Articles by: Traci Andrighetti

  • Art & Culture

    Books. QUANDO ROMA ERA UN PARADISO by Stefano Malatesta


    Quando Roma era un Paradiso (When Rome Was a Paradise), a 2016 Strega Prize nominee, is a collection of author and painter Stefano Malatesta’s memories from his youth in post-World-War-II Rome when the Eternal City unseated Paris as Europe's center of artistic and intellectual activity.

    The book's title, taken from a quote by American artist Cy Twombly, refers to the rise of the international film industry at Rome’s Cinecittà studios, a period known as Hollywood sul Tevere (Hollywood on the Tiber), and the art industries that flourished alongside it. According to Malatesta, Rome in the 1950s and 60s seemed like “an immense trattoria” with a “continuous party” atmosphere (occasionally Felliniesque in nature) that was frequented not only by directors, actors, writers, artists, and athletes, but also by those who profited from them, honestly and otherwise.

    The result is a fascinating glimpse of some of Rome’s legendary cineasti (filmmakers), cinematografari (second-rate filmmakers), fettucinari (fettuccine-makers) and falsari (counterfeiters), among others, and the language that they inspired.


    In addition to l’arte dell’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by) and vitellone (literally, a calf; figuratively, a slacker), Malatesta cites two neologisms created in Rome during the post-war years.

    paraculo (literally, for ass; figuratively, opportunist)

    “Paraculo” venga dalle imbottiture dei calzoni che le mamme previdenti preparavano ai loro figlioli, ragazzini di quattordici anni e già distinti ladruncoli, specializzati nel furto con salto.

    (“Paraculo” comes from the stuffed trousers that shrewd mothers made for their sons, boys around fourteen years of age and already distinguished petty thieves who specialized in theft by jumping.)

    cinematografaro (second-rate filmmaker)

    Il termine era nato nel dopoguerra insieme a vitelloni e paraculi e stava a indicare la gente del cinema senza una qualifica precisa, personaggi illetterati e rozzi per la maggior parte, l’esatto opposto dei cineasti.

    (The term was born in the post-war period along with vitelloni and paraculi, and it referred to people in cinema without any specific credentials, for the most part ignorant and uncouth characters, the exact opposite of the cineasti [filmmakers].)


    Due in part to the influence of the likes of Orson Welles, Truman Capote, and Audrey Hepburn, American English became fashionable throughout Italy, resulting in the use of intact and Italianized terms that persist in present-day usage.

    hollywoodiano (adjective for Hollywood)

    Nell’estate del ’45 era uscita un film che rivoluzionava i modi del fare il cinema, dopo aver gettato via i valori del sistema hollywoodiano già contestati da Orson Welles.

    (In the summer of ’45 a film came out that revolutionized the ways of making cinema, after having thrown out the values of the Hollywood system, which had already been contested by Orson Welles.)

    American way of life

    Come il Settecento è stato il secolo della Francia, l’Ottocento dell’Inghilterra, così il Novecento è stato il secolo degli Stati Uniti e nessun paese in Europa è stato così influenzato dall’American way of life come l’Italia in quegli anni.

    (Like the eighteenth century was the century of France [and] the nineteenth of England, so the twentieth century was the century of the United States, and no country in Europe was more influenced by the American way of life than Italy in those years.)


    Una delle sere più divertenti a cui Matta aveva partecipato appena arrivato a Roma, era stato un happening intitolato “serata anti-clericale”, una festa assolutamente goliardica, organizzata da Consagra il 20 settembre del 1949 per ricordare la breccia di porta Pia.

    (One of the more entertaining evenings that [the painter] Matta participated in as soon as he arrived un Rome was a happening called “Anti-Clerical Evening,” an absolutely goliardic party organized by [Pietro] Consagra on September 20, 1949, to commemorate the bombardment of Porta Pia.)


    The Americanization of Italians in this period was satirized in the 1954 film “Un Americano a Roma (An American in Rome)” with Alberto Sordi’s character, Nando Mericoni, who speaks in a mix of Romanesco, Italian, and “American.”

    Nun annà a destra perché c'è er burone daa Maranella, o'right? o’right!

    (Non andare a destra perché c’è il burrone della Maranella, va bene? Va bene!) (Italian)

    (Don’t go right because the Maranella ravine is there, all right? All right!)


    Following the success of the film "Quo vadis?," the influx of Americans turned Rome into a giant Circus Maximus, with local business owners, in particular restaurateurs, capitalizing on the appeal of ancient Rome, a fact which gave new life to so-called “Latin.”

    taberne (an Italianization of the Latin tabernaesingle-room shops in ancient Rome)
    Romani te salutant (a non-existent phrase; English: Romans salute you)

    Se uno andava sull’Appia Antica trovava i ristoranti battezzati con i nomi “taberne”, dove il proprietario si affacciava all’entrata vestito da centurione dicendo una frase che in Latino non esiste “Romani te salutant”, probabilmente copiata da “Morituri te salutant.”

    (If you went to the Appian Way you would find restaurants baptized “taberne,” where the owner stood at the entrance dressed as a Centurion saying a sentence that doesn’t exist in Latin, Romani te salutant, probably taken from Morituri te salutant [those who are about to die salute you].)


    Restaurant owners also capitalized on the success of the film industry by renaming local dishes after famous movie stars.

    tripa ar sugo Aldo Fabrizi (tripe with Aldo Fabrizi sauce)
    ‘na cofana de bucatini alla rozza Magnani-Rossellini (a bucket of bucatini with rude sauce Magnani-Rossellini-style, named after Anna Magnani and Roberto Rossellini)
    Pajata Anitona (calf intestines Anitona-style, inspired by Federico Fellini’s affectionate nickname for Anita Eckberg, Anton [Big Anita])

    E noi rispondiamo co’ “la trippa ar sugo Aldo Fabrizi”, con “’na cofana de bucatini alla rozza Magnani-Rossellini”, che ricordano un noto episodio dell’aneddotica di Cinecittà, con la “Pajata Anitona,” dei bei tempi della “Dolce Vita.”

    (And we respond with “tripe with Aldo Fabrizi sauce,” with “a bucket of bucatini with rude sauce Magnani-Rossellini-style,” that recalls a notable episode in the anecdotage of Cinecittà, [and] with “calf intestines Anitona-style,” from the good times of “La Dolce Vita.”)

