Dreaming In Italian

Transgender words in Italian

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Ok, this has nothing to do with actual sex. During this period of lock-down and being largely confined to the house I have been reading a lot and I always come across curiosities of the Italian language. So with a lot of time on my hands I thought that I’d write about some peculiarities of the Italian language as I sit here in my uniform of sweatshirt and sweatpants.

As many (most?) of you probably know many languages other than English have nouns that have a gender; masculine (maschile) or feminine (femminile). This really complicates the grammar because the corresponding article and adjective needs to have the same gender. One of the challenges for a native english speaker such as myself is getting used to this fact. Almost all nouns that end in an “o” are masculine and then the plural ends in an “i”. Most of the words that end in an “a” are feminine and the plural ends in an “e”. If the noun ends in an “e”, it can go either way, someone told me that about 60% of the time it’s masculine and otherwise feminine. Then there are those that change from masculine in the singular to feminine in the plural which really drives me crazy. A lot of the parts of the body are “transgender”. Examples are:

Il ginocchio , le ginocchia – the knee, the knees
l’orecchio, le orecchia – the eye, the eyes
il dito, le dita – the finger, the fingers (by the way there is no specific word for toe. They are just the “finger of the foot” (“il dito del piede” with the plural “le dita dei piedi”- crazy eh?)

And there are a bunch of others – the words for “eyelash”, “eyebrow”, “bone” that follow the same pattern as well as non-body parts such as “l’uovo, le uova” – egg and eggs.

And of course changing the vowel at the end of a word can completely change the meaning. One example that always comes to mind is: il mento (chin), la mente (mind) and la menta (mint – the herb) and you can add to that the vowel “menti” (you lie) from the verb “mentire” (to lie). This example is only scratching the surface of this change in meaning by changing only the final vowel.

I’m sure that I make errors all of the time but the italians cut me a lot of slack. They understand from context that I didn’t mean an “herb” when I meant to say “mind” just as I understand an Italian that uses an incorrect word in english. And of course from my accent they know that I’m not Italian as soon as I open my mouth and sometimes even before I open my mouth.

And oh,yes. There is the whole thing about pronunciation of words. Italians will often tell me if you see a written word then you can always pronounce it correctly. Well, that too has lots of exceptions. “Ancora” and “ancora” – one is an “anchor” and the other is ” again” or if used with a negative, i.e. “non ancora” it means “not yet” and of course the two words are pronounced differently as are “leggere” and “leggere” one is the verb “to read” and the other is “light” as in light in weight and pronounced differently. Ah the exceptions make life interesting in the world of italian language.

As I read more and more Italian books I find more and more idiomatic expressions. An english example would be “I lost my train of thought” that is; it doesn’t make literal sense since nobody has lost a means of transportation that runs on rails but we all understand it. In italian that would be “ho perso il filo di discorso” which would literally be “I lost the line of conversation”. The more that I learn the Italian language the more aware I am of how much we use idiomatic expressions in english. One example is an expression that I used above “cut me a lot of slack” It seems that I can’t speak more than one sentence without using an expression which makes no sense when translated literally and Italian is much the same – and probably all languages are the same.

Well, I hope that this post hasn’t been too boring. Let me know.

BTW it just came to mind that one relief from the isolation of lock-down is conversations with friends with the app WhatsApp. You can make calls to anywhere in the world with video if the other person has WhatsApp on their smart phone. If you’d like to try it let me know and we can arrange a chat.

Stay safe, wear a mask, stay away from crowds – the vaccine is on the way and hopefully by next fall the world will be approaching normality.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot a saying from a Bacio:

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Alcuni causano felicità ovunque vadano; altri ogni volta che se ne vanno.

Oscar Wilde

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What are you doing during the lock-down?

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Frankly the lock-down is a pain in the ass. Like everyone I’m tired of it all but at the same time I dread the prospect of getting sick and maybe even dying. So I go outside the house almost strictly to go grocery shopping, see a doctor every once in a while or go to the pharmacy for stuff. I also always wear an N95 mask. So probably like many of you I read, watch films or series on Netflix or Amazon prime and cook. Fortunately both Laura and I are pretty good cooks so we have been eating well. In the last week we’ve had polenta with baccalà, orecchiette with broccoli and anchovies and octopus with potatoes. By the way, octopus is really delicious, relatively easy to prepare and readily available here. Many Americans are put off by the tentacles but it took them awhile to enjoy calamari. So I suggest that you give it a try.

