Penguin Italian Reader, ed. Timothy Holme.   Norberto Valentini, Domenica del Corriere, 16 novembre 1971.

Amendola is sitting in his office on the fifth floor of the famous palace on the Via delle Botteghe. A ‘Franciscan’ office furnished to the best of one’s ability, with mass-produced furniture and absolutely bare walls. It’s been sixty years exactly this month. Since 1935, he’s been happily married to Germaine, a French woman of the middle bourgeoisie. He’s dressed in a grey suit which looks big for him around the hips because for the last few month’s while following a strict diet of meat and vegetable ‘stews’ he’s managed to lose 33 kilos (from 137 to 104).

“In the last few years”, he observes, “the Domenica del Corriere has changed a lot. Even you are going with the times.” He speaks with a kindly, expressionless tone, but behind the facade it’s not hard to feel a restless, impulsive temperament which stems from a very messy adolescence. His father, Giovanni, was Minister of Colonies in the Facta government, attacked by the Fascists in 1926 and in the wake of this aggressiveness, died. His mother, Eva Kuhn, was a noted Russian essayist, little inclined to busy herself with home and her sons. “At sixteen years of age”, says Giorgio Amendola, “I went to the Roman highschool Visconti, but I had a thousand other interests. I like girls, took up boxing, went skiing, got involved in politics and the lineup of liberal democratic movements and I was passionate about theatre.”

This passion for the theatre, and for Pirandello in particular, led him to found, together with another ‘young lion’ of the capital, Galeazzo Ciano, the Company of Jackals, a group of fans in reverse which from the gallery of the Augusteo Theatre condemned weakness, shouted and scuffled all the works which were guilty of romanticism and traditionalism. Handsome, of good-looking build (a gorgeous hunk of a man, we say these days), a bolshy sleight of hand, he was extremely courteous in public, a sort of Latin lover from the beginning of the century. He goes back to this time, for example, in a famous and lively flirt with Edda Mussolini, who then became Mrs Ciano. Adventures with the opposite sex, nevertheless hasn’t made negligent about politics. Following family tradition, he was always decisively anti-Fascist; at Visconti High, he spent days not, with his cerebral companions, didn’t take himself a with the blackshirts, and most of the time he gave them a hiding, turning back home ground up and bruised. “In the end,” he recounts, “my father took me into a store in Via Grebero and gave me an ox-bone walking stick with a soul of steel. “So at least,” she said to me giving me a slap on the back, “you’ll be able to defend yourself better, otherwise one time or another they will cut you down with sticks.”

After the tragic death of his father in 1926, Giorgio Amendola, struck by the shock of it all, had a deep, critical re-think so that by 1929 he ended up joining the Communist Party, to which he’s devoted all his energy at first as a simple card-carrying member then as a member of the Central Committee and president of the economic department. “Now, however,” he says, “I’ve changed a lot. Once I was much more violent – I went off and shouted so much that I became famous for my outburst of anger.But then it passed quickly because, at heart, the proverb’s right: “dogs which bark, don’t bite”.

alla meglio, to the best of one’s ability

mobili di serie, mass-produced furniture

fuori serie, custom-built

pareti nude nude, absolutely bare walls

essere felicemente sposato/a con…, to be happily married with…

vestire un completo grigio, to be dressed in a grey suit

largo ai fianchi, wide at the hips

nel giro di un mese, within a month

carne ai ferri, grilled (as in bistecca)

dimagrire di dieci chili, to lose ten kilos

avere mille altri interessi, to have a thousand other interests

fare sci, to ski

avere passione/essere appassionato di…, to be passionate about

una specia di claque alla rovescia, a sort of group of fans in reverse

dai loggione dell’Augusteo, gallery of the Augusteo Theatre

tafferugli, scuffle

un ‘fusto’, a gorgeous hunk of a man

si direbbe ora, it would be said these days

movimentato, lively

tuttavia, nevertheless

non tenere conto di, to disregard; farsi trascurare, to neglect

prendersi a pugni/prendersi a botte/fare a botte, to come to blows

buscarle, to get a hiding

il piu’ delle volte, most of the time

nerbo, strength or backbone, senza nerbo, effete

con l’anima d’accaio, with a heart of steel

un bue/i buoi, ox/oxen

dandomi una pacca, giving me a slap

altrimenti una volta o l’altra, or (otherwise) at one time or another

dare una bastonata a…, to beat with a stick

la morte del padre, death of (his) father

colpire dal shock, to be knocked over the by the shock; colpire nel segno, to knock the nail on the head

aderire, to support (sciopero, petizione)

daprima…poi…, at first…then (later)

sono molto cambiato; una volta ero…; scattare, to go off; andare in collera, to get angry

mi passava subito, it passed (me) quickly

in fondo, at heart


Penguin Italian Reader, ed. Timothy Holme.