  • Art & Culture

    Books. DI RABBIA E DI VENTO by Alessandro Robecchi


    Di rabbia e di vento (Of Rage and Wind) (Sellerio, 2016), the third novel in Alessandro Robecchi’s Carlo Monterossi mystery series, opens with the brutal murder of a luxury auto dealer in a wet and unusually windy Milan. Hours later, trash TV writer Carlo Monterossi crosses paths with Anna Galinda, an escort who is tortured and shot within hours, possibly minutes, of their meeting. After Monterossi is called to the police station for questioning, he’s haunted by the brief time he spent with Anna and the clac (click) of her door as it closed behind him. Out of a sense of responsibility and the rabbia (rage) referenced in the title, Monterossi teams up with an old friend and spy, an officer on leave, and an Ethiopian handyman to hunt for the ruthless killer and a rumored treasure.

    The language of Di rabbia e di vento is rich and at times humorous, despite the bluesy, Bob Dylany melancholy that pervades this metropolitan noir. In general, Robecchi writes in a neo-standard Italian colored with the occasional regional influence. But he also includes other linguistic varieties, such as jargonistic, scientific, and bureaucratic Italian, which add substance and authenticity to the story. Some of the more intriguing and entertaining passages, particularly from the non-native speaker perspective, involve the bureaucratic Italian and an “insider speak” specific to the Milanese context.

    capanùn (Ital. capannone; Eng. warehouse)

    È tutto un lungo paesone: campi e case e fabbrichette, la ditta, l’azienda, il capanùn.

    (It’s all one big, long town: fields and houses and small factories, the firm, the business, the warehouse.)

    sciura (Ital. signora; Eng. woman, but with an implication of wealth)

    Ne esce una sciura milanese che sembra presa da un documentario sulle sciure milanesi.

    (A Milanese signora comes out who seems straight out of a documentary about Milanese signore.)

    pulloverino (Eng. a small pullover; comprised of pullover + –ino, a suffix meaning little)

    Serena si toglie il cappotto e sotto ha un pulloverino leggero sul tono del viola, con la maglietta girocollo che spunta.

    (Serena takes off her coat, and underneath she has a small, light pullover in a shade of violet with a crewneck T-shirt sticking out.)

    briffatelo (Eng. you [plural] brief him; from brief, prounounced briff + –are = briffare, or to brief)

    “Ci starà di sicuro,” dice Flora, e aggiunge, “Briffatelo bene.”

    (“He’ll be in for sure,” Flora says. And she adds, “Brief him well.”)

    beccamorto (Eng. gravedigger; literally he pecks dead; derived from the medieval practice of certifying the death of an individual by biting the big toe)

    Il tipo del negozio [di pompe funebri], il beccamorto, ha smesso di fare la faccia contrita quando ha capito che non c’era un lutto di mezzo, ma solo una questione tecnica.

    (The guy from the funeral home, the gravedigger, dropped the contrite face when he learned that there was no grief involved, but just a technical question.)

    tirapiedi (Eng. lackey or hangman’s assistant; literally, he pulls feet; derived from the practice of having the hangman’s assistant pull the feet of a hanged individual to induce a faster death)

    Serena era in uno di quei buchi, il frigo pieno, divieto di uscire, guardata a vista da un uomo di mezza età risultato poi essere il tirapiedi del Serperi, che la teneva lì, curava che non scappasse e la dava una ripassata ogni tanto, così, per gradire.

    (Serena was in one of those holes, the full fridge, no exit, watched by a middle-aged man who turned out to be the lackey of Serperi, who was keeping her there, making sure she didn’t escape and giving her a going over every once in a while, just because, for fun.)

    fare il nababbo (Eng. literally, to do the nabob, as in to lead a life of luxury; derived from the Anglo-Indian term nabob, which is from the Hindi nabab, to refer to a person of conspicuous wealth)

    Insomma si parla di lui, Giuseppe Serperi, la bestia della BMW bianca, che risulta guardia giurata e fa il nababbo.

    (In short, they’re talking about him, Giuseppe Serperi, the animal with the white BMW who, as it turns out, is a security guard and leads a life of luxury.)

    andarsene all’inglese (Eng. literally, to go away English style, as in to slip out [without saying goodbye to the host]; but, ironically, often translated in the English context as to take French leave)

    Oscar sa come fare, quando si sveglierà se ne andrà all’inglese come fa sempre lui.

    (Oscar knows how to behave. When he wakes up he’ll slip out like he always does.)

    gamma-idrossibutirrato (Eng. gamma-hydroxybutyric acid)

    Dentro c’era del gamma-idrossibutirrato, che sarebbe un anestetico, più o meno, o se di mestiere fate i titoli nei giornali, “la droga dello stupro.”

    (Inside there was some gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, which is an anesthetic, more or less, or, if you write newspaper headlines by trade, “the date rape drug.”)

    caramba (Eng. the nickname of the Carabinieri; borrowed from the Spanish exclamation of surprise, ¡Ay, caramba!)

    “I caramba sono carini ma non ci dicono tutto.”

    (“The caramba are nice, but they’re not telling us everything.”)

    fidejussione (or fideiussione; Eng. a contract of guaranty or suretyship under Roman civil law)

    La signorina aveva fatto senza battere ciglio una fidejussione per i primi due anni d’affitto, un bell’ottantamila, roba che non cresce sugli alberi.

    (Without batting an eye, the young woman had signed a guaranty for the first two years of rent, a nice eighty thousand, stuff that doesn’t grow on trees.)

    ecomostro (Eng. ecomonster, i.e., a journalistic term for building or a complex of buildings considered grossly incompatible with the surrounding environment)

    Ora, dire che le facce di quei tre crollano come un ecomostro puntellato con la dinamite sarebbe troppo, è vero, ma qualche crepa si vede, e anche dei calcinacci che cadono sul tappeto.

    (Now, to say that the faces of those three collapsed like an ecomonster shored up with dynamite would be too much, it’s true. But you could see a few cracks, and also some pieces of plaster falling on the carpet.)

    “Scusi, sovrintendente, posso conoscere il motivo della convocazione?”
    Voleva dire: “Mi dica perché sono qui,” ma all’improvviso gli è sembrato un po’ troppo da film.

    (“Excuse me, superintendent, can I know the reason for the summons?”