We’ve now watched two miniseries on Netflix:”The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Liberator”. We also watched the most recent season of “The Crown”. All of those were excellent and we always choose Italian as the spoken language and also subtitles in Italian (for me). I can understand some of the spoken dialog but not enough yet. The interesting thing is that the subtitles often don’t match the spoken (usually dubbed) language. I suspect that is because different people do the dubbing from the original language and someone else does the subtitles from the original language. So I’m making progress since I can usually at least tell the difference.

Films: “Our Godfather”, the story of a Sicilian mafioso that became an FBI informant, the latest Borat movie and most recently “The Right Stuff”. We also watched “The
First King” which I would definitely NOT recommend unless you enjoy a lot of gratuitous bloody violence.

I always read books in Italian (my form of enjoyably studying Italian) and almost always mysteries. An interesting aside is that mysteries are called “gialli” (yellows) because when a major Italian publishing house started publishing a series of mysteries (starting in 1929) the covers were yellow. I read mysteries because I generally like them and they use more common words than “literature”. I did however read a Hemingway book. Hemingway felt less inclined to show off his mastery of the language then many other authors of literature. Maybe I’ll get an Elmore Leonard book translated into Italian.

The recent books:

  1. Three books by Gianrico Carofiglio – my favorite Italian thriller/mystery writer. “Un Mutevole Verità” (A Changing Truth), “L’estate Fredda” (The Cold Summer). By the way a large number of his books are available in translation through Amazon and I highly recommend them.
  2. One book by Marco Malvaldi – he tends to run hot and cold. Some of his I really like and some, well, not so much. This one is “Il Gioco delle tre Carte”, (Three Card Monte)
  3. One Hemingway “Il Vecchio e il Mare” (The Old Man and the Sea)
  4. The John Grisham book “L’uomo della Pioggia” (The Rainmaker).

And now another two quotes from Perugina Baci:

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.
Qualsiasi uomo può sbagliare, ma solo un idiota persiste nel suo errore.

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Alcuni causano felicità ovunque vadano; altri ogni volta che se ne vanno.

Oscar Wilde

Let me know how you are passing the time while being mostly stuck at home.

What did you do for Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Here in Bologna I cooked a turkey breast, made cranberry sauce and roasted green beans and carrots with shallots. It was something of an adventure. I went to a nearby butcher shop (macelleria) and bought a half turkey breast. I was going to buy a whole one until I saw the size. Even a half was 2 kilos (about 4.4 pounds!). I had seen a recipe in the New York times about a method to cook it which was described as absolutely the best (Torrisi’s Turkey). The name comes from an Italian-American restaurant in New York. It’s pretty complicated but I was up to the challenge. It turns out to be a type of sous vide cooking that you can do in the oven at home. If you’re interested here is a link to the recipe: https://food52.com/blog/11723-torrisi-s-turkey. It really is good and we’ve now made 3 meals of it and there’s still some, well, a lot left that I want to find another use for rather than just slices of delicious turkey breast on a plate.

The turkey breast and veggies
Dessert – yum

For the cranberry sauce I had to use dried cranberries since I could find no fresh ones here. Since they are sold mainly as snack foods they have a significant amount of sugar added so I added almost no sugar. It came out well as did the veggies.

We drank a wine from Piedmont (Torino is the capital) – a Ruchè. Then after dinner two little fruit tarts from a good pastry shop not far from where we live and followed by a little glass of Armagnac which I generously share with Laura.

And of course another little quotation from one of those Perugina Baci. In fact I’ll do two in case I’ve already used one

I always astonish myself. It is the only thing that makes life worth living.
Io continuo a supirmi.
E’ la sola cosa che renda la vita degna di essere vissuta.

Oscar Wilde

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.
La felicità è quando ciò che pensi, ciò che dici e ciò che fai sono in armonia.

Mahatma Gandhi

Stay safe – wear a mask and do all of the other things you know that you should do.

I love comments and if you like my blog you can subscribe (top right hand corner). Obviously I just do it for fun but it’s nice to know that I have readers.

