Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mumbo Italiana

My Penne

     I thought I could speak Italian before I arrived, but now I'm worried I might sound a bit like a Tarzan and look like Grommit. You know, sentences stripped of prepositions and conjunctives, randomly in the appropriate tense. I'm saying this because however much forethought I've given to my utterances, sometimes, the locals look at me 'gone out' (the current idiom I believe).
     So much depends on the correct articulation of vowels, the scope for error is enormous. Pizza is singular, Pizze the plural - for feminine nouns. Simply substitute "o" for an "i" to pluralize a masculine noun. Well in most cases, but not absolutely every one annoyingly! So you see a slight mistake might come across like this, "We would like two coffee." It gets the request over the net, but it doesn't sound right. Anyhow, in the effort to sound the vowel, from this side of my face I think my mouth moves like Grommits does. Perhaps this is what distracts the shopkeepers. They're tranfixed by the visuals and paying scant attention to what I'm actually saying.
     Sometimes the wrong word gets lodged in the brain. "Volpe" for example instantly translates in my head as "Wolf". It's like word association. If someone says "black" automatically "white" pops out of the subconcious. Same with "rough" and "smooth". Except "volpe" actually means "fox". Somehow it approximates to Wolf in my head. The conversation with the sweet ninety-year old neighbour of a friend thus went:

Neighbour: I used to keep ducks and hens but the volpi (meaning foxes) ate them all.
Me: What there are volpi (mental image of wolves) around here?
Neighbour (puzzled): Of course there are, they are everywhere.
Me: (sounding sceptical) Are you sure?
Neighbour: (impatiently) Of course I am sure.
Me: (sounding more sceptical) Let me get this right, volpi (mental image of wolves) ate your chickens.
Neighbour: (looking at me gone out): Yes, they ate my chickens.

I could've got into a zoological argument here but my Italian wasn't up to it and anyhow, I was in a hurry. By the way, I do know there are wolves in Tuscany but they are few in number and rarely go near human habitation.
     You won't believe this, but sometimes it pays to imitate a Scots accent when speaking Italian. The rolled "r" can be vital to meaning as a friend once found out when informing the waiter (who looked at her gone out), "I don't eat dog". "Carne" you see is meat, and "cane", dog. Mind you, the English menu she was looking at did have an intriguing dish of Tepid Hypocrites!
     Which brings me very neatly to a faux pas I've worried about all week. I asked the waiter at my favourite Anghiari Pizzeria if the Penne was without meat. He looked at me gone out. Did I linger over that double "nn" long enough or did I say "Pene", which unfortunately means penis.

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