    He’d wanted to say, “Tell me why I’m here,” but all of the sudden it seemed too much like something from a film.)

    “Dove è più semplice,” ha detto Carlo.
    Che a Milano vuol dire: non si preoccuppi del prezzo.

    (“Wherever is easiest,” Carlo said.

    Which in Milan means: Don’t worry about the cost.)

    “Nessun problema.”
    Che a Milano vuol dire: costerà un po’ caro.

    (“No problem.”

    Which in Milan means: It’ll be pretty expensive.)


    Alessandro Robecchi (b. 1960, Milan) is a journalist by profession, but he also writes for the theater, radio, and TV. For more information about Robecchi and his work, visit his website. And be sure to like his Facebook page.

  • Art & Culture

    Books. Furto alle cascate del Niagara


    Mario Pasqualotto (Bologna) is a psycholinguist, editor, translator, and author. To date, he has written the young adult novel L’estate delle falene (The Summer of the Moths) (Einaudi Ragazzi, 2011) under his own name and two successful children’s series under the pen name Sir Steve Stevenson (De Agostini): La Scuola dei Pirati (A School for Pirates), action-adventure books featuring the Sea Scouts; and the Agatha Mistery series (in English translation, “Agatha: Girl of Mystery”) featuring Agatha Mistery, a vivacious twelve-year-old with a photographic memory who travels the world solving mysteries with her spy cousin Larry Mistery, her faithful butler, Mr. Kent, and her cat, Watson.

    In Furto alle cascate del Niagara (Theft at Niagara Falls), Agatha and her crew travel to the Overlook Hotel after famed opera singer Helga Hoffmans’s jewels are stolen from a safe in her suite. The case takes them on an adventurous hunt through the dense forests around the Falls for Ratmusqué, Canada’s most notorious thief.

    Furto alla cascate del Niagara is a fun read, both in terms of the story and the language. Perhaps because of his background in psycholinguistics, Pasqualotto writes in a neostandard Italian that is colorful and quite creative, as evidenced by the excerpts below.


    detective Eye (Ital. detective or investigatore privatoprivate eye)

    Larry: Studente pasticcione della prestigiosa scuola per detective Eye.

    (Larry: Bungling student of the prestigious school for private eyes.)

    Ratmusqué (from the French rat musqué; Ital. topo muschiato; Eng. muskrat)

    Obiettivo: Scovare nelle misteriose e fitte foreste canadesi un ladro astuto e abilissimo, il famigerato Ratmusqué.

    (Objective: Flush an astute and extremely clever thief, the notorious Ratmusqué, from the mysterious and thick Canadian forests.)


    acciambellato (curled up; from Ital. ciambella; Eng. ring-shaped cake or doughnut)

    Agatha salutò Watson, acciambellato nel suo trasportino, poi accese la torcia.

    (Agatha greeted Watson, curled up in his carrier, then she turned on the flashlight.)

    sgattaiolare (to slip away; from Ital. gatto; Eng. cat)

    “Per ora abbiamo solo indizi ipotetici, perché le telecamere esterne non hanno ripreso nessuno che fuggiva dall’albergo durante il concerto,” spiegò la ragazza. “Come ha fatto il nostro uomo a sgattaiolare fuori?”

    (For now we’ve only got hypothetical clues, because the security cameras didn’t capture anyone fleeing from the hotel during the concert,” the girl explained. “How was our man able to slip away?”)


    bestione (Ital. bestia + -one; Eng. literally, big beast, i.e., brute)

    Mr Kent fece scrocchiare minacciosamente le nocche, subito imitato dal bestione della sorveglianza.

    (Mr. Kent cracked his knuckles threateningly, immediately imitated by the security brute.)

    ladruncolo (Ital. ladro + -uncolo; Eng. lesser thief, i.e., petty thief)

    “Ma questi due ladruncoli da strapazzo non potevano certo saperlo, per loro sfortuna!”

    (“But these two third-rate petty thieves certainly couldn’t have known that, unluckily for them!”)


    farfallino (Ital. farfalla + -ino; Eng. literally, little butterfly; figuratively, bowtie)
    smoking (borrowed from Eng. smoking jacket but in the American context refers to a tuxedo)

    Silenzioso come un’ombra, Mr Kent si aggiustò il farfallino dello smoking e si diresse alla centralina elettrica.

    (As silent as a shadow, Mr. Kent adjusted the bowtie of his tuxedo and headed for the electrical box.)

    jeans a zampa di elefante (Eng. elephant paw jeans, i.e., bell-bottom jeans)

    Indossava un paio di jeans a zampa di elefante e una camicetta chiara.

    (She was wearing a pear of bell-bottom jeans and a light shirt.)


    rubacuori (Ital. ruba + cuori; Eng. literally, he steals hearts, i.e., heartbreaker)

    “Che rubacuori!” ironizzò Larry, incontenibile. “Mi dispiace, ti ricordo che la tua… ehm… amica ha preso l’aereo all’alba per la prossima tappa del suo tour. Ce l’aveva detto in albergo…”

    (“What a heartbreaker!” joked Larry, irrepressible. “I’m sorry, I remember that your…um…friend was going to catch a flight at dawn for the next stop on her tour. She told us that at the hotel…”)

    spaccatimpani (Ital. spacca + timpani; Eng. literally, it splits eardrums, i.e., ear-splitting)

    Mentre partiva l’autoscatto, l’EyeNet emise un trillo spaccatimpani.

    (While the self-timer was going off, the EyeNet device emitted an ear-splitting squeal.)


    gnam gnam (Eng. nom nom)

    “Questo incarico… gnam gnam… presenta tantissime stranezze!” Larry inghiottì l’ultima tartina rimasta nel piatto, bevve un sorso di limonata e consegnò alla hostess il vassoio della cena.

    “This assignment…nom nom…has a lot of strange twists!” Larry swallowed the last canapé on the plate, drank a sip of lemon soda, and gave the flight attendant his dinner tray.)

    opsss (Eng. oops)

    Larry diede un leggero colpo di tosse. “Ricordati, cara cugina, che la nostra è una missione segretissima…”

    Opsss… hai ragione!” sospirò Scarlett.

    (Larry gave a slight cough. “Remember, dear cousin, that ours is an extremely secret mission…”

    “Oops… you’re right!” Scarlett sighed.)


    dare nell’occhio (Eng. literally, to give in the eye; figuratively, to attract attention)

    Prima regola: Non dare mai nell’occhio.

