Spring Beans

Photographing oneself by the road-sign of this French town has become a truly old-hat activity.

In Italy the equivalent word for this interfering sexual accessory is ‘preservativo’. So if, for example, you are an avid jam maker in Italy don’t go into a shop and ask for a ‘preservativo’. You might just get a funny look. The correct word to use in this case is ‘conservante’.

Talking of humorous town names we came across a real ‘Faggiolo’ last month while doing our peripatetic tour in a remote corner of Friuli- Venezia-Giulia.

The ‘Faggiolo’ town and its environs should appeal to any fans of this idiosyncratic fellow:

Or, indeed, anyone who managed to escape as a kid from the good manner of ‘The Eagle’ comic and became a fan of the ‘Bash Street kids’ instead.

This one of course!

I’m not telling you precisely where it is (as I don’t want to cause a traffic jam) but the place and its environs are highly tempting parts of an equally tempting part of Italy which has its own language, as these bike signs in Italian and the local lingo confirm. (Italian comes first and Friulian comes next. If you speak Italian see how many words you can translate).

This reminds me that I once met a Japanese student who learnt Friulian as he was enamoured of endangered languages (Perhaps I should soon include English ‘as she is now spoke’ among these…) He loved Italy, except, that he had to travel with his charming Friulian girlfriend who translated for him when outside her native region into Italian. (I’m now researching on what ‘preservativo’ is in Friulian.)

PS Did you know that Italian is only one of twenty-six officially recognized national languages in the country – to say nothing of the languages brought in by the the recent high tide of immigration into the country?). If you are in Tuscany then you’re truly lucky – the local language is as close to Italian as you’ll get in Italy. Thank poet Dante for that.

Here are Italy’s official languages:

Anyway, I will postpone meandering further on this subject except to feast your eyes on Beano/Bean, a delectable and slightly neglected part of Italy which (fortunately, perhaps) has no ‘Mr Beans’ – signori faggioli – or ‘Desperate Dans’ in it. In compensation, it has some of the most appetising and attractive corners to be found anywhere in ‘il bel Paese’, including, not too far away,  the winner of the most beautiful borgo (town) for 2017

Incidentally, ‘preservativo’, if you were desperate for one in Friuli, is known as “budiel di Flandre”. Wonderful how we transpose our ‘French letters’ with reference to one of our other beloved European regions and countries……

PS Why is it both ‘Beano’ and ‘Bean’ on the town road  sign? ‘Beano’ is the Italian name for the town and ‘Bean’ is the Friulian name. (Compare Cardiff – English –  and Caerdydd – Welsh).

Other Ways of Learning Italian and some of my Favourite Italian Words

The new term of the University of the Third Age has started at Bagni di Lucca.

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Here is the commitee:

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This is the programme.:

Note the Christmas lunch and end of year lunch.. Always a treat!img969You may complain, if you are an x-pat resident of Bagni that your Italian language knowledge is not up to attending lectures delivered in Italian, especially when dealing with abstract subjects, without slides or any other visual aids.

Do remember that language is a method of communication which, if used properly, can connect you to a much wider world than you ever imagined. If you don’t develop your new language in your new environment then regretfully you will soon be lost and locked into an English-speaking clique. You might as well have stayed at home…

Learning a language isn’t just mastering the rules of grammar from some textbook. It’s grabbing every opportunity to hear the language as it is spoken on TV, on radio, in the shops, in restaurants, at meetings, indeed everywhere.

You are missing so much if you don’t make an effort to learn Italian even in its most basic tenets. There are language courses held at Bagni di Lucca library and other centres too and most of them are free!!

I remember teaching English to immigrants in the UK and thinking that one person from the Indian subcontinent had just arrived from India to my class. I was wrong. He’d been in the UK for five years but with a job working for his cousin’s family business, his living in an Indian family, watching Hindi film DVDs, going out with his Indian friends, made him suddenly realise he hadn’t integrated in any way into the wider community because he hadn’t learn any English! I’m glad to say that at the end of one year in my class he had already passed an intermediate level English exam not just because he did his homework but also because he began listening to English radio, meeting English speakers and viewing UK TV programmes.

If you want to integrate learn the language. Otherwise, stick to your local English-speaking group where you might as well be in Basildon if it wasn’t for the extra sunshine and vino to accompany you.

