‘You want to be American’!

A tongue-in-cheek, Neapolitan language song written by Renato Carosone in the late 1950s, Tu vuò fà l’americano is about a young wannabee who affects a contemporary American life style (sharp clothes, whisky and soda, rock-and-roll, baseball and Camel cigarettes) but who relies on his parents for money.  Seen as a satire on the process of Americanisation in post-war Italy, the lyrics most damningly accuse: ‘How can your girl friend understand you, if you speak to her in half American when you make love under the moon.  Where do you get off saying ‘I love you?’

Sung famously, in English, by Sophia Loren in ‘It Started in Naples‘, and also appearing in the Talented Mr Ripley, lyrics in both Neapolitan and English are below. Continue reading

Wednesday Italian Poem: L’Infinito (1819)

Giacomo Leopardi was an essayist, philosopher, and philologist and, to many, the greatest Italian poet since Dante.  His finest work, L’Infinito (The Infinite – 1819), is short, of only four complete sentences, wistful, contemplative and profound.  The narrator compares the immensity, the ‘unending spaces’ and ‘endless stillness’ of the universe with his own, prosaic surroundings.

This lonely hill was always dear to me,
and this hedgerow, which cuts off the view
of so much of the last horizon.

But sitting here and gazing, I can see
beyond, in my mind’s eye, unending spaces,
and superhuman silences, and depthless calm,
till what I feel is almost fear.

And when I hear the wind stir in these branches, I begin
comparing that endless stillness with this noise:
and the eternal comes to mind,
and the dead seasons, and the present
living one, and how it sounds.

So my mind sinks in this immensity:
and floundering is sweet in such a sea.

Translated by Jonathan Galassi.  Photo: NASA/ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

I hate the Indifferent!


Antonio Gramsci was a diminutive Italian Marxist theorist and founder of the Italian Communist Party who was imprisoned for 11 years by Mussolini.  Gramsci is famously associated with the phrase, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. In February 1917, at the age of 26, he was the editor of ‘La Citta Futura‘ a recruiting newspaper for the Socialist party and he wrote this impassioned piece ‘I hate the indifferent‘ in an attempt to shake readers from the torpor that he thought infected the Italian spirit.

Continue reading

Sunday Italian Poem: My Lady Looks So Gentle and Pure – Dante

My lady looks so gentle and so pure
When yielding salutation by the way,
That the tongue trembles and has naught to say,
And the eyes, which fain would see, may not endure.
And still, amid the praise she hears secure
She walks with humbleness for her array;
Seeming a creature sent from Heaven to stay
On earth, and show a miracle made sure.
She is so pleasant in the eyes of men
That through the sight the inmost heart doth gain
A sweetness which needs proof to know it by:
And from between her lips there seems to move
A soothing essence that is full of love,
Saying for ever to the spirit, “Sigh!”

By: Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).  Translated into English by D.G. Rossetti (1828-1882).

Sunday Italian Poem: Mattina ‘Morning’ (1917)

Giuseppe Ungaretti was a leading representative of the Hermeticism school of poetry, which believed that punctuation should be erased, meaning obscured, words reduced to essentials and compositions be as brief as possible.  He wrote this in the trenches of northern Italy in 1917 and it is perhaps the most famous modern Italian poem.


It is also a nightmare to translate into English.  This captures perhaps the sense of wonder and hope of the original:

Immensity fills
Me with light.


I illuminate myself
with immensity

Photo via David Stephens on Flickr.

An Intense Encounter between Lovers

‘But first we must free ourselves
from the strict stinginess that produces us,
that produces me on this chair
in the corner of a café
awaiting with the ardor of a clerk
the very moment in which
the small blue flames of the eyes
across from me, eyes familiar
with risk, will, having taken aim,
lay claim to a blush
from my face. Which blush they will obtain.’

From: My Poems Won’t Change the World: Selected Poems by Patrizia Cavalli, edited by Gini Alhadeff, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff and others, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Photo: By Lorenzo Mattotti.

Some last minute Italian slang phrases before the exam on Monday

Studying Advanced Italiano

Thank you Huffington Post for this list.

Che figata!“What a cool thing!”“It’s official. Prada wants to hire me!” “Che figata!”
Che palle!What a pain!“Dobbiamosalire1000 gradini per raggiungerela cima!” “Che palle!”
Figurati!It’s not a problem! “I’m sorry I spilled red wine on your brand new, white 500€ Gucci shirt.” “…Figurati!”
Mi fa cagare!It’s awful! (lit. it makes me want to defecate) That restaurant? Mi fa cagare!” “His tight shirt? Mi fa cagare!” “American coffee? Mi fa cagare!”
Che schifo!How disgustingA pigeon poops on your head: “Che schifo!”
Dai!Come on! (encouragement)(encouragement) “Let’s go to Sicily.” “No.” “Dai!” OR “One more shot of limoncello, dai!”  
Stop it!(stop it!) ” Someone’s stealing chips from your plate? “dai!”
Meno Male!Thank god!Ho finalmente superato l’esame. Meno…

View original post 36 more words

Why do Italians say ‘Calcio’ not ‘Soccer’?

In today’s Italian lesson, we tackled the Subjunctive.  As in English, it is used to express ‘various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred‘.  Unlike modern English, in which the subjunctive is hard to make out, in Italian it is a minefield for foreigners and, according to my teacher, when used properly is the mark of an educated native speaker.

This lead to a long conversation about the differences between English and Italian.  My teacher said that Italians pick up the lax English grammar rules (what there are) quickly; what they struggle with is pronunciation, the sheer magnitude of English vocabulary and the way English speakers use word order and qualifiers to provide nuance and meaning. Conversely, the English pick up basic Italian vocabulary quickly (aka restaurant Italian) but can have problems with rigid grammar rules, pronouns, reflexives and cases such as the pluperfect and of course the subjunctive.

Continue reading