Italo Calvino, Fiabe italiane (Einaudi, 1956).

There was a bloke who was a devotee of St Joseph and that was all. To St Joseph he recited all the orations, lit candles, gave alms, all up saw nothing else but St Joseph. Come the day he died and went to heaven, he reported to St Peter. St Peter didn’t want to receive him; all the good he’d ever done in his life had been to pray to St Joseph. Concerning his good deads, nothing; and the Lord, the Madonna and all the other Saints, it was as if they didn’t belong to him. “Since I finally got here,” said the St Joseph devotee, “at least let me see him.” And St Peter sent for St Joseph. St Joseph came and hardly set eyes on his devotee when he said, “But, good soul, I’m indeed pleased to have you with us. Come, come inside.” “I can’t; in there is what I don’t want.” “And why not?” “Because I said I only prayed to you, and not to the other Saints.” “Ah, nonsense, what’s important is, come in all the same.” But St Peter persisted in not wanting him to. He didn’t want a big squabble over it and in the end St Joseph said to St Peter, “Oh, at least, either let him in or I’ll take my wife and the kid and set up Heaven somewhere else.” His wife was the Madonna, his child was Our Lord. St Peter thought it better to accede and let in the devotee of St Joseph.


c’era uno che era… There was one (man) who…

e basta. and that was all (there was to it).

accendere il cero, to light the candle

facere le elemosine, to give alms

non vedere altro che…, to see nothing else but…

venire il giorno che…, to come the day when…

quel che aveva fatto di buono nella vita era stato…, all the good he’d ever done in his life had been to….

pregare San…, to pray to Saint…

buone azioni, good deeds

venire fin qua…, to come here at last

lasciate almeno che…, let me at least…

figuriamoci, nonsense

cos’importa, what’s important is,

pensare meglio di cedere, to think it better to accede

Penguin Italian Reader, ed. Timothy Holme. Penguin, 1974.

Translation.  Il Duomo, by Adriana Mulassano: Corriere della Sera, 21 maggio 1971.

If the cathedral in Milan is still in its place and the buses which carry around foreigners who are always the same, save for the aircon, the tourists have changed a bit. It’s difficult seeing them day after day going around in nylon clothes, marked by those sprouting big arms roasted in the Italian sun. It’s rare they still wear incredible veils or gondoliers’ hats on their heads and sandals with socks on their feet or, worse, over-scarves of transparent plastic. All things which up until a few years ago made them stick out a mile. Now fashion, which has been the great leveller, and is perhaps the one thing which points to a united Europe, creates the need to look at them very closely if only to try and recognise who they are. Only in this way we notice that they all have same photographic equipment and rigmarole hanging by their shoulder straps, big bags full of maps, “thermoses” and souvenirs and above all the too-attentive air of harried housewives or our local public servants.



         a Milano, a or ad before a proper noun, e.g. abitare a Milano

    portare a spasso, lit. to carry hilariously

    salvo forse…, except perhaps for…

    in piu’, moreover

    la turista/le turiste

    difficile vedere, it’s difficult to see…

    oggi come oggi, in this day and age

    in giro, going around

    la braccia/le braccione, addition of ‘-one’ to express largeness, e.g. uomo/omone, voce/vocione,

    raro che portino…, it’s rare they may wear (subjunctive)

    incredibili velette o cappelli da gondoliere, incredible agrees with collective masculine plural, velette and cappelli

    distinguere lontano un miglio, to stick out a mile

    fino a pochi anna fa, untila few years ago

    livellare tutti, to level everybody

    l’unico campo, the one thing or the level-playing field

    scrutare, to search for

    solo cosi’, only in this way…

    tutte la regolarmentare macchina fotografica, all the photographic requirements or prerequisites

    a tracolla, hanging by their shoulder straps, lit. around their necks

    il borsone, big bag

    l’aria troppo attenta per…, the too-attentive air to…

    le frettolose massaie, harried housewives (i.e. hurried)

    le impiegate nostrane, local public servants, lit. from around here, in this case, ‘Italian’.