I speak as someone with experience of living in other parts of the world. In less than one year I was fluent in Hindi (that incredible amalgam of Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian) and could read its different alphabet symbols too. It made such a big difference to my life that’s it’s impossible to describe. When we lived part-time in Wales we attended and passed exams in that equally difficult language ‘iaith paradwys’ (the language of heaven). How did we do it? Practise and speaking to local language speakers. Basically avoiding Brits like hell!

My knowledge of languages is nothing, however, compared to my wife’s, a long-serving member of the Institute of linguists, who can speak not just English but fluent Italian, French, Spanish, and German to perfection not to mention Welsh and certain Italian dialects which are a language unto themselves……

There’s no excuse for not learning a new language (or not so new if you’ve lived around Bagni for over five years). You’ve either got a very restricted English environment you operate in or you’re just plain lazy. Some people, like a certain unpleasant Englishman who lives in the forest (luckily) some distance away from me actually said to me once ‘ I don’t need to learn Italian.’ What an absolute idiot!

Unless you learn Italian here in BDL (or wherever you find yourself in Italy) you’ve got no reason to complain if you can’t hear a word of English spoken on a bus in Ipswich (for example). Learn Italian and the Italians (unlike the French) will compliment you so much on it you’ll be encouraged to carry on learning.

End of rant. Return to main subject.

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(From left to right Fabio Lucchesi, President of Unitre, Valeria Catelli course director and Riccardo Mauri, lesson deliverer)

The third Unitre lecture was given by Riccardo Mauri, a highly gifted young philosophy teacher (regrettably ‘temporary staff member’ as so many teachers are in Italy = ‘precario’ is the word to use) on Leopardi, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I was so glad to attend. To summarize Riccardo’s points:

  • Leopardi (in his ‘operette morali’), Nietzsche and Schopenhauer were uniquely united in their antagonism to the idealist philosophy of Hegel and his acolytes in the first half of the nineteenth century and the positivist (progress and everything is going for the best in the best of all possible worlds) philosophy of the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • The trilogy of Leopardi, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, while declaring the essential tragedy and suffering of life, were against suicide as an answer. One might say in English ‘grin and bear it’. All, three, however, did have a life-enhancement policy: life is given to you – try to live it to the full then, however much suffering it gives you, for without experiencing suffering you will not know the ecstasy of deep joy.
  • Nietzsche’s philosophy was deformed after his death by his evil sister who collated certain of his unedited writings to form a blueprint for anti-Semitism and Nazism. What Nietzsche couldn’t really stand were the Germans themselves!

Any talk depends on its delivery and Riccardo’s was faultless. A lesson in spoken Italian could be had from it. His voice was clear, the words he used were easily understood and there were no hesitations. He was truly prepared with his text but spoke ‘a braccio’ (freely speaking without prompts). His thesis was logically exposed and his arguments backed up by firm evidence. Most of all, Riccardo’s approach and linking together of three of the most under-rated poet-philosophers of the 19th century was exemplary.

One important point I raised with Riccardo was how similar Schopehauer’s theses were to three of the Buddha’s four noble truths (ie, life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, the escape from desire leads to liberation) as I had discovered them during our recent journey to Tibet. In fact Mauri confirmed that Schopenhauer was probably the first western philospher to pay serious attention to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and, together with Plato’s works, he always kept the Upanishads open on his desk.

I utterly enjoyed Mauri’s fabulous talk and am still awake now thinking about the points he raised. I just pity those people who have lived for so long a time in BDL and are unable not only to understand how important philosophy in the Italian educational system is but also how even more important it is to spend every spare hour you have to learning what, not just in my opinion, is the world’s most beautiful, mellifluous, sexy and musical language. There’s no other language to beat it and you will be seduced by every single new word you use.

Here are eight must-use words in Italian.  For homework work out what they mean and when to say them. Italian is such an alliterative language you could almost guess their meaning before opening a dictionary

  • Allora
  • Rocambolesco
  • Chiacchierone
  • Sfizio
  • Struggimento
  • Dondolare
  • Mozzafiato
  • Dietrologia

I think the whole world should learn Italian – there’s no more wonderfully harmonious  language to learn, to speak, to think in or to make love with.

Of Cabbages and Kings … and whether Pigs have Wings

A recent post on FB asks the question: when couples separate what happens to their friends? In the eleven years that I’ve been here I’ve witnessed several couples’ separation and I sadly conclude that in the majority of cases their friends become an embarrassment to the separated pair, principally because it’s those friends who remind them of the time when they were still an item.

Of course, it’s possible for items to separate and still conserve ties of amity between themselves. In this case it’s easy to remain friends and continue an amicable relationship with them.

