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European edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CATANIA, Sicily — She said yes.

How could she not? Her cavalier showed up, mounted on a white horse, knelt on a handmade cushion, professed his love reading words from a scroll, and asked her to be his bride.

But Paola DeCento’s “yes” wasn’t immediate.

Though tears stained her cheeks and the broad smile gave away her thoughts, she kept Chief Petty Officer Alonzo Tate kneeling and waiting amid several seconds of silence.

The crowd of family, friends and news media crews, gathered Sunday afternoon for the proposal, collectively held its breath.

Tate claimed later the silence didn’t bother him. He was sure she would say yes.

“Sei sicuro?” Are you sure, she asked after he read from a scroll of his passion for his green-eyed, fair-haired Italian swim instructor.

“Sicuro,” the 38-year-old sailor replied to his 23-year-old future wife.

“Si.” Yes.

The idea of such a public proposal drew good-natured snickers from those — meaning the Sicilians — who had gathered to witness this man, clad in his mess dress uniform, ride up to his damsel atop a skittish white horse through the luckily semi-deserted city streets of the Canalicchio neighborhood of Catania.

“E una Americanta,” joked Giovanna Saccullo, the bride-to-be’s mother. Typically American. Over the top.

But such thoughts didn’t dissuade Tate, chief master-at-arms stationed at Naval Air Station Sigonella, who said he had dreamed of carrying out such a proposal since childhood.

“The proposal is what’s a surprise,” he said.

And in the end, who cared?

DeCento never considered marrying an American, never thought of falling in love with one. It’s just something that happened, she said, a year ago after he had approached her in a restaurant.

For him, it was love at first sight. “I saw the eyeballs.”

For her, it was his maturity.

But the thing that attracted the daughter is the thing that most worries her mother.

“I had a problem with the 15-year age difference,” Saccullo said. “But my daughter is smart, and she has fallen in love.”

And Saccullo knows that in little more than a year, she will face what Italian mothers endure when their daughters fall for an American militaryman.

“This is very emotional,” she said. “I’m happy but also upset. She will leave me. But she is happy.”


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