Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Importance of Dialect in Cultural Identity

Part 2

While in Venice, I realized I should start using a few statements when in restaurants and bars, not to mention local shops. Phrases like, "Ciò" for a "Yes" and "Quanto xè?" to ask "How much is it?" came in handy to show that I was local, too. My blue eyes and freckles had me looking like a tourist, so it was important not to be taken advantage of by the Venetian merchants. Select dialect use did the trick of establishing my status and warning vendors that they should watch what they try to do, say and charge me.

A few years later, I moved to Padua, a city about 25 miles west of Venice. Once in the new adopted city, I noticed that dialect was being used far less often. The accent was also a bit different and the little reading I have done shows that writing dialect changes, too.

Venetians consider variants on dialect spoken in the countryside towns, like Dolo and Chioggia, and cities, like Padua and Treviso, as not very refined in their language construction and accent. I disagree because listening to certain sailors and gondoliers is not what I consider eloquent! As everything in life, it depends on who is doing the talking. An educated Paduan is going to talk better than an ignorant Venetian.

Paduans who consider themselves the least bit educated just don't speak dialect, not even at home. They think it makes them sound un-refined. I find this unfortunate because that means that only a few truly uneducated people are continuing to use this language. This means that no one is trying to use more sophisticated versions of it. Dialect is becoming something crude and rude.

(discussion to continue)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday's False Friend

pretend is not pretendere

Pretend means to make believe in English but pretendere in Italian means to expect something. Choose the words fare finto when trying to translate pretend:

Ex) The child pretended that he was sick.
Italian) Il bambino ha fatto finto che stava male.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Spring Showers, Dear

We all knew it was especially hot this past week, but when the hail came, that just proved it beyond a doubt. Summer is here in advance.

The heat wave that rolled in last Wednesday sent my body into a crisis. I had never suffered from heat exhaustion like that before. After all, that day, I had only rode my bike to and from work. That was enough. I barely could move by evening from lethargy. The heat had come too fast for my poor old system to handle it.

By the weekend, all systems were "go" and I had acclimated.

Then Sunday night, dark yellowish-grey clouds started forming around sunset and delivered a storm at dark which hurled not just rain but also hail. My husband and I had to scramble to get the car into the garage and safety.

For Padua, these means summer is definitely here.

Summer=Hail storms possible

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Importance of Dialect in Cultural Identity

Part 1
Bon dì! Good day!

When I first moved to the Veneto, I quickly found myself not understanding a lot of conversation and communication during transactions in shops and restaurants because I didn't know any dialect. This initially happened in the city of Venice, which has a deep-rooted tradition and has maintained its local language. Venetian dialect is similar to Italian in ways but also profoundly different.

Examples of similarities:
Italian: Tu sei You are; Lei ha She has
Venetian Dialect: Ti xe (the "x" is pronounced like an English "z"); Ea ga

Examples of profound differences:
English: Money
Italian: Soldi
Venetian Dialect: Schei

After several months and with no help at all by my Venetian companions, I slowly and almost miraculously started to understand things and could even chime in, but always expressing myself in Italian, rather than trying to construct dialect forms properly.
Eventually I started to appreciate this local way of talking, especially for its expressions and certain vocabulary. Some makes special reference to the water, all around Venice, or another example recalls the city's Napoleanic domination during the 18th century.

ex) un franco referred to 1000 lire or now, 1 Euro--the monetary term referring to France and the "franc"

By learning dialect, I grasped more about the people and curried their favor, compared to other foreigners who do not stay around long enough to ever really understand these nuances.

(Part 1 of ongoing subject.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's False Friend

For this third week of May, I introduce the differences between commit and commettere.

Although we can commit a crime (meaning perpetrate) and its equivalent in Italian, commettere un crimine, we cannot use the same word for another meaning in English: to pledge one's self

ex) Eileen committed to working at the fundraiser next weekend.

For this meaning, we need to use impegnarsi.

Italian translation of example: Eileen s'impegnata a lavorare nella raccolta di fondi per la prossima settimana.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Going for Snow this Summer

These pictures reveal July's summer destination for me and my husband: Monte Rosa (4633 mt), second highest peak in Europe after Mount Blanc.

We decided to take up a unique offer to join another couple and splurge on the instruction of glacier mountain know-how with a professional mountaineer guida alpina scheduled for the end of July. We will be sleeping at above 3000 mt for 6 days and will be more worried about frost-bite than sun-poisoning, despite the traditionally sea-faring date. After the course, we should be able to save each other from crevices, learn how to use an ice axe properly and be experts at toughing out pretty extreme cold.