In a small town environment like Bagni di Lucca it’s not easy to dissolve into the crowds as one can so anonymously do in large urban centres like London. No matter how careful one is there is bound to come a time when one is likely to meet with those who may cause an embarrassing situation. In many cases, therefore, the separated couple will go their different ways to other parts of the world.

Recently, some good friends have decided to call it a day with their relationship and, once more, I have to visit two people not on one visit but on two separate visits. Soon they will have sold the house, departed for pastures new in different areas of the world. It’ll be increasingly doubtful whether Alexandra and I will meet, with any frequency,  persons who have dined with us, enjoyed events and walks, supported us morally and generally contributed in a considerable way to our social and intellectual life.

In acrimonious separations former friendships are definitely largely discarded. This happened to us a few years back with a couple who’d always offered a place for us to sleep at when visiting Lucca for an evening event. Now we meet each one separately but no mention must be made of former times. In a gloomy variation of this scenario there’s the situation where one of the items dies and the remaining partner takes up with someone who, despite all our efforts, seems to a considerable extent to usurp the memory of the deceased in our minds because, frankly, they just don’t come up to it.

It’s said that one of the worst mistakes that those escaping from the UK to Italy make is to expect all their friends and relatives to rush to the idyllic place they have bought under the Mediterranean sun and visit them. This is, of course, quite true. What generally happens is that many UK emigrants (let’s not insist on calling them that euphemism ‘expat’), dismayed at the fact that they get fewer visits from friends and relatives than they expected, at some stage become homesick for their families and will return to be nearer to a newly pregnant daughter or an ageing mother. At the same time they must not expect that the friends they have left by the sunny shores of the Med will rush to visit them in their damp semi in Solihull or whatever else they can manage to find (that is, if they succeed to sell their former continental residence in a continuing deflated housing market and afford to buy something in the UK).

These are sad but true facts. However, you might disagree with my prognosis. Human beings remain ever a surprising and generally inscrutable species. And none more so than in their options on the forthcoming Brexit referendum…

My postal vote envelope has been received, duly marked and sent off (no points to guess where I decided to put my X). But what views do my friends and acquaintances exiled from their mother (or father) countries hold? I am amazed, but not too surprised, at the increasing polarization of political viewpoints that is occurring everywhere in Europe. One moves either further to the left or further to the right (witness Austria and certain parts of Germany, to say nothing of northern Italy). Brexit has the same effect so that I get even more turmoiled by the opposed and vehemently held outlooks of those I know here.

The big issue, disguised behind talk of increased taxation, possible visa requirements, European Union budget payments, penalties and health services remains the migration question. However, Britain’s present situation on this is nothing compared to the Italian one. In 2003 when I was first thinking of moving here there were 1,464,663 immigrants in this country. Now there are 5,014,437. Some cities, like Milan have moved from 2003’s 5% figure to today’s 20% in just over ten years. Adding to this statistic that of the reducing Italian population (less than 2 children per family) and the increasing immigrant one (more than three children per family) one does not have to be a statistician to see that by the middle of this century native Italians will be in the minority. But then Italy has always been prey to foreign invasions and is indeed a very mixed blood population starting from the Goths, Huns and Vandals to the Normans, Saracens, Teutons, French and now those poor, desperate souls fleeing across the temperamental Mediterranean waters. Recent figures from the Italian Panorama magazine put the number of arrivals this year to Europe as over 200,000 with 33,000 arriving in Italy alone, of which around a thousand have perished in the sea. (Clearly, one in 33 chance of not reaching terrafirma). On one day alone (26th May) over four thousand emigrants were saved from the waves!

At least the rest of Europe realises now that immigration from the developing world does not only affect Italy. This country has had to bear the burden of saving lives from the Mediterranean at least since the middle 1980’s with little or no help from other EU countries until today’s establishment of Frontex.

One thing is sure. The participation in the Brexit referendum must be of major concern to all those who are eligible to vote (i.e. including those who have lived abroad for less than fifteen years – what a stupid rule!). Brexit will affect those who live in Italy and those who don’t, those who are just getting married and those who are in the throes of separation, those who work for voluntary associations helping refugees and those who want no part of it.

I sincerely believe that the outcome of the Brexit referendum vote could have far-reaching consequences for Britain, Europe and, indeed the whole world.

As the immortal Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

 

 

Forced to Pay for an Italian Television Licence?

