culture

The Days When Bertha Used To Spin

berta filava (1).jpg

During my childhood there was an expression that constantly piqued my curiosity: Sono lontani i tempi in cui Berta filava. Translated this means: “there was a long time from when Bertha used to spin”. I remember that I always wondered “who is Bertha?” and “why did she spin?”.

There are a lot of weird stories behind this saying. When asked about it, some people refer to medieval literature, while others prefer historical anecdotes. I want to tell you just one of the many folk tales about Bertha. According to it, Bertha was a poor widow with a great devotion to her king. One day she decided to spin thin yarn as a gift for him. The Monarch appreciated the gift and once he knew the miserable condition of the woman, decided to compensate her. The King lavished  Bertha with money and guaranteed her a comfortable future. It is said that, after this generous gesture of the Monarch, other people rushed to donate more or less valuable yarn but the King replied: “these are not the days when Bertha used to spin.”

In the Good Old Days

The time when Bertha spun is, therefore, lost time made by desire, dreams and luck. It is another way of saying “in the good old days”. Usually people say this when they want to refer to something good that has been before, but isn’t anymore. This expression is used with a point of irony and underlines a different status from the past. For example, “When I was younger I used to go to sea every day during the summer. I would spend  a lot of time snorkeling and fishing. These were the days when Bertha used to spin”.

 The singer Rino Gaetano 

The singer Rino Gaetano 

Rino Gaetano’s Song

E Berta filava is also the title of a beloved Italian song written by the singer Rino Gaetano. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s famous for his rough voice, his irony, and his tragic death at the age of thirty. His songs are still very popular even though he died in 1981. During each bonfire on the beach, Italian people sing many of his songs, such as Il cielo è sempre più blu, Mio fratello è figlio unico, or Aida etc.

Anyway, let’s get back to E Berta filava. The song shows us that the Italian verb filare can mean many different things. In each verse, there is a diverse connotation of it. Repetition becomes almost a riddle because while listening you try guessing what meaning the singer has in mind. The result is an enjoyable and satirical song.

Filare: One Verb, Many Different Meanings.

In the first verse, Berta filava e filava la lana, la lana e l'amianto del vestito del santo… The meaning is “to spin”. The translation is Bertha spun and spun wool, wool and asbestos of the saint’s dress…. She could be a character of a folk tale  (like in the origin story of this saying) but definitely she isn’t. Have you ever heard of a saint dressed in asbestos in a folk tale?

In the second verse, E Berta filava e filava con Mario, e filava con Gino. New verse, new meaning. “Filare con qualcuno” means “to flirt with someone”. Translation: Bertha flirted, flirted with Mario and flirted with Gino.

In the third verse, E Berta filava, filava dritto, e filava di lato. The meaning is “to go straight, to behave properly”. Translation: Bertha went straight, and went sideways or Bertha behaved properly and misbehaved. In Italian we can say “filare a dritto/ filare dritto” or also “rigare dritto”.

In another point of the song, Berta filava il bambino cullava cullava. Here’s another connotation: “to pay attention to”. Translation: Bertha paid great attention to the baby, cradled and cradled. It is often used in negative sentences: Gli ho chiesto di aiutarmi ma non mi ha filato proprio ("I asked him to help me, but he didn’t consider me").

There are also other meanings that are not subject of the song. For example:

Filare liscio: go right

Filare a cento all’ora: run a hundred miles an hour.

Fila via! Vattene!: get out of here!

Filarsela: to slope off.

The Art of Coffee: 10 Ways to Drink Coffee in Italy

 Caffè (espresso)

In Italy, you can find a Cafè on almost every street corner. But pay attention: its italian name is “bar”. This is a place where Italians go every time they need an energizing break. Here you can find people have breakfast in the early morning or simply have a coffee all day long.  Italian coffee is quite different from the one you can find in the rest of the world, and so are Italian habits about it. For example, the single word “caffè” means only a kind of coffee: espresso! Served in a very hot little ceramic cup, il caffè is short and very strong.