I am curious how our state of mind will be during the week. Everything is more difficult at those high altitudes and sleeping may not be easy at the lodge for the same reason. I remember my strange nightmares from last year's overnight on top of the Dolomite's Civetta. The lodge where we are staying this time, Rifugio Città di Mantova (3498 mt), is almost twice as high as last year's Rifugio Torrani (2132 mt). I am in very good physical condition this year, after working out well over the winter but this adventure will surely be a challenge, nonetheless.

At our age, either this will be the first or the last time we can do something like this on such a massive mountain while under the safe tutelage of a mountain expert.

I can't wait to see sunrise over that mountain!

Now it's time to start running an extra few miles a week and start buying gear.

I'll keep you posted on how the training and preparation are proceeding.

Monday, May 18, 2009

An Interior View

Part of my job has me go to my English language students' houses for private lessons. Over the years, I have pared down the number of people who receive my house visits in favor of having them come to me, or working in school rooms. Yet I do visit Mr. P, an 85-year-old gentleman who is an ex-professor of Chemistry at the University of Padua.

Every Monday morning I am brought into his living room and look at this wall with its chandelier, vase, oil painting and dark wood furniture. The light that comes in the room in the morning is soft and soothing, providing a gentle push into the work week.

This old man is a remnant of a time when men were gentlemen and more people were polite. He is so curious about America and has a passion for Hollywood's Golden Age. From his large blue arm chair, he watches videos of his favorite films and stumbles through some reading we do together.

I wanted to share this view with my readers. What do you look at on Monday mornings?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Flower Power

My landlord/neighbor's gift of Spring: a beautiful bouquet of roses that are blooming in the garden and now help profume my kitchen.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday's False Friend

Contest v. Contesto

The word contest in English refers to a competition. ex) Bob won the swimming contest and received a medal. The word should be translated into the Italian gara or concorso.

The word contesto may look the same, but it means "context". ex) Ho spiegato il contesto in cui ho visto Franco.

Correct translation of first example: Bob ha vinto la gara di nuoto e ha ricevuto una medaglia.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giro d'Italia

On Tuesday, the Giro d'Italia started its 4th day of cycling with a trip through downtown Padua. The city last hosted these excellent cyclists nine years ago.

This year, they went through Prato della Valle, up via Roma, past Piazza dell'Insurrezione, under Ponte Molino and onto Limena to finish that day's race in San Martino di Castrozza (TN).

I got within five minutes of actually seeing Lance Armstrong, but had to go back to work, 6th period at a language high school. The late launch of the race that day delayed his rolling through in time for me to catch a glimpse of this mythic American athlete, racing in Italian territory.

I did get to see a long procession of dozens of cars, tagged with ads dedicated to the Giro's sponsors and the police motorcade. Then there were the regular Paduan citizens who were still using Via Roma to commute somewhere in the last moments before the race went through. During our long wait, the crowd started to cheer them on as if they were the racers. I even recognized one of these people as the mother of one of my ex-students, pedalling away with her
55-year-old legs and styling her blond hair-sprayed coif. She looked happy with herself.

The whole city started with celebrations over the weekend before Tuesday's scheduled arrival of the men-on-wheels. Prato della Valle was full of stands and the city decorated itself in pink banners, special window displays and bus stops featuring a variety of messages and announcements. We were also celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Italy's most famous race.

I even tried to take my high school students down to see the race when I knew I had to be with them during those critical moments. It was my last attempt at being part of this particular historic event in Padua, but the principle forbade me from doing so. It just wasn't meant to be.

As you might know, Lance was injured earlier in the season so he has not been cycling at top form. I probably wouldn't even have recognized him, wearing sun glasses and a helmet like everyone else. I didn't even know what color his team's shirts were for this race.

I had already seen a "famous person" over the weekened so perhaps I wasn't supposed to see another one. The other (Italian) VIP was Cristiano, the famous gay TV personality who participated in Isola dei Famosi this year and often appears of shows with Simona Ventura. That sighting happened by accident while having lunch in Milan near Porta Venezia.

On May 14th, the fourth day of the Giro d'Italia,
Danilo Di Luca finished in the lead, 162 km from Padua.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Laundry over the Soccer Field

Staying with the soccer field theme, I captured Venice's Sant'Alvise church field, equipped with netting about its old walls and flanked by dancing laundry which keeps score of the games that little Venetians play.

