One reason I'm posting these is because I'm reviewing Italian that I once knew and am in danger of losing. That language, more than any other romance language, is endlessly fascinating for me. I can move slowly across one simple sentence or paragraph, hovering over individual words and finding deep little pockets of Latinate troves. Others have the same fascination with French, but for me it's Italian, the very first foreign language I attempted to learn. I once heard that the Romans gave up on expanding their subway system because every time they started to dig, they had to call in the archaeologists, and it just took forever. Might as well dig with spoons and brushes like they do at Pompeii. I love using that analogy when picking my way through Italian text.
Years ago while living in Switzerland and travelling in France, I was in a tiny delicatessen outside of Versailles. It was lunchtime and very busy. I had taken the time to teach myself enough French to get along, being aware of how English never cuts it with the French. Others in front of me had struggled to order in English, and the woman behind the counter obliged, but with the rolling eyes thing. Right after I had ordered (in French), an older woman began ordering her grocery list in Italian. The younger woman dutifully obliged without expression and spoke not one word in return. Now perhaps the older woman was a local and the younger one knew her; perhaps the younger woman was Italian herself- I never did find that out. What I came away thinking with a smile was that the older woman had just laid some linguistic superiority of her own onto the younger one: I'm speaking the language closer to the mother tongue so you just hush and take it. That's what I wanted to believe anyways.
Un re, molto ambizioso, non è mai soddisfatto delle sue nuove conquiste. Un giorno, mentre è in viaggio, vede una vasta provincia benedetta dal sorriso del cielo, baciata dal mare azzurro. Il re sospira da mattina a sera: "Oh! come sarei felice se potessi avere quella provincia!"
Nella provincia c’è una bella villa con un parco magnifico e un palazzo con le scale di marmo e i saloni pieni di mobili preziosi, di tappeti, di specchi. Passa un milionario e sospira: "Oh! come sarei felice se avessi quella villa!"
Nella villa c’è una signora bella come una fata, la quale guarda dal balconi un vispo piccino coi capelli biondi e sospira continuamente: "Oh! come sarei felice se avessi quel bimbo!"
Sul tetto del palazzo va a scaldarsi al sole un bel micio bianco e nero; il bambino biondo lo guarda da mattina a sera e sospira: "Oh! come sarei felice se avessi quel micio!"
Il micio, dal suo posto di osservazione, vede un sorcio che entra e esce dalla soffitta e sospira: "Oh! come sarei felice se avessi quel sorcio!"
Il sorcio nelle sue gite cerca di arrivare a una forma di formaggio parmigiano sospesa a una trave e sospira: "Oh! come sarei felice se avessi quel formaggio!"
Una buona fata, la quale ode tutti quei desideri, pensa che, con la sua potenza sovrannaturale, può rendere felici sei creature, e ordine che i loro sogni si avverino.
Così finalmente il sorcio riesce a mettere i suoi dentini nel formaggio, il gatto può avere fra le sue zampe il sorcio, il bambino biondo può impadronirsi del gatto, la bella signora può adottare come figlio il bambino biondo, il milionario compera la villa della signora ed il re riesce a conquistare la vasta provincia.
Ma ben presto la fata si accorge che si è ingannata. Il sorcio mangia il cacio, il gatto mangia il sorcio, il bimbo prende il gatto, la signora adotta il bimbo, il milionario compera la villa, il re conquista la provincia,…ma tutti quanti riprendono a sospirare per altri cose. Uno soltanto, il povero socio divoratto dal gatto, non può avere nuovi desideri, ma tutti gli altri sono più scontenti di prima.
E cosi la fata si convince che su questa terra gli uomini, con la loro incontentabilità, si rendono infelice l’esistenza.
Here's my rendering of Il Sorcetto:
A very ambitious king, never satisfied with his new conquests, is travelling one day. He sees a vast province blessed by the smile of the sky and kissed by the blue sea. The king sighs from dawn till dusk: “Oh! How happy I would be if only I could have that province!”
In the province there is a beautiful estate with a magnificent grounds and a palace with marble steps and rooms full of costly furniture, tapestries, and mirrors. A millionaire passes and sighs: “Oh! How happy I would be if I had that house!”
In the house there is a beautiful woman. She looks down from a balcony and sees a lovely little boy with blond hair. She sighs continuously: “Oh! How happy I would be if I had that boy!”
On the roof of the building is a nice black and white cat sunning itself. The blond child watches him from morning to night and sighs: "Oh! How happy I would be if I had that cat!
The cat, from his observation post, sees a mouse that comes out of the attic and sighs: "Oh! How happy I would be if I had that mouse!
The mouse, scurrying about, attempts to reach a piece of parmesan cheese suspended on a beam and sighs: "Oh! How happy I would be if had that cheese!"
A good fairy, who hears all those wishes thinks, with her supernatural power, that she can make six creatures happy, and orders that their dreams come true.
Thus at last the mouse manages to sink his teeth into the cheese, the cat has the mouse between its paws, the blond child gets hold of the cat, the beautiful lady takes the blond baby as a child, the millionaire buys the villa of the woman and the king conquers the vast province.
But soon the fairy realizes that she has deceived herself. The mouse eats the cheese, the cat eats the mouse, the child gets the cat, the woman adopts the child, the millionaire buys the house, the king gets the province, but soon everyone resumes their sighing for other things. Only one, the poor mouse eaten by the cat, cannot have new desires; all the others are more dissatisfied than ever before.
And so the fairy is convinced that on this earth, humans, with their discontent, make their own existence unhappy.