    (First rule: Never attract attention.)

    un granchio colossale (Eng. literally, a colossal crab; figuratively, a colossal blunder)

    Quando finalmente capì la verità, si accarezzò il naso e passò in rassegna i volti di tutti i presenti. Avevano preso un granchio colossale!

    (When she finally figured out the truth, she rubbed her nose and scrutinized the faces of all those present. They’d made a colossal blunder!)


    diamine (Eng. good heavens)

    “Chi ti ha dato il permesso di… di… oh, diamine!”

    (“Who gave you permission to… to… Oh, good heavens!”)

    Per la barba di Abramo Lincoln! (Eng. literally, For the beard of Abraham Lincoln; figuratively, For the love of Abraham Lincoln!)

    “Per la barba di Abramo Lincoln!” esclamò disgustata. “Non ho mai sentito una puzza più terribile!”

    (“For the love of Abraham Lincoln!” she exclaimed, disgusted. “I’ve never smelled anything so terrible.”)

    Pasqualotto’s books are written for children ages 7 and up, but they’re also terrific texts for adults learning Italian. Both of his series are so popular that they’re available in 22 countries and counting, and the Agatha mysteries were recently featured in the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport, as advertised in this cute commercial.

    For more information about Pasqualotto, a.k.a. Stevenson, visit his author page on the Dreamfarm agency website.

  • Life & People

    Piacere Sicilia


    Piacere Sicilia (Sicily Pleasure) is, according to its tagline, La prima rivista made in Sicily di turismo, tradizione e gastronomia (The first magazine Made in Sicily about tourism, traditions, food and wine). And what a pleasure it is!

    Flipping through the pages of this magazine is truly a feast for the soul and for the eyes, as the gorgeous cover illustration indicates. If you haven’t been to Sicily, Piacere Sicilia will make you long to go. And if you have been there, as I have, you’ll be desperate to return. I almost cried when I saw a picture of cannoli.

    The content of Piacere Sicilia is well researched and written and consists of short articles about everything from historical towns and key sites to food, drink, and lodging. But what is particularly impressive about the magazine is the care that the editorial staff takes to introduce elements of both the Sicilian language (often erroneously referred to as a “dialect” of Italian) and the regional Italian of Sicily (the proper name for Italianized Sicilian, i.e., Sicilian terms that are Italian in terms of morphology). Below are some of the words and phrases from the Trapani issue of Piacere Sicilia.

    Castellammare del Golfo (Sic. Casteddammari; Eng. a town whose name means Sea Castle on the Gulf)
    Lilibeum (Ital. Lilibeo, which means Ital. la città che guarda la Lybia; Eng. the town overlooking Lybia (Note: Lilibeum was an ancient Punic city, the ruins of which lie beneath the contemporary city of Marsala)

    dammusu (Reg. Ital. dammuso, Ital. tetto; Eng. roof)
    kammarinu (Ital. camera da letto per un bambino; Eng. child’s bedroom)

    busiate (derived from the Sic. busa; Ital. ferro da maglia; Eng. knitting needle)
    raù di runcu cu l’agghia e muddrica (Ital. ragù di gronco con aglio e mollica; Eng. conger ragout with garlic and bread crumbs)
    pasta cà sarsa (Ital. pasta con la salsa di pomodoro; Eng. pasta with tomato sauce)
    pisci sicchi (Ital. pesci secchi; Eng. dried fish)

    u megghiu manciari (Ital. il meglio da mangiare; Eng. the best of food)
    vivu vivu (Ital. vivo vivo; Eng. live live, a saying in Trapani to indicate the freshness of fish)
    è ‘cchiu vecchiu da culummara (Ital. è più vecchio del Colombaia; Eng. it’s older than the Colombaia, a castle in Trapani—parts of which date back to 480 BC)

    la Maronna di l’agnuni (Ital. la Madonna dell’angolo; Eng. The Madonna in the Corner; also called Ital. la Madonna nera con bambino; Eng. The Black Madonna and Child)

    abbanniare (Ital. pubblicizzare; Eng. to advertise, in this case, to scream about one’s wares on the street)

    Thanks to the terrific translations of British expatriate Vanessa Di Stefano, this magazine is available in Italian and English in print, online at, and, if you download the free app from the App Store, on your iPhone, Android, or iPad (for free). And be sure to mipiacciare (like) their Facebook page.

  • Art & Culture

    English Words in the Italian Language


    Using English words in the Italian language seems to be becoming more and more popular these days unlike some other languages, which have been strongly resisting the entry of foreign words, especially those of English origin, into their dictionary. It appears that Italian has a strong inclination towards Anglicism to such an extent that Italian words often tend to be substituted by English ones, even when it may not really be necessary.

    Here are just a few examples of cases in which the English terms are preferred to the Italian ones:

    • Email = posta elettronica
    • Fan = ammiratore
    • Hobby = passatempo
    • Hostess = assistente di volo
    • Manager = dirigente
    • Meeting = riunione
    • Relax = riposo
    • Week end = fine settimana


    However, English words are not the only ones to be incorporated into the Italian language. Actually, there are also many French words being used such as:

    • Abat-jour = bedside lamp
    • Boutique = small and elegant clothes shop
    • Chignon = bun (hair style)
    • Collant = pantyhose
    • Tailleur = woman's suit


    Although the use of Anglicism and Gallicism is predominant, it is also possible to find a lot of words coming from other languages, like kitsch (German), yogurt (Turkish), and kayak (Eskimo).

    This use of an ever increasing number of foreign words raises many questions and people wonder why Italians don't create equivalent words in their own language, instead of importing foreign terms. They could do the same as the French and Spanish, who have eliminated foreign words altogether, even for Information Technology (IT) terms. So, instead of using the English word computer, they use the French ordinateur or the Spanish ordenador.

    staff Parlando Italiano-2But Italians don't really seem to like these translations, and the debate is still open. On one side, there are those who support the introduction of foreign words, especially English words, into the Italian language, considering them as a way to show off a more international and sophisticated culture. On the other side, many linguists believe that the overuse of these words could represent a threat to the purity of the language.

    If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn Italian, visit My Italian lessons Parlando Italiano!