In Italy, all the sports fields are private: belonging to sports clubs or the Catholic church (which is something between private and public and ultimately privileged). Also, all of Venice's greenery is hidden, as well as its few fields. This walled one is a well-kept secret, set in Venice's hidden northern tip and away from any major tourist attractions. It's near the boat stop S. Alvise, as a clue.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday's False Friend

This new series will highlight a false friend between the English and Italian languages. Each week, a new word will be discussed. False friends are one of the trickiest parts of learning a new language: when words look and sound almost the same, but their definitions are slightly or totally different.

Today's words: assume v. assumere

In English, assume's most common meaning is to "to take for granted" according to the American Herigage dictionary: ex) assume that prices would rise. For this meaning, you need to translate it as presumere and not another word that looks more similar to the English original. Why?

Because in Italian, assumere means to hire someone: ex) l'azienda assume un nuovo impiegato

So don't assume anything about the Italian word assumere!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Do you need to go?

After a decade of living in Italy, I am still horrified when I have to squat over one of these Turkish-style tiolets. I cannot believe that an industrialized country, one of the 7 most powerful nations in the world, keeps on offering this kind of bathroom solution, especially to women.

I remember taking a picture of this kind of bathroom during my first visit to Italy and here I go again photographing it today.

Some may think it is more sanitary because their body is not in contact with any part of its surface. Others may enjoy the ease of cleaning its flat surface on the floor. But I hate them for the uncomfortable position I have to get myself into to "do my business" and by the fact that little droplets from my "needs" get all over everything in the process.

I know most people don't like to talk or think about these aspects of life, such as relieving oneself, but let's face it, it's a fundamental need and sometimes the urge comes in public places instead of in the comforts of home. If I ever have to pay for a coffee or a drink when I am in the center of town in order to get access to a bathroom, and I find myself faced with this toilet solution, I start steaming with anger--especially during special times of the month!

So I implore all café owners in Italy to please GET A REAL TOILET and treat your customers right!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hide and Don't Seek for awhile

In this country, they keep up us on our toes due to periodic restoration. This example of scaffolding went up over the astrological tower in Piazza dei Signori recently.

There is never any warning and these coverings just appear. Plus we citizens and tourists never know how long they are going to stay up. Sometimes monuments maintain their hidden status for upwards of a decade, especially on complicated projects such as Venice's Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco.

Here in Padua, we hope to see the calendar again soon, but in the meantime, we have this sweet kid smiling in an ad for the scientific village that is being developed in the city's industrial area, which is in a major transformation stage.

I'll take bets for how long you think this scaffolding will shroud its restoration patient. Let me know your estimates in month, year or decade increments. Thanks!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Culla della Vita

This in no ordinary box in a wall. It might look somewhat like a sort of mailbox but it is very special. This box turns out to be a "crib". Yes, that's right! The city of Padua has set up a crib in a city wall for unwanted children to be left anonymously in a safe place where an alarm will alert nurses to pick up the child inside immediately and have it receive medical attention or whatever the little one needs as it begins its life as an abandoned baby. This nest comes with a heating system and video camera which shows the baby's status as soon as the box is opened.

This box reveals a dark side of motherhood: rejection of the role. It is a hard fact that babies are being left in random places all the time, especially near trash receptacles. Here the idea is that the mother can leave her child in a safe place and know that the child will immediately receive attention. My question is whether these mothers at the brink of "tossing" their children are honestly informed enough to know about the whereabouts for this "crib". Many desperate mothers do not read the newspapers regularly, where I heard about its existance. Part of me hopes this box never gets used since the idea of abandoning a helpless human is so awful to contemplate, but if the service is needed, I hope the right people are using it.

Padua has placed it at Via Ognissanti, 68. Padua is not the only city that has built these sanctuaries for abandoned babies.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mount Soppelsa

Snow snow snow. It's still up there and not at a very high altitude for May. This year brought an exceptionally long ski season and the snow still hasn't melted much. The ski runs were open through Easter this year.

Unfortunately many alpine skiers are getting swallowed up by avalanches now, provoked by last week's fresh snowfall on top of watery snow being burned off quickly by May's warm sun. The news reports have talked about major avalanches in at least two areas, the Marmolada being the closest one to my area.

For my husband and I, it is lovely sight from our mountain home in Cencenighe Agordino as white tips to fresh spring mountainsides. We are staying down low and just enjoying the view from up high.