P.S.I have no idea why the photos are distorted. I’m working on it.

P.P.S. I think that I’ve fixed it, at least found a workaround.

More about the the national health system SSN (Sistema Sanitario Nazionale)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

I now have significantly more experience with the SSN. Since I am not an Italian citizen I enroll each year by paying a sum based upon my last year’s income. Since my basic income is Social Security that has averaged about 1650 euros a year or just under 140 euros a month which at today’s rate of exchange is about $160 which is incredibly cheap by U.S. standards. Visits to the primary care physician are free for everyone. Visits to specialist or for things like X-rays usually require a copay but since I am over 70 I pay nothing. The cost of prescription drugs in general are much lower and again in my age range they are often free. All of these things are very positive.

Now let’s look at the negative side. First, it is definitely not very convenient to see even your primary care physician. Often they have more than one office and the one nearby has limited hours. Some accept reservations and many do not. My first doctor, Dr. Barbiere, has 3 periods a week in his office nearby, each for about 2 hours, no reservations. I found him reasonable to work with but I always arrived at the door of his office at least 15 minutes early and even then there were often a couple of people ahead of me. But still the wait was not very long. If, however, I arrived at the beginning of office hours there were often 5 or 6 people already in line and the wait could be 30-45 minutes. My current doctor is worse in many ways. He requires reservations for much of his office hours but then makes it incredibly difficult to make one. He’s not as pleasant as Barbiere but seems quite competent and has reasonable patience with my limited Italian.

Specialist visits are definitely a problem. Often the first appointment available in the province (like a county in most states in the U.S.) could be a month or more away and even then physically distant. I already wrote a blog post about seeing ophthalmologist in Bentivoglio which was a similar distance with sparse bus service. To see an SSN orthopedist I had to go to a little city Loiano, 30 km away through secondary roads and required about an hour by car (thankfully Laura has a car here). I found that orthopedist quite unpleasant and wound up going to a private one here in Bologna. For the private guy who was recommended by a friend I had to pay 118 euros but I could make an appointment a week in advance. Recently I had an MRI and for that I had to go to Castiglione dei Pepoli which is about 60 km distant but with better roads so the trip was less than an hour. Another alternative is, of course, to go to the emergency room (Pronto Soccorso) if the problem is urgent. I had an ear infection that became increasingly painful and following this route I could see a specialist fairly promptly. In any emergency room if you are not badly injured there is always a wait probably in every country but I received excellent care and resolved the problem completely in about a week with various measures taken.

Prescriptions for medications tend to be much less convenient here than in the U.S. I had a Medicare Advantage plan with Kaiser and could refill prescriptions online easily and have them arrive in the mail after 3 days. Now if I have a way to contact my doctor without going there physically I can get a prescription on-line but still must go to the pharmacy to get it filled.

In summary the system works but with many inefficiencies. If only there were a system to make an appointment online with your primary care physician that would help things a lot and is clearly doable through appropriate software even if the doctor has no staff – which is usually the case. Similarly easy communication via email and/or text messaging would alleviate much of the problem. The long waits for non-urgent diagnostic tests or visits to specialists is endemic to the system. The only way to resolve that would be more doctors and specialists and inevitably higher costs for the system. To me that would seem a reasonable tradeoff. But on the other hand the health coverage is universal without regard to wealth – although if you are willing to pay you can always see a competent specialist much more quickly.

One other thing is the over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, as an example, cost significantly more than in the U.S. but balancing that against the lower cost of prescription drugs seems much better to me.

Other asides for today’s post. I am writing this while it is still early morning on election day in the U.S. with all of the turmoil there like nothing I have ever seen before. If I were religious I’d be praying for a positive outcome and no violent reaction. The pandemic is still raging without pause in the U.S. and the second wave here in Italy has been a veritable tsunami. Laura and I are going out only for necessities and with an N95 mask. It’s something of a perfect storm.

At least I can end on a positive note with another Baci citation.

L’amore è un bellissimo fiore, ma bisogna avere il coraggio d coglierlo sull’orlo di un precipizio.
Love is a beautiful flower but you must be brave enough to pick it from the edge of a precipice.


P.S. If I have any Italian readers I’d like their opinions on the SSN and correction of any misunderstandings that I have about the system.

And a final note “this too shall pass”.