  • Art & Culture

    BOOKS. Festa di piazza by Gian Mauro Costa

    Gian Mauro Costa (b. 1952, Palermo) is an author and journalist. He reported for the Sicilian daily newspaper “L’Ora” until it folded in 1992, at which time he began working for RAI. Costa published his first mystery, Yesterday, with Sellerio in 2001. After a nine-year absence he returned to the literary world with Il libro di legno (Sellerio, 2010), which was a finalist for the prestigious Giorgio Scerbanenco Prize. This novel, like all of his subsequent work, features the character of Enzo Baiamonte, an electrical technician and private investigator who lives in Palermo.

    In Festa di piazza (2012), Enzo Baiamonte decides to close his electrician business. Rosa, his seamstress girlfriend, convinces him to finally try to get the private investigator license that he has talked about for some time. Meanwhile, when Enzo accepts a job doing the lighting for the Festival of the Madonna Addolorata, he overhears a strange conversation about a small-time Mafia boss who is planning to sing at the festival. While he’s working on the wiring, Enzo begins to put together a string of seemingly unrelated events, including a wrecked truck, a robbery gone wrong, thefts from the tombs of a local cemetery, and, most disturbingly, the return of people who were supposed to be dead…

    The language of Festa di piazza is best described as a cross between that of Italian authors Andrea Camilleri and Santo Piazzese. More precisely, it’s regional Italian—in this case, Sicilian and Sicilian Italian specific to Palermo with a strong neostandard base.

    Costa incorporates a considerable amount of authentic Sicilian words and phrases.

    ’u casciamortaru (Ital. il becchino; Eng. the gravedigger)
    In tutte ’ste pellicule c’era sempre ’u casciamortaru che faceva affari d’oro a seguire il pistolero.
    (In all these films there was always the gravedigger who had the golden opportunity to follow the gunslinger.)

    Agneddu e sucu e finìu ’u vattiu (Sicilian)
    Agnello e sugo ed è finito il battesimo (Italian)
    Lamb and sauce and the baptism is over (English)

    Regional Italian, or, in this case, Sicilian Italian, is Italian that has been influenced by the dialect in some way.

    sparacelli (Ital. broccoli selvatici; Eng. wild broccoli)
    Si erano mangiati zitti zitti la pasta con gli sparacelli, che era uno dei piatti preferiti di Enzo.
    (They had eaten as quiet as mice the pasta with wild broccoli, which was one of Enzo’s favorite dishes.)

    Ma a chi appartiene? (Eng. Who do you belong to?)
    “Ma a chi appartiene?” chiese Enzo, benedicendo l’utilità di quell’espressione tutta palermitana che consentiva di catalogare ogni persona secondo un criterio di appartenenza familiare, di clan o di altro.
    (“Who do you belong to?” Enzo asked, blessing the utility of that wholly Palermitan expression that allowed for the cataloguing of every individual according to a criterion of familial, clan or other belonging.)

    In this instance, Costa Italianizes an English word, even though there is already an Italian equivalent.

    appillola (Ital. appello; Eng. appeal)
    Anche se, da quando non si chiamava più serie C1 e C2, non aveva più lo stesso appeal, anzi appillola come diceva Lo Cascio, parola inglese imparata, insieme a un mucchietto di altre, grazie alle pagine regionali della “Gazzetta dello Sport.”
    (Even though, since it was no longer called series C1 and C2, it didn’t have the same appeal, or appillola as Lo Cascio would say, an English word learned together with a pile of others, thanks to the regional pages of the “Gazzetta dello Sport.”)

    As often occurs when Italians borrow from English, the terms play a different syntactical role or assume a different form in the Italian context.

    double face (Eng. double-faced)
    Li conosceva, ma solo perché era inevitabile per una persona che abitasse in un quartiere come quello della Zisa, non popolare al cento per cento, ma con l’anima double face, tra veracità antica e fremiti modernisti.
    (She knew them, but only because it was inevitable for a person who lived in a neighborhood like that of Zisa, not one hundred percent working class, but with a double-faced soul, between ancient veracity and modernist impulses.)

    cellofanato (Eng. cellophaned, i.e. wrapped in cellophane)
    Solo un’area centrale appariva più pulita: là dove si trovava il materiale cellofanato che adesso era stato trascinato via insieme a qualche chilo di acari.
    (Just a central area seemed cleaner: there where the cellophaned material was located that had now been dragged away together with a few kilos of dust mites.)

    One of the more entertaining aspects of Italian is the tendency to spell English terms in accordance with Italian orthography and phonology.

    uestern (Eng. westerns)
    “Già, il cinema. Una fissazione, aveva. Gli venne ‘sta mania, dicono, con i uestern, quelli che piacciono tanto a Enzuccio,” fece Lo Cascio, che sapeva, da buon amico, come irritare Baiamonte.
    (Yeah, the movies. He had a fixation. He had this mania, they say, for westerns, the ones that little Enzo likes so much,” went Lo Cascio, who knew, like a good friend, how to irritate Baiamonte.)

    Scerlokkòms (Eng. Sherlock Holmes)
    Però, se tu mi dici che di testa non ci sta, non è che ci voglia poi Scerlokkòms…
    (But, if you’re telling me that he’s not all there in the head, it’s not like it’ll take Sherlock Holmes…)

    Common expressions are always an interesting window into a culture, regardless of whether one shares the sentiment they express. Incidentally, this expression derives from an eighteenth-century event sponsored by the Portuguese Embassy at Rome’s Teatro Argentina. Curiously, the freeloaders weren’t the Portuguese because the show was free to them; instead, they were the Romans who pretended to be Portuguese so that they could see the show for free.

    come un portoghese allo stadio (Eng. literally, like a Portuguese person at a stadium, but it refers to a person who enters an event, in this case a soccer stadium, without paying)
    “Ah, ma di che parlate, della festa della Madonnuzza?” si fece largo Ignazino come un portoghese allo stadio.
    (“Oh, what are you all taking about, the festival of the Madonnuzza?” Ignazino barged in [to the conversation], like a Portuguese person at a stadium.)

  • Facts & Stories

    BOOK - Antonio Manzini's Pista Nera


    Antonio Manzini (b. Rome, 1964) is a man of many talents. He’s an actor, screenwriter, director and, luckily for us readers, an author. His works include three short stories, one of which he co-wrote with Niccolò Ammaniti, and the novels Sangue marcio (Bad Blood) (Fazi, 2005) and La giostra dei criceti (The Joust of the Hamsters) (Einaudi, 2007). His latest novel, Pista nera (Black Run) (Sellerio, 2013), is an excitingly unconventional take on the giallo regionale (regional mystery) set in the northern Italian region of Valle d’Aosta.

