Italian Countess recounts her life in autobiography
By Heather Lusk
“If you can’t be the best, be different.”
These words from her mother encompass the theme that has followed Countess Bianca Maria Lovatelli throughout her rather interesting life.
The 81-year-old Carmel resident and grandmother of seven is fluent in five languages and counts Brazil, Argentina, France, England and Mexico among her prior homes. She was born to an Italian Count, Patriarca di Ravenna and Rimini, and thus gained her title of nobility. As a child, she and her mother fled Italy as the World War II was beginning and joined her father in Brazil where he had been transferred for work. There the Countess enjoyed high society life in South America and met the first of her four husbands.
Coming from a Catholic family, she was the first in the family to get divorced. But that was mild compared to her other firsts: first journalist in Brazil to write about equal pay for women, first white woman to interview the Umbanda, first anchorwoman in the family, first in her family to be offered a movie contract, the first Miss Rome in the family.
It was 1952, and she was socializing with other European counts, duchesses and a prince in Italy. They came upon a contest to crown Miss Rome and joined the audience. As a joke, her friends entered Lovatelli under an assumed name – one that was forgotten part of her illustrious lineage that only she would know – and with a simple dress and minimal makeup Lovatelli won the title. An astute reporter at the event questioned who she was: coming from out of nowhere, a last minute entry, sitting with a group of aristocrats. When he discovered and reported her true identity, Lovatelli says her family was furious.
“They thought it was shameless,” she said.
The first 40 years of Lovatelli’s life have been compiled in an autobiography, “The Maverick Contessa.” She is a previously published author writing about the Umbanda – a voodoo-esque tribe in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro – and a book of philosophical essays, both written in Portuguese.
She became multi-lingual at an early age as her “very English” mother insisted that her daughter respond in English while her father insisted that she respond to him in Italian. Then she would speak Portuguese at school.
“What I wanted was to speak Portuguese,” she said.
She was first married to a gay Argentinian. The second husband was Swedish. Her third husband, her “real true love” was also Argentinian, but that ended in divorce when he left her for a prostitute.
“The fourth husband is not worth mentioning. He was an Italian Marquis and a total idiot,” she said. “I can prove it.”
After a decade-long career in journalism in Brazil, she moved to Argentina and then the United States in 1978. She moved between New York, South Carolina, Chicago and San Francisco before returning to Brazil in 1996.
In 2000 she found a spot in Italy. “I started to create a jewel of a farm in Tuscany,” she said. “‘The Animal Farm.’” It boasted alpacas, monkeys, prairie dogs and a tame skunk among others.
“I actually think I love animals more than people,” she said.
But the expense proved to be too much. She sold the farm in 2008 and moved back to Argentina. “It broke my heart, really,” she said.
Her move to the United States came after a cancer diagnosis in 2013. She was treated in Miami after being told she had limited time to live, but she managed to beat cancer. When she became a cancer survivor her youngest son requested that she move to the Midwest near his Zionsville home. “He said, ‘You can die in my arms,’” said Lovatelli.
Her other two children live in Washington, D.C., and Rome.
Her title is recognized when she travels to Europe, but it will not be passed along to her children because of her gender. The money and land once attached to the family name is now gone, as previous family members were “very clever at getting rid of the money and the land, gambling it away,” she said.
While sorting through the content and materials she had amassed over the years, Lovatelli came to the conclusion that she couldn’t write only one book. “I’m now writing the second half of my life,” she said.