30 May 2009

A Kick in the Boot

We’re back from five weeks in Italy. As previously noted: The Coffee, the Women, the Pizza, the Light, the Architecture, the Gondolas, the Pesto, the Food, the Wine, the Food.

Here in northern California rhododendrons continue to bloom in deep burgundy, blood red, royal purple, even white with black speckles. In our back yard flowers now, dead-heading later. Out in the forest a last few wild pink flowers adhere to ancient branches.

We’re shaking off jet lag by reveling in local sunshine. The mind understands it’s high noon, but the body balks, and lags nine hours behind. Considering how long this dislocation lasts, it’s more like Propeller Lag than Jet Lag. Right now it’s five in the morning and both of us are wide awake. Too bad no one else is.

We ventured into Mendocino on Memorial Day weekend, known locally as the Summer Fog Celebration. The Farmer’s Market was full of friendly farmers, and fishermen, and artisan bread chefs. Tip: strawberries are fantastic right now.

Our quest to locate bookstores in Italy was largely successful. Books were everywhere, a few in English and other non-Italian languages, at newsstands and gift shops, autostrada stops and even in bookstores.

In Florence we specially enjoyed the Melbookstore, actual name, part of a regional bookstore chain. Libri! Musica! Video! ... and a blissfully quiet coffee shop a block from the Duomo, with fresh squeezed orange juice and fine Italian coffees.

Italians learn English in school, starting as early as pre-school. Children are too shy to try out English on strangers, but when you turn away they call out “Good Bye-eee!”

Some years ago, members of the Italian parliament were promoting bills to reject English words and English syntax, all of which are rapidly sneaking into the language of Dante (and Roberto Benigni).

There is a Manifesto in Defense of the Italian Language. Its supporters say it’s not so much the use of English words like “computer” or “OK” but rather the use of English syntax. A grammatical Italian would write, “Thank you for not having smoked” but English-influenced signs in airports and elsewhere now use English syntax: “Thank you for not smoking.”

Saverio Vertone, one of the signatories, said he fears "colonization of syntax." He noted “The Italian language is not rich with words (but) it compensates for its relative poverty with a wealth of syntactic constructions, which lend it great subtlety."

Signor Vertone was careful to point out that despite the Manifesto, Italians are not “excessive” about their language, like the French. French language purists insist that a “computer” is an “ordinateur.” In Italy a computer is a computer, email is email, and OK is O-kay-EE.

One online commentator, who threw up his virtual hands and posted “Mama mia!” noted that English is succinct. In English one might post “Passenger Emergency Exit.” In Italian this could likely read: “L’uscita comune per i passeggeri del treno in caso di emergenza.” Three words or twelve. Which is better in an emergency?

So. It seems we’re home, still living on Italian time, reacquainting ourselves with the cat. California is as beautiful as Italy. And in our back yard, the rhodies still are blooming.

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