    In the opening pages of Pista nera, a body is found buried between two ski trails above the village of Champoluc. Vicequestore (Deputy Prefect) Rocco Schiavone, a shady cop who was transferred from his native Rome to the city of Aosta as a form of punishment for an unknown infraction, is called to investigate. Using methods that are often illicit, to say the least, Schiavone quickly discovers that there are three possible crime “trails:” a Mafia vendetta, a murder for money or a crime of passion. To the wealthy townspeople, most of whom are related, the crime is unthinkable in such a pristine and posh resort town. But, as the title of the novel implies, darkness lurks even in winter wonderlands of white.

    Given Schiavone’s Roman origins, the Sicilian origins of the victim, Leone Miccichè, and the proximity of Val d’Aosta to France and Switzerland, there is a north-center-south theme running through Pista nera. Accordingly, Manzini skillfully incorporates dialect, regional Italian and foreign languages appropriate to these contexts. He also uses entertaining literary linguistic techniques to add to the ambiance of the text. And that’s not all: there’s even a Hindu mantra (but I’ll leave that clue for you to uncover).


    The dialect of Val d’Aosta, known in Italian as valdostano (Eng. Val d’Aostan), in French patois valdôtain and in valdostano patoué valdotèn, is a dialectal variety of the franco-provençal language. Valdostano is spoken primarily in central Val d’Aosta and is one of three Gallo-Romance languages spoken in this region (the others are Occitan in the south and French in the north).

    Valdostano has mixed with Italian to produce a regional variety of Italian called the regional Italian of Val d’Aosta. In terms of lexicon, regional Italian comprises words like insulate (Ital. isolate; Eng. insulated), which look Italian but are identified as regional by native Italian speakers. Regional Italian also includes standard or neostandard Italian terms that have a unique meaning in a particular region as well as names of regional dishes and drinks. Below are some interesting examples of the regional Italian of Val d’Aosta from Pista nera.


    gattisti (Eng. snow groomers, but literally catists from the word gatto, or cat)

    Aveva infilato le cuffiette dell’iPod con i successi di Ligabue e s’era acceso la canna che gli aveva regalato Luigi Bionaz, il capo dei gattisti, il suo amico più caro.

    He had slipped on the iPad earphones with Ligabue’s hits and had lit the joint that his best friend Luigi Bionaz, the head of the snow groomers, had given to him.

     (Ital. baita; Fr. chalet; Eng. ski lodge)

    Aveva un rifugio, uno chalet su a Cuneaz, sulle piste di Champoluc insieme a sua moglie, Luisa Pec, anni 32, che somiglia un po’ a Greta Scacchi.

    (He had a ski lodge, a chalet up in Cuneaz, on the Champoluc trails together with his wife, Luisa Pec, 32 years old, who looks a bit like Greta Scacchi.)

     (Ital. racchette da neve; Eng. snowshoes)

    Ma d’inverno per arrivarci ci vogliono le ciaspole.

    (But in the winter to get there you need snowshoes.)

    raclette (Ital. formaggio raschiato; Eng. literally, scraped cheese; a dish of melted fontina cheese scraped from its mould and served [in the book] with small artichokes, olives and pieces of salami)

    Per cena ti avevo preparato la raclette.

    (For dinner I made you raclette.)

    grappa al ginepro
     (Eng. juniper-flavored grappa)

    La padrona tornò con una bottiglia di grappa al ginepro e due bicchieri.

    (The proprietor returned with a bottle of juniper-flavored grappa and two glasses.)

    Thanks to the victim’s brother, Domenico Miccichè, the regional Italian of Sicily also makes an appearance in Pista nera.

     (Sic. dammusu, from the Arabic dammus; Ital. volta; Eng. vault, used to refer to a small home of stone with vaulted roof)

    Un maso da ristrutturare vicino Erice e un dammuso a Pantelleria.

    (A farm to renovate near Erice and a dammuso in Pantelleria.)

    Because Val d’Aosta shares a border with France and Switzerland, the Italian of the region often contains intact lexical borrowings from French.

     (reg. Ital. rascana; Eng. a wooden home in the region made from what were originally franco-provençal structures used for storing hay or grain)

    “Che bella casa!” esclamò Pierron. “È un rascard.”

    (“What a beautiful house!” Pierron exclaimed. “It’s a rascard.”)

    vin brulé
     (Ital. vino bruciato; Eng. burned wine, which is a heated, spiced wine)

    Fuori c’era un banchetto che vendeva vin brulé e un paio di loro con le giacche a vento rosse, i visi bruciati dal sole, gli scarponi coi ganci ancora ai piedi, scherzavano ridevano e bevevano il liquore insieme a degli inglesi.

    (Outside there was a stand that was selling vin brulé, and a few of them with red windbreakers, faces burned by the sun, ski boots with clips still on their feet, were joking, laughing and drinking the alcohol together with some Englishmen.)

    One of the coolest dialects on the planet, the dialect of Rome, romanesco, flavors Schiavone’s speech and that of his friend, Sebastiano Cecchetti.

     (Ital. prigione; Eng. prison)

    Ti fai un bel po’ di anni al gabbio, lo sai?

    (You’ll do a good bit of time in prison, you know?)

    I also love it when authors write foreign words as they would be spelled in Italian. It’s adorable, or, given the mystery-novel context of Pista nera, intriguing!

     (Eng. huskies)

    La prima cosa che colpiva erano gli occhi, di un azzurro così chiaro da sembrare quello dei cani da slitta, gli aski.

    (The first thing that struck him were the eyes, a blue so clear that it seemed like that of sled dogs, the huskies.)

    Concluding remarks
    : If you think you know regional Italian mysteries (like those of the great Andrea Camilleri, of whom Manzini was a student at the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica), think again. Pista nera is full of surprises—from the crazy, corrupt character of vicequestore Schiavone to the eyebrow-raising, trail-blazing plot twists. This book is one wild ride, and it’s not because of the snowmobiles.

