From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 57
Chiacchiera –Gossip or Small Talk
When Italians gather, or even when they pass in the streets, there is usually a comment or two made that goes beyond “ciao,” “buon giorno,” or “buona sera.”

I have spent a good many years attempting to understand the bits and pieces of conversations going on around town--at Leo’s bar, (now Il Quadrifoglio), at Al Cantuccio, at the communal wash basin, at Marta’s (now Monica’s) bottega, on the streets, or outside the church during Mass. When the Giovianini, the real ones born and raised here, converse in the local dialect, I find it almost impossible to pick up more than a few words, even after 33 years of mostly fruitless eavesdropping.

Here the populace, for two thousand years, had to rely on the weather to be kind to their crops in order to insure their very survival during the winter months. So, in villages such as Gioviano, a typical exchange when passing on the street has to do with the weather. This is not unusual to me, since I grew up hearing my mother’s brother who owned a farm near Charleston, Missouri, talk incessantly about the weather and how it might affect his crops.

The most amusing thing is that I am not sure that I have ever heard one of the villagers declare, “Che bella giornata!” (“What a beautiful day!”) or “Che tempi belli!” (“What beautiful weather!”) If it is troppo caldo (too hot) one day, it might be troppo freddo (too cold) the next. If the wind doesn’t blow one day I hear, “È troppo calma.” (“It’s too calm.”), and if a breeze stirs up the next day there will be troppo vento (too much wind). If it is raining then there is troppa pioggia (too much rain), and if the next day the sun comes out and the flowers begin to wilt a little, it is troppo secco (too dry).

I used to have a habit of declaring each beautiful day bella (beautiful) but have been corrected so many times that I have adopted the customs of the people and now usually describe the weather without the “troppo“: È caldo oggi.” (It’s hot today.); or È freddo oggi. (It’s cold today.); or Che vento forte! (What a strong wind!).

The moon was full the other night and the next day. While learning from one of the villagers that it was troppo this or troppo that weatherwise, I asked if she had seen la luna piena (the full moon). With a quizzical look she responded, “Capisco, la luna era nella quinta decimo.” (“I understand, the moon was in its fifth tenth.”) meaning the fifth phase of ten. At first Sue didn’t understand, so I explained that in the local lingo, the moon starts out as the new moon in the first 1/10th and then reaches its zenith in the fifth 1/10th as the full moon, and then it fades to the dark moon in the tenth 1/10th. In my mind, the full moon represents the final and most glorious phase. In her mind it was no big deal since the moon was only halfway done.

In Gioviano, many of the village men attend Mass and participate with great faith in the religious and spiritual life of the community. However, others of a more macho nature, depend on their wives to attend the service while they stand outside and gossip. One of my more vivid recollections from many years ago was eavesdropping on a rather heated argument, about who knows what since almost any subject can incite a friendly divergence of opinion. The debate, which is a sport in itself, was peppered with “Dio cane!” (“God dog!”), and “Madonna puttana!” (“Madonna the whore!”). I found this rather amusing in a profane way as the door to the church was open, and the men were talking rather loudly. Hopefully the prayers of the women inside washed away the sins of their husbands’ sacrilegio (sacrilege).

Other subjects during sessions of chiacchiera are health, politics, sports, and of course gossip about births, weddings, family feuds, divorces and the kind of things one might overhear in any barber shop or beauty salon in a small town in Texas.

The Walls Have Ears
Any time a villager wants to tell me or ask me about something that might be of a more private nature, a different set of rules apply.

My parents decided after their last visit in 2003 that the journey was too difficult at their age to return to Gioviano, so Palazzo Margherita sits vacant for eleven months out of the year. It is now used almost exclusively as my office in which I am writing this book or communicating with our office in Texas.

The gossip in the streets is that we are selling or have sold the Palazzo, and so when a villager wants to inquire as to the veracity of the rumor, the tones become hushed. I am led either into their house or inside one of ours, the door is closed and the question asked, almost in a whisper. For the last two years I have told everyone that, “No, il Palazzo non è stato venduto, e il Palazzo non è in vendita” (“No, the Palace hasn’t been sold, and the Palace is not for sale.”). But the rumor persists, and no one seems to know the source of its beginning.

Since “the walls have ears” due to the fact that many of the houses share common walls, I suspect that at some point, someone in the village was speculating about what would eventually become of the Palazzo after my parents retired from traveling. Perhaps, the party in the adjoining house, with her ear tightly against the wall, took what she heard as fact. Then, while discussing what had been heard through the wall, the folks in the next adjoining house might have their ears to the wall, and so on and so on until the story ran its course throughout the village.

If Rosina were still alive, I could have had some naughty fun, by telling Sue in Italian (so that Rosina could understand), that we had sold the Palazzo to President Bush, because he had heard that Giampaolo’s steaks taste better than Texas steaks, so keep it a deep dark secret. I can practically guarantee that within 24 hours the whole village would be whispering that “Il Presidente Americano ha comprato Palazzo Margherita perchè lui vuole habitare vicino Al Cantuccio perchè gli piacciono troppo le bistecche cotte nel forno di Giampaolo.” (“The American President has purchased Palazzo Margherita because he wants to live near Al Cantuccio restaurant because he loves the steaks Giampaolo cooks in his oven.”)

Just a quick anecdote about idle gossip. This morning we made our fourth or fifth attempt to find the tourist office in Ghivizzano open. During the month of June, we discovered on an afternoon after 4 p.m. when nearly everything reopens after lunch, that there was a sign on the door reading that the hours were from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

So, we arrived at the door at just after 9 a.m. It was locked. Since there was a street market in progress in the street in front of the tourist office we decided to visit it and watch the action. At 9:15 a.m., when we were just about ready to get into the car and return to Gioviano, three young ladies arrived and opened the office. Of course, I teased them about being late and that they would have to pay a multa (fine), which made them laugh.

I continued to tease them by asking if they were “di puro sangue Italiano”, (“of pure Italian blood”), and all three said, “Sì.” Then I asked them whether their blood was Etruscan, Roman, Longobard, or other, which made them snicker even more.

It was then their turn. The eldest young lady, sporting blond hair and blue eyes had said that since her father was from northern Italy, she might have a little blood from that area, meaning Germanic. She then asked me, “Da dove viene lei?” (“Where are you from?”)

I responded, “Io vengo dall’America e dallo Stato da dove è uscito il figlio del diavolo.” (“I come from America and from the State where the son of the devil came from.”) She immediately, without even a second’s hesitation, announced, “George Bush?” We all nearly fell over laughing. The majority of Italians we’ve met love Americans, but many have been unhappy with the U. S. government administration and especially its leader, the policies of whom have had a very serious negative economic impact on Italy.

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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