Listening to news of important modifications to ‘Auntie’ BBC UK television this morning I was reminded  of equally radical changes to the procedure for payment of a TV licence in Italy.

If, as a payer of electricity bills to ENEL or an equivalent Italian electricity supplier (e.g. Edison, Eni, GDS etc.) , you hadn’t noticed, realise this grim fact: from July the ‘canone RAI’ (licence fee) will be incorporated as part of your total electricity supply bill.

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The good news is that the fee has been reduced from Euro 113.50 to Euro 100.00.  (Presumably it’s better to have everyone pay a reduced fee than only some paying the former fee).

The bad news is that if you haven’t got TV programme receiving equipment in Italy you’ll have to go through a somewhat complicated procedure to cancel your additional payment to wonderful RAI.

There are various web-sites to show you how you can ‘disdire’ (cancel) the TV licence fee. All the sites are catering for an Italian-speaking market and require some knowledge of bureaucratic terms. Have you passed your exam in business and bureaucratic Italian yet?

Here’s one of the sites:

http://www.6sicuro.it/news/esenzione-canone-rai

To deny yourself the pleasure of having a receiving TV in your Italian home you must fill in a self-certification form for Italian Inland Revenue purpose. In certain situations one may lawfully terminate paying one’s TV licence even if one possesses a TV set. The following categories may fill in this form to state that they don’t want to pay the licence:

  1. Those who don’t own a television set.
  2. Those who own a TV and are paying an electricity bill but already have a TV licence for their own home in the name of another member of the family.
  3. Those who are over 75 years of age, receive an income of less than Euros 6,713.88 per annum and live in a house with, at most, just their spouse present.
  4. Those who have electricity bill in the name of a deceased relative.

The deadlines for declaring that one doesn’t own a TV (self-certification) is May 10th for on-line transmission (this was available from April 4th) and April 30th for those sending their self-certification by post (address to send to is Agenzia delle Entrate Ufficio di Torino 1, S.A.T. – Sportello abbonamenti TV – Casella Postale 22 – 10121 Torino.

The reason for this forcible change is that RAI depends on two-thirds of its income on the license fee which is more than its income was seven years ago when just half the licence fee supported the national TV station. The rest of RAI’s income comes from advertising. Since tax evasion here is tantamount to a national sport, dictatorial measures have had to be imposed by the government to get its long-suffering citizens to pay up.

The quality of Italian television has been the source of complaints from many Italians and certainly not without justification. If one is into game shows, chat programmes and glitzy variety then there is certainly plenty to choose from!

My view is that careful programme selection can turn up some gems like the documentaries Superquark and Ulisse with Piero and Alberto Angela, frightening factual criminal investigations like chi l’ha visto (Italian equivalent of Crimewatch, only much more sinister), lighter programme like Bake off Italia (no translation needed) and, of course, the internationally well-regarded Commissario Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano) which has been running since 1999 and is based on Andrea Camilleri’s brilliant crime thrillers. I wish, however, that original English language films were not dubbed in Italian when shown on RAI. It’s rather surreal to hear Steve McQueen speak with a Neapolitan accent!

If you don’t want to watch Italian TV, don’t have a TV and don’t have TV programme receiving equipment then you must do a self-certification as described above and fill in the form to be downloaded at:

http://www.laleggepertutti.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Circolare-n.-46E_Allegato-n.-1.pdf

Once it used to be ‘can’t pay, won’t pay.’ Now it’s ‘won’t pay, must pay’. The deadline has been extended to May 16th. It may be too late not to see the TV license incorporated into your next Italian electricity bill but it’s possible to apply later than this date and, hopefully, have the extra license fee charge cancelled.

However, be warned: there are snooper vans going around the country checking up on people who say that they don’t have a TV but conversely have one receiving set. The penalties are confiscation of all TV sets and TV receiving equipment, including aerials, plus a hefty fine. Alternatively, you could resign yourself to watching the box and pay, even if you have no intention of viewing RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana).

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(PS This doesn’t mean you’ll be shot by a canon if you don’t pay up- it means’ beware of the TV licence’)

What next? Italian car road tax on your gas bill?

 

 

 

 

The Beechwood of the Black Fate

Have you ever felt mysterious presences when walking through a wood or experienced unexplained occurrences in your home? Have you actually sighted strange beings? If so, you’re definitely not the only one. Here in the Mediavalle and Garfagnana areas there are many arcane powers and none so able to describe them as forest ranger and keeper of the regional park of the Apuane Mountains, Bartolomeo Puccetti, and archaeologist and explorer, Simone Deri.