    : The setting and context of the novel also allow for some curious standard and neostandard Italian words. For example, there are a lot of terms related to the snow and landscape of the region that you don’t typically see in literature (I had no idea that snow grooming machines were called gatti delle nevi, or snow cats). I also learned a lot from the words that Schiavone’s wife, Marina, looked up in the dictionary as a daily ritual (clearly a genius).

    In traduzione
    : Not surprisingly, given the quality and originality of Pista nera, translations are forthcoming in France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Spain and the United States (I’m telling you, this book could easily become an international bestseller). Be on the lookout for an English translation from the esteemed Harper Collins in April of 2015.

    On the Internet
    : Antonio Manzini does not have a website, but he has a Facebook page. Also check out his IMDb page (he’s been in some amazing films and in some of my favorite Italian TV shows!).

  • Art & Culture

    Le lettere da Capri


    Mario Soldati (b. Turin, 1906; d. Tellaro, 1999) was both a novelist and a director. He made over thirty films, working with such legendary actresses as Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. Soldati first achieved literary success in 1935 with America, Primo Amore (America, First Love), a book based on the diary he kept between 1929 and 1931 when he was a guest professor at Columbia University. He is perhaps best known for Le lettere da Capri (The Capri Letters), which won the 1954 Strega Prize, Italy’s highest literary award. Those who knew Soldati, however, would say that he was most famous for his dogtooth tweed jacket and Toscano cigar.

    In Le lettere da Capri, Harry, a journalist and art scholar, writes the story of his complicated relationship with his devout Catholic wife, Jane, as a screenplay pitch to his Roman director friend, Mario. Harry explains how he and Jane met during World War II in Italy, and why he married her despite his ongoing affair with a Roman prostitute. Although Harry feels no passion for Jane, he believes that she is deeply in love with him. But then some shocking letters surface, letters than Jane wrote to an Italian lover from the island of Capri. And then Harry, the director, and the reader finally hear Jane’s side of the story—with its tragic and surprising consequences.

    The language of Le lettere da Capri is, as one would expect of a sixty-year-old novel, somewhat dated. Among the numerous Italian archaisms, there are also some English lexical borrowings that have fallen into disuse. Interestingly, however, although dialect is disappearing in Italy, the dialectal terms mentioned in Le lettere da Capri are still linguistically relevant. Another notable aspect of the language is the occasional use of diminutives to convey the romance and charm of the setting.

    Isvizzera (contemporary Ital. Svizzera; Eng. Switzerland)

    La mandai in Isvizzera, nel Cantone del Vaud, a Sierre, paesello di mezza montagna che, a quella stagione, era l’ideale per Duccio.

    (I sent her to Switzerland, to the Canton of Vaud, in Sierre, a little town halfway up a mountain, which, in that season, was ideal for Duccio.)

     (contemporary Ital. o; Eng. or)

    Mi mancava ormai di desiderio, al quale ero nato od abituato, ero vuoto, sgomento, piccino.

    (By then I was lacking desire, to which I was born or accustomed, I was empty, dismayed, small.

     (contemporary Ital. casalinga; Eng. housewife)

    Dorothea non era più una massaia mascherata da prostituta; era, invece, una prostituta mascherata da massaia.

    (Dorothea was no longer a housewife masquerading as a prostitute; instead, she was a prostitute masquerading as a housewife.)

    scarcella (Eng. a sweet Easter bread with sprinkles(Pugliese)

    Dorothea stava impastando la farina per la scarcella, il pane rozzo e dolce che già altre volte aveva gustato e che essa faceva di tanto in tanto lungo l’anno, ma che per Pasqua, al suo paese era di rito.

    (Dorothea was kneading the flower for the scarcella, the coarse and sweet bread that I had already tasted various times and that she made from time to time throughout the year, but that for Easter was customary in her hometown.)

     (Ital. bugiardo; Eng. liar(Romanesco)
    “Sei un gran pallonaro!” (che in romanesco significa contastorie, bugiardo).

    (“You’re a big liar!” [which, in Romanesco, means storyteller, liar].)

    uno sleeping diretto (Eng. a direct sleeping [train] car)

    L’indomani mattina, con uno sleeping diretto, partimmo per Parigi.

    (The next morning, in a direct sleeping car, we departed for Paris.)

     (Eng. press photographer)

    Mi avvicinai a uno dei fotoreporters e lo pregai di non dare ciò che avesse scattato alla stampa.

    (I approached one of the press photographers and begged him not to give what he had shot to the press.)

    un rest camp
     (Eng. a rest camp)

    Tacqui un istante, pensai, poi finsi di ricordarmi. “Ah sì, 1944. Durante la guerra?”

    “E come no? Capri era un rest camp. La signora era in uniforme, bellissima.”

    (I fell silent for an instant, thought, then pretended to remember. “Oh yeah, 1944. During the war?”

    “Of course! Capri was a rest camp. Your wife was in uniform, very beautiful.”)

    tavolini (Eng. small tables)
    caffeuccio (Eng. little café)
    orchestrina (Eng. small orchestra)

    …dopo un cognac seduti ai tavolini di un caffeuccio o tenendoci per mano come due innamorati, mentre laggiù tra il verde e i lampioni suonava dolcemente un’orchestrina, e l’Italia era bella e santa…

    …after a cognac seated at the small tables of a little café or holding hands like two lovers, while down below among the green and the street lamps, a small orchestra was playing sweetly, and Italy was beautiful and holy…

    Concluding Remarks:
     Le lettere da Capri is not a story of love but rather of lust. For Harry and Jane, there can be no middle ground between conjugal affection and extramarital passion. And while in some ways these characters seem as dated as the language in the text, they nevertheless serve as a reminder of the ever-present dangers inherent in conforming to social expectations and in idealizing ‘the other.’

  • Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage

    As an ex-instructor of Italian, I often get asked to recommend grammar books for students at all levels of learning. My favorites tend to be those that contain information about authentic Italian language; in other words, the ways in which Italian is really used in speech and in writing.

    John Kinder and Vincenzo Savini’s  Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage  (Cambridge, 2004) is one of the best examples of this type of text. Besides providing a concise review of Italian grammar, this book presents a fascinating overview of how standard Italian has evolved and interacted with the many dialects of Italy since its adoption as the national language in 1868, as well as analyses of the varieties of Italian and differences in register with respect to region and form (written or spoken).

