a moderate problem like a family fighting or something — it’s the police who step in. If it’s homicide, the Carabinieri intervene. Also, the Carabinieri are apolitical, while the police have a union. The Carabinieri are in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the police aren’t. As for the risk of one or the other “taking over,” I’m not sure where that idea came from. In the US we have a number of different public-order-keeping organizations, each with a different purpose and responsibility, and I’m not convinced they all exist because of some fear of a potential coup of some sort on the part of one or the other. Same thing in Italy. I hope this helps!