Together they have produced a book, published by Edizioni Cinquemarzo, Luca and Rebecca’s publishing firm at Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca Villa, called ‘I Misteri del Fato Nero’. (The mysteries of the black destiny).

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The great thing about this book is that it is not simply an academic collection of legends and stories about supernatural beings. It’s a truly readable book to be enjoyed by both children and adults and written in quite easy Italian.

The cover impresses with its illustrations by ‘I Forestelli’ animation studio who have created Italian-style Manga-type characters and several of their illustrations punctuate the book. The exciting thing about the black fate is that it actually exists. The wood of the black fate is a beech wood above Arni and situated at a height of 4,600 feet. It’s unusual that woods in this area get a specific name but surely this one merits it because of the strange happenings that go on within its bounds.

Another great feature about the book is that each section is devoted to a historical or even prehistorical era. The first section is devoted to prehistory as far back as the Neanderthaloids. The second deals with myths and the third with history dealing from the Etruscans to the Romans.

It’s indeed volume one since further books are promised leading one into the mediaeval and post mediaeval worlds. I’m not going to give away the contents of the sections except that Hannibal and his elephants make an appearance (yes, they really crossed the mountains a little above us, traces have been found both in archaeology and folklore) and rich treasure troves of gold lie hidden in unexplored caves.

To improve your Italian here are a few of the terms used to describe these semi-invisible presences.

Linchetto.

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(Courtesy of http://www.ailinchi.it/en/the-linchetto.html )

The linchetto is a type of elf inhabiting the areas of Lucca, Versilia and Garfagnana. The elf is not a bad spirit but he likes creating mischief. He gets into your house makes you lose objects and sometimes changes them, takes your bedclothes off at night (has special fun with newly-weds), and delights in driving you a little mad. He also enjoys giving you nightmares and weird visions. He is kind to children but can’t stand geriatrics. According to some historians the linchetto is a descendant of a faun, friend of the woodland god Pan.  If your home is being haunted by a linchetto then the remedy to get rid of the pest is to hold a candle that has been blessed before him, or to hang a juniper twig on your front door. Also, efficacious is keeping a cupful of rice in your house. The linchetto can’t resist counting things and will spend all his time counting the rice grains until he gets fed up and goes away. There’s also a secret phrase which I won’t give away at this stage unless your house is desperately haunted by linchetti.

Buffardello (or Baffardello)

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(Courtesy of Comune di San Romano)

The buffardello also inhabits the same places as the linchetto but is especially common in Garfagnana. Sometimes he is known by different names. At Gorfigliano he’s called ‘pappardello’ and at Sillano he’s ‘piffardello’. The buffardello is a sub-species of elf but is rather less devilish and more boorish than the Linchetto. He does, however, have an unfortunate habit of stealing wine-bottles from your cellar. The remedy for getting rid of a buffardello is to close all windows, and take in all the washing in case he puts a spell on them. Juniper hung on the front door is also useful as is the usual blessed candle. If the situation is truly desperate then (I’m not having you on!) take a cheese sandwich to the loo and eat it while you’re doing your business and say ‘I’m eating a cheese sandwich and shitting on you’.

Elfo

This is a straightforward elf (if ever elves were straightforward.)

Folletto

Another word for elf.

Fata = fairy, fatina = small fairy.

If you are one of those unfortunate people who don’t believe that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden then think again. The perception of these supernatural beings has been thrown out of you by unimaginative people like disciplinarian parents and strict teachers. Wordsworth knew all about this and in his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood he writes

But there’s a tree, one of many, a single field which I have look’d upon …. Both of them speak of something that is gone: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

The foresters keep a book where sightings of linchetti and buffardelli and elfi can be recorded by visitors. Don’t be embarrassed to do so if you see one of these elfin creatures. It won’t mean that you’ll be taken to see a psychiatrist, another of that dreaded horde of people who try to take your dreams away from you. Be grateful, instead that no sightings of bigfoots have been recorded in our Garfagnana forests as they have in other parts of the world (like North America) for bigfoots too exist and even the famous chimpanzee ethologist, Jane Goodall, firmly believes in them.

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I look forwards to receiving pictures from anyone who has photographed a linchetto or buffardello. To-date I tried to take a photo of one but the spiteful creature made sure my camera battery went flat!

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(Photo taken just before a linchetto appeared and my camera battery went flat)