The Angelini Shoe Company, one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village, has been making exquisite wedding shoes since 1903 but now teeters on the brink of financial collapse. To save their business from ruin, thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli—apprentice to and granddaughter of master artisan Teodora Angelini—must bring the family's old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century. Juggling her budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother in a quest to build a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals. And in the course of discovering her true artistic voice and so much more in la bella Italia, Valentine will be turning her life and the business upside down in ways she never expected.
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Read an Excerpt
Leonard's of Great Neck
I'm not the pretty sister.
I'm not the smart sister either. I am the funny one. I've been called that for so long, for so many years, in fact, that all of my life I thought it was one word: Funnyone.
If I had to die, and believe me, I don't want to, but if I had to choose a location, I'd want to die right here in the ladies' lounge at Leonard's of Great Neck. It's the mirrors. I look slimsational, even in 3-D. I'm no scientist, but there's something about the slant of the full-length glass, the shimmer of the blue marble counters, and the golden light of the pavé chandeliers that creates an optical illusion, turning my reflection into a long, lean, pale pink swizzle stick.
This is my eighth reception (third as an attendant) at Leonard's La Dolce Vita, the formal name for our family's favorite Long Island wedding factory. Everyone I know has been married here, or, at least everyone I'm related to.
My sisters and I made our debut as flower girls in 1984 for our cousin Mary Theresa, who had more attendants on the dais than guests at the tables. Our cousin's wedding might have been a sacred exchange of vows between a man and a woman, but it was also a show, with costumes, choreography, and special lighting, making the bride the star and the groom the grip.
Mary T. considers herself Italian-American royalty, so she had the Knights of Columbus form a crossing guard for our entrance into the Starlight Venetian Room.
The knights were regal in their tuxedos, red sashes, black capes, and tricornered hats with the marabou plumes. I took myplace behind the other girls in the pro-cession as the band played "Nobody Does It Better," but I turned around to run away as the knights held up their swords to form a canopy. Aunt Feen grabbed me and gave me a shove. I closed my eyes, gripped my bouquet, and bolted under the blades like I was running for sane.
Despite my fear of sharp and clanging objects, I fell in love with Leonard's that day. It was my first Italian formal. I couldn't wait to grow up and emulate my mother and her friends who drank Harvey Wallbangers in cut-crystal tumblers while wearing silver sequins from head to toe. When I was nine years old, I thought Leonard's had class. Never mind that from the passing lane on Northern Boulevard it looks like a white stucco casino on the French Riviera by way of Long Island. For me, Leonard's was a House of Enchantments.
The La Dolce Vita experience begins when you pull up to the entrance. The wide circular driveway is a dead ringer for Jane Austen's Pemberley and also resembles the valet stand at Neiman Marcus, outside the Short Hills mall. This is the thing about Leonard's: everywhere you look, it reminds you of elegant places you have already been. The two-story picture windows are reminiscent of the Metropolitan Opera House, while the tiered fountain is strictly Trevi. You almost believe you're in the heart of Rome until you realize the cascading water is actually drowning out the traffic on I-495.
The landscaping is a marvel of botanical grooming, with boxwood sheared into long rectangles, low borders of yew, privet hedges in cropped ovals, and bayberry sculpted into twirly ice- cream-cone shapes. The manicured shrubs are set in beds of shiny river stones, an appropriate pre-motif to the ice sculptures that tower over the raw bar inside.
The exterior lights suggest the strip in Las Vegas, but it's far more tasteful here, as the bulbs are recessed, giving the place a low, twinkling glow. Topiaries shaped like crescent moons flank the entrance doors. Beneath them, low meatball bushes serve as a base for the birds-of-paradise, which pop out of the shrubs like cocktail umbrellas.
The band plays "Burning Down the House" as I take a moment to catch my breath in the ladies' lounge. I'm alone for the first time on my sister Jaclyn's wedding day and I like it. It's been a long one. I'm holding the tension of the entire family in the vertebrae of my neck. When I marry, I will elope to city hall because my bones can't take the pressure of another Roncalli wedding extravaganza. I'd miss the beer-battered shrimp and the pâté rillettes, but I'd survive. The months of planning this wedding nearly gave me an ulcer, and the actual execution bestowed on my right eye a pulsating tic that could only be soothed by holding a frozen teething ring I bogarted from cousin Kitty Calzetti's baby after the Nuptial Mass. Despite the agita, it's a wonderful day, because I'm happy for my baby sister, who I remember holding, like a Capodimonte rose, on the day she was born.
I hold my martini-shaped eve-ning bag covered in sequins (the wedding-party gift from the bride) up to the mirror and say, "I'd like to thank Kleinfeld of Brooklyn, who knocked off Vera Wang to strapless perfection. And I'd like to thank Spanx, the girdle genius, who turned my pear shape into a surfboard." I move closer to the mirror and check my teeth. It ain't an Italian wedding without clams casino dusted in parsley flakes, and you know where those end up.
My professional makeup job provided (at half price) by the bride's best friend's sister-in-law, Nancy DeNoia, is really holding up. She did my face at around eight o'clock this morning, and it's now supper time but I still look fresh. "It's the powder. Banane by LeClerc," my older sister, Tess, said. And she knows: she was matte through two childbirths. We have the pictures to prove it.
This morning, my sisters, our mother, and I sat on folding chairs in front of Mom's Golden Age of Hollywood mirror in the bedroom of their Tudor in Forest Hills, pretty (almost) maids all in a row.Very Valentine. Copyright © by Adriana Trigiani. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.