 Nelo Risi, Poesie scelte (1943-1975). Ed. Giovanni Raboni. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1977.
From “Dentro la sostanza” (1960-1965).
Come gli insetti                                      Like insects
Sciami neri sciami gialli                           Black swarms yellow swarms

vissuti sempre in baracche                     living all the while in hovels

sotto la buona spinta                                 from under a decent upper-cut

levatevi in massa, sciamate!                   lift yourselves up en masse and swarm!


Sono sciami di colore                                These colours swarm

turbe straccioni parla                               ragged rabbles speak

a miriadi riempono l’aria                         myriads fill the air

cadono a frotte e abbattono                   fall in swarms and demolish


le vacche grasse.                                         fat cows.


The power of Risi’s poetry resides in both the unpretentiousness of the present-continuous tense of verbs, amplified by the bareness of the poetic structure and the universality of metaphor. Of course, these and similar poems are a running commentary on Italian society and politics of the 1960s, of the strength of the burgeoning mass media, of a restless but essentially apathetic and switched-off generation, emerging from World War II. The insect metaphor is Risi’s response to the movement of the masses, where crowds originate and where they end up, the aimlessness of crowds and who is pulling and pushing them. There are essentially hopeless dreams of revolution and dramatic change and there is the wonderful break between the puny insects and the gross mass of the “fat cows”. Who or what the ‘fat cows’ might be is open to question – those who live off the insects, those who support the life of larger animals.  Aurally, Risi contrasts soft “s” and “c” sounds (sciami, straccioni, sotto/spinta) with the stronger “b” (baracche, buona). Where the first stsnza is dependent on the “i” vowel, interest is created by a subtle to the “o” vowel in the second. Contrasting all with outwardly peaceful pastoral setting are images of violence implying war (spinta, cadono, abbattono).

Following on from yesterday’s quick analysis of local press clippings, I went looking for similar references in my textbooks. In giro per l”italia: a brief introduction to Italian has a final chapter devoted to L’Unione Europea e le elezioni: voting, the euro, social problems, obviously with an Italian and European slant.

The language learning commentators talk about a daily regimen of 20 minutes or so. Today’s little effort revolves around taking the ocabulary given in In giro (which Itranslate as “Roaming around Italy”, rightly or wrongly) and attempting a composition using all the words, or stringing them all along with each word used in a sentence to describe local things, from my own perspective.

Per esempio…

L’anno prossimo in Australia chiamaramo in urne nelle elezioni statale e federale: in somma, ci sara quattro elezioni. Tutti i cittadini votono ogni quattro anni; la stampa vuole un referendum popolari per cambiare la durazione o “the term” di ogni governo . Dopo i crisi finanziari globali, le tasse d’interesse aumentano molto – tre volte in tre mesi – e la disoccupazione cresce a 5 per cento. Essere in sciopero e una cosa rara oggi, ma i postini faranno sciopero la settimana prossima. La classe sociale la piu importante  nella politica australiana attualement sono i voti “aspirational”, membri delle famiglie dentro le membre sono operaiai o impiegati o ‘working families’ in inglese.   Si dimentica i disoccupati e i senzatetti; la gente non si informano, si occupando della riscaldanza del clima, le tasse d’interesse e i prezzi delle case. Abbiamo i partiti politico di destra e di sinistra, ma tutti i partiti politici si descrivano como di centro.


I possess a quaint little Manuale di Conversazione italiana/tedesca del Prof. O. Gachter, published by Casa Editrice Bietti in 1953, which lists Italian words concerning government and politics under the rubric of “Dignita temporali”, alongside religion (Dignita ecclesiastiche) and the miltiary (Dignita militari). Notwithstanding this blast from the past, the local Italian press helps me with the turn of phrase used so often in governmental media releases these days.


Source: ‘”Un esecutivo per la stabilita”: il nuovo premier del NSW presenta la squadra scela per riconquistare la fiducia dei cittadini; nessun incario a Rees, rientrano invece Frank Sartor e Ian Macdonald’; ‘Altri ostacoli rallentano la realizzazione dell’impianto di dissalazione nel Victoria’; ‘S.A., providimenti di polizia contro i bikies’, in La Fiamma: quotidiano italiano di Australia (Sydney, Australia), 9 December 20089, p.12.



