On the first weekend of September we were privileged to travel to the Camugnano region half way between Florence and Bologna where we were hosted by our dear friends Franco and Marinella at their “Casa in Campagna”. This is a beautiful foothill area in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, and is north of Tuscany where we are situated. They bought half of an old farm house 14 years ago and transformed it into a beautiful hide away. They are in the village of Carpineta and their neighborhood is called Le Piazze. In Le Piazze they have gotten to know all their neighbors and pass many hours eating, drinking and conversing with a diverse set of friends some of who have roots back generations in Carpineta.
On our first night we met Anna Montanari and Arnaldo Morelli, both very engaging human beings. Anna is over 80 and has led a fascinating life of struggle and commitment to the working class and the left. She has worked in the rice fields of Emilia Romagna (Here and Here), among many other jobs. In her latest job she made tagliatelle and we hope to see her again for a taste of this wonderful homemade pasta. While we were with her over the weekend she made “Friggione”, a mysterious but delicious mixture of onions, tomatoes and a small amount of lard with sale-e-pepe.
Anna’s companion is Arnaldo Morelli, a retired cement mason and active poet. He is a poet in the regional dialect of Emilia Romagna – Romagnolo – His work has been recently published in a book entitled Vosi Da E Bur or in Italiano Voci dal buio (Voices from the darkness). The poems are in Romagnolo with side by side translations in Italian. The translations are necessary for Italian speakers because except for a few words, “non si capisce niente di Romagnolo” (One doesn’t understand anything of Romagnolo) These are beautiful sensual poems that describe natural wonder and are inspired by everyday events. For example, Arnaldo was inspired by Christina’s exotic appearance to write a poem the evening he met her. We would later learn from Arnaldo that Romagnolo is best read aloud because of its natural rhythmic cadence.
The phenomenon of dialects or distinct regional languages within Italy is important to understand. It wasn’t until 1871 that Italy became Italy with the capital in Rome http://www.italianlegacy.com/brief-history-of-italy.html. Until then the peninsula and Sicily and Sardegna were city states with their own language and culture. While national government, commerce and especially TV, radio and newspapers have homogenized language, dialects still remain important and are spoken often, although not exclusively, by the older generation.
Although how old is old? I remember vividly my trip during Christmas of 1971-72 to the region of Puglia in the southeast on the heel of the boot. I was accompanying a fellow student at the Universita di Firenze, Joseph “Pepino” Scarola who was from Dumont, New Jersey. Pepino was born in the village of Grumo in Puglia and at the age of 12 had moved with his family to Dumont. Therefore at the age when he would have begun to study Italian “standard” he was wrested from his village in Italy and began studying English in the schools in the United States. When I met him both English and Italian challenged him. He spoke both well but haltingly with accents, and spoke his dialect, Grumese in the home. Sometimes he found himself the target of jokes and barbs because of his language skills, but when we arrived in Grumo, I saw a man transformed. Whe got out of our VW bus to talk with his welcoming relatives, he spoke perfectly, and with great confidence in Grumese, his home dialect. And if we had gone 10 kilometers down the road, the locals wouldn’t understand Grumese!
Certainly such regional differences in speech exist in the US in Appalachia, the bijous of Louisiana and some islands of the southeastern coast being examples. Not to mention the language variations spoken in different urban areas. However usually there is a common understanding, at least on one side of the conversation.
I will never forget attending a memorial for my dear friend Jim Trammel, who died too young in 2002. Jim was a native of Nashville, Tennessee. I went to a service at his hometown church. I met four of his country cousins, white guys from the hills outside Nashville. I spoke with each one of them individually fine, but when they spoke with each other I was unable to understand a word they said.
While common language remains an important indicator of national unity, the acceptance of different languages is an indicator of societal tolerance and advancement. On our trip to Camugnano in Emilia Romagna I was pleased to see that warning signs of high water dangers were translated not only into four European languages (Italian, French, English and German) but also into Arabic, an acknowledgment of the increased presence of immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East.
On our last night in Carpineta, Arnaldo insisted on reading Christina’s poem in Romagnolo which was quite musical and charming. It told of a longing admirer passing below a mysterious woman’s window, inspired by her billowing bloomers drying in the wind… Our adventures continue.