    Some of the more interesting aspects of  Using Italian   involve the analyses of regional variation in lexical items and the so-called  falsi amici  (false friends), i.e., Italian words that look similar to English terms but have different meanings (sometimes radically so!). But the most entertaining part of the text is the spellings of animal and other noises.


    English Meaning / North / Center / South

    bad luck / sfiga / scalogna, scarogna / jella, iella

    chair / sedia / seggiola / sedia

    cheese / formaggio / cacio / cacio

    melon / melone / poppone / mellone

    nice / carino / belluccio / caruccio


    Falso Amico / English Meaning / English Cognate / Italian Meaning

    attico / penthouse / attic / soffitta

    contento / happy / content / soddisfatto

    lussuria / lust / luxury / lusso

    retribuzione / remuneration / retribution / castigo, punizione

    triviale / vulgar, obscene / trivial / banale, futile


    Animal / Verb / Noun / Noise

    asino  (donkey)  / ragliare / raglio / hi-ho; i-o

    gallo  (rooster)  / cantare / canto / chicchirichì

    gatto  (cat)  / miagolare / miagolìo / miao

    mucca, vacca  (cow) /  muggire / muggito / muu             

    topo  (mouse)  / squittire / squittìo / squit-squit


    Source / Verb / Noun / Noise

    arma da fuoco  (firearm) /  sparare / sparo / pim, pam

    campana  (large bell) /  scampanare / scampanìo / din don

    campanello  (small bell) /  scampanellare / scampanellìo / drin, drindrin

    orologio  (clock, watch) /  ticchettare / ticchettìo / tic-tac

    telefono  (telephone) /  suonare, trillare / suono, trillo / drin, dring

  • Life & People

    BOOKS - Carlo Lucarelli's Almost Blue


    Carlo Lucarelli (b. 1960, Parma) is an author, director, screenwriter, journalist, and host of the true crime show Lucarelli racconta. Celebrated for his noir sensibility and gritty portrayal of Bologna, Lucarelli is a founding member of a distinguished group of mystery novelists from the city known as “Gruppo 13.” He is perhaps best known for his protagonists Inspector De Luca and Inspector Coliandro, both of whom are featured in popular RAI television series.

    Another of Lucarelli’s successful protagonists is Inspector Grazia Negro, who has appeared in five mysteries to date. In Almost Blue (Einuadi, 1997), the second novel in the Inspector Negro series, Grazia is on the trail of the Iguana, a ruthless psychopath who massacres university students and then assumes their identities. Luckily for Grazia, there is a witness named Simone. But because Simone is blind and associates voices with colors he’s never seen, he can tell her only that the Iguana’s voice is “green.” As Grazia struggles to make sense of the crimes, the Iguana becomes aware that she and Simone are tracking him. And he knows exactly where to find them.

    Because Almost Blue is set in Bologna, it contains glimpses of the regional language spoken in Emilia Romagna and the surrounding area. Other interesting linguistic features of the novel include slang terms and neologisms typical of neostandard Italian, as well as jargon specific to technology and police work.


    maraglio (Ital. cafone; Eng. literally hick, meaning loser(Bolognese)

    Senti maraglio, noi ci vediamo questa sera al Teatro Alternativo.

    (Listen, loser, everyone’s getting together tonight at the Teatro Alternativo.)


    xe (Ital. c’è; Eng. there is(Venetan)
    ghe (Ital. che; Eng. that)

    Lo sapevi che la macchina me serve perché xe lo sciopero dei treni e allora io come ghe torno a ca’?

    (Lo sapevi che la macchina mi serve perché c’è lo sciopero dei treni a allora io come che torno a casa?

    You knew that I needed the car because there’s a train strike. So how is it that I’m going to get home?)

     (Ital. dove; Eng. where(Romanesco)

    La macchina ’ndo’ stà?

    (Dove sta la macchina?

    Where is the car?)


    ucciesse (the initials U.C.S., or U.S.C. in English, made into a word)

    “Sono arrivati gli americani,” disse forte. “Ecco quelli dell’ucciesse.”

    (“The Americans have landed,” he said loudly. “They’re from U.S.C.”)


    ventiquattrore (Eng. overnight bag)

    Le dita di Vittorio si muovevano rapide nella ventiquattrore aperta.

    (Vittorio’s fingers moved quickly in the open overnight bag.)

     (Eng. literally, it saves screens, as in screensaver)

    Sullo schermo del terminale il salvaschermo del programma disegnava la scritta POLIZIA DI STATO, a caratteri cubitali.

    (On the computer, the screensaver read STATE POLICE in large letters.)


    phonati (Eng. blow-dried; from the German föhn, which refers to a warm wind)

    Vittorio era sempre il solito, abbronzato il giusto, elegante il giusto, con i capelli lunghi phonati all’indietro, il sorriso franco e cordiale e la mano tesa.

    (Vittorio looked the same as always: the perfect tan, the perfect elegance, with his long hair blow-dried back, a sincere and cordial smile, and his hand extended in greeting.)


    schizzatissimo (Ital. schizzato + -issmo; Eng. literally someone who is extremely bizarre or out of it, a total freak)

    Oh, Tasso… non è un fonico, è uno schizzatissimo che dice di aver del gran fumo.

    (Hey, Tasso… He’s not a soundman, he’s a total freak who says he has some good grass.)


    Fammi subito un terminale su questa targa… A come Ancona, D come Domodossola…

    (Run a quick check on this license plate… A like Ancona, D like Domodossola…)

    Concluding Remarks
    Almost Blue is a true noir thriller. The Iguana is a sick, twisted individual that will leave you completely in the dark (and looking over your shoulder) as you try to anticipate his next move. Speaking of twists, there are a few at the end that, like Grazia and Simone, you won’t see coming.

    : Lucarelli named almost Almost Blue after the Elvis Costello song. The Italian translations of lyrics from the song, as well as from ACDC’s “Hell’s Bells” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Reptile,” make for an entertaining read.

    In Translation
    Almost Blue was translated into English by Oonagh Stransky, who won the Booksense 76 award for the translation.

    On Film
    : In 2000, Almost Blue was made into a film directed by Alex Infascelli. Watch this terrifying trailer.

    On the Internet
    : For more information about Carlo Lucarelli and his work, visit his website. There you’ll find lots of fun details about the author, including the book that changed his life, his favorite pasta, and his ten rules for writing a mystery novel.