l’esecutivo, executive (arm of government)

il premier del NSW, the NSW Premier

il Commissario alla privacy, the Privacy Commissioner

il governatore, the Governor

il portafoglio, portfolio

il tribunale arbitrale, arbitration tribunal

il ministro dell’Ambiente, the Minister for the Environment

i portafigli Sviluppo statale e regionale e Risorse forestali e minerali, the portfolios of State & Regional Development and Resources, Foresty & Mining

la Costa centrale, the Central Coast

il rappresentante legale del consorzio, the consortium’s legal representative

l’autorita federale, federal authority



questo progretto deve semplicemente andare avanti, this project simply must go ahead

la leadership laburista, the Labor leadership

come rivelato la scorsa settimana dal quotidiano The Age, as revealed last week in The Age daily newspaper

ha precisato nel frattempo che si tratta di una procedura standard utilizzata per i principale progetti instrumentali dello Stato, he has indicated in the meantime that it be treated as a standard operating procedure for important State-significant projects

che nessuna informazione privata (indirizzi, dati familiari or fedine penali) finira nella mani dei consorzio, that no private information (addresses, dates or court convictions) will end up in the hands of consortia

ha imposto un divieto di associazione a…, has imposed a ban on the right of assembly on…

la fedina penale pulita, a clean police record

il portavoce dell’organizzazione, the organisation’s spokesman

hanno manifestato la propria opposizione alle dure legi contro le gang fuorilegge introdotte mesi fa dal governo statale, they demonstrated their own opposition to the hard laws against illegal gangs, introduced some months ago by the State government

rinconquistare la fiducia dei cittadini, to win back the faith of citizens

mantenire l’incarico di ministro del Tesoro, to maintain responsibility for Treasurer

il Ministro speciale degli Affari interni, Special Minister for Internal Affairs

il pachetto stimoli, (economic) stimulation package

subito dopo aver vinto la sfida alla leadership, immediately after having won the leadership ?battle

avere conferito un portafiglio all’ex premier, to have given the ex-Premier a portfolio

escluso dlla nuova compagine, excluded from the new lineup

costretto a lasciare l’incarico di governo lo scorso settembre sulla scia di uno scandalo di natura sessuale, forced to leave the government responsibility last September after (lit. on the slippery slope) because of a scandal of a sexual nature

il grande ‘vincitore’, the big winner

ereditare dall’attuale premier la Pianificazione e le infrastrutture, to inherit the current Premier’s Planning & Infrastructure ministry

l’ex sindicalista perde i Servizi penitenziari (che vanno al ministero per la Risorse idriche), the ex-unionist loses Prisons (which goes to the Minister for Water Resources)

la riforma del pubblico impiego, public service reform

ministri Relazioni industriali e Commercio, Energia, Istruzione, Servizi per i disabili, Trasporti, ministries of Industrial Relations and Business, Energy, Education, Disability Services and Transport

una disputa sindicale rischia di ritardare l’avvio dei lavori di costruzione, a union dispute risks slowing down the ?avvio of construction workers



On re-learning Italian

December 10, 2009

I’ve dragged out my old textbooks and anthologies of Italian short stories, in preparation for my university undergraduate course starting 15 February 2010.  I’ve acquired this semester’s textbook, but not the dictionary. I’m trawling the net for anything that will boost my confidence and bring back the allegria of learning Italian. I feel I’m in that limbo between the final chapter of the introductory textbook which focuses on la politica in Italia and conquering Buzzati in the original, without a translation.

The problems are very particular for mature-age, external, part-time university students like myself because it’s all about finding nooks and crannies in one’s daily routine in which study becomes comfortable and almost effortless. To this end, I am finding that I can read the Italian newspaper on the bus journeys to and from work, or over lunch. At home on the ‘net, I think YouTube might be worthwhile for karaoke Italian pop songs. I’d like to read at least one Italian short story a day till the course starts, regardless of whether it’s in the original or not.

Certainly part of the discipline of study requires me to type up rough translations and post them here on an almost daily basis. Indubitably they can’t be of any interest to anyone except myself. It’s not about the outcome or the literary quality of the translation, it’s about the focus that comes with taking into account every word and not the usual “skim” for global comprehension. The beauty of the blog is that I can go back and correct my translations as my knowledge improves – everything becomes a work-in-progress! Obviously too it would be nice to include the diacritical marks, but that will come in time.

Yesterday, I read Cassola’s “I Poveri” in the original and in an English translation – the lay religious woman who somewhat defensively helps the poor in her village during the Fascist era. And it’s been fascinating reading about nuclear energy generation in Italy, health benefits for defactos starting up in Emiglia-Romagna, the climate change conference in Copenhagen (full of new words like inviato (?envoy) and vertice) as well as local politics “translated” into Italian (cabinetto ombra, i Verdi, ministro dei Resourci Idriche, ect.). A domani!