NOT ONLY ESPRESSO

If you want something different you have to specify it. You can choose among: caffè macchiato, an espresso with a dash of foamed milk, or a cappuccino, an hot drink prepared with espresso, milk, milk foam and a dusting of cocoa powder. It’s very similar to macchiato but bigger. Italians drinks cappuccino only for breakfast and in the early morning, never after lunch!

 Macchiato

Macchiato

Furthermore, if you prefer a drink less strong than espresso you can have un decaffeinato, an espresso without caffeine, or un ginseng, a very popular coffee that is sweeter and with less caffeine than a common espresso. You can also have un caffè corretto, espresso with a shot of sambuca or brandy.

 Caffè nocciolato

Caffè nocciolato

If you are in Naples, I recommend you try caffè nocciolato, espresso with a teaspoon of handmade hazelnut cream. During the summer, you have other alternatives to face the hot weather. For example, la crema di caffè, similar to a coffee ice-cream, or caffè freddo, cold sweet espresso, or una granità al caffè, a coffee snow cone usually served with handmade milk cream and a brioche. Remember: Sicily is the best place where you can taste granita!

COFFEE AROMA and fresh-baked smell

 Cornetto

Cornetto

For breakfast, usually Italians have cappuccino e cornetto. Un cornetto is a croissant with chocolate, marmelade or cream inside. Bars also sell other puff pastries as trecce, saccottini or girelle. You can choose the one you prefer. As an alternative you can look for a cake or a tart or a brioche. In Naples you can eat graffa, a donut without frosting but only dusted with sugar. Italian breakfast is totally sweet. You can also have a juice but you never find eggs or bacon served in a bar for breakfast. A lot of hotel serve a kind of “colazione continentale” with all these things but it is something you can find only in hotel.

 

 

Suspended Coffe, Empathetic Coffee.

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Do you know what “un caffè sospeso” is? The idea was born in Naples. It is thus basically a way to anonymously offer a coffee to someone who cannot afford to pay for their own. When you go inside a cafè, you can pay a coffe for you and a suspended coffee for a needy stranger. Thanks to social networks, a lot of cafès around the world have signed up to the goodwill initiative. 

In this video, Denise Lawson explains why she wanted to introduce this custom in her library in UK.

 The interview is in Italian but you can download the transcript here.

There is Always Time for Greetings

Fast-paced is an adjective that doesn’t fit the Southern Italian way of life. We have many engagements everyday but, time management is a bit different from the rest of Europe and even from Northern Italy. How? A slow life is a cliché for many reasons, but first of all, no matter if you are in a hurry, you have to say Hallo!

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THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING HALLO

Italian people always greet each other: both strangers that friends. In the first case, you can simply say "Buongiorno" or "Buonasera", make a smile or a gesture. And Italians, you know, teach the world how to talk with hands. In the second case, it's getting a bit more complicated depending on where happened the encounter: if you meet someone in a public place or during a walk, it is expected shaking hands or kissing cheeks. Typically, this is a wonderful occasion for having a little chat. If you are in a cafè, probably you will have a cup of coffee offered but there are also bad habits due to the importance of greetings. In Southern Italy, you can see people, completely heedless of the traffic, stop their car to say Hallo. The reason is that greetings aren’t only formality but they are an easy way to establish and reinforce social relationships. They show other people that you are truly interested in how their life is going and that you want to share your time and your life. In Southern Italy nobody is an island. Greetings don’t waste your time but do it better.

THE MOST COMMON GREETINGS AND HOW TO USE THEM

You can choose from a variety of Italian greetings.The most famous is Ciao. Nowadays this word is friendly and informal but its origins are quite different: it descends from the venetian word “schiao” that means “slave”. It was a formal greeting with the meaning of “at your disposal”, “I’m your slave”. Today this word means something less ceremonious. Usually we say “ciao” to relatives and friends both when we arrive and when we leave.

Salve, buongiorno e buonasera are more formal. We only use them with strangers or acquaintances to start a conversation. You can also hear people say buongiorno to friends and relatives especially in the early morning: in this case it means "A good awakening" or "Have a good day" and loses its formal characteristic.To say goodbye, we use arrivederci.

Without formal or informal connotations is buonanotte. People say it before going to sleep. Another way to say goodnight is sogni d’oro, that means "Have sweet dreams".

Do you know what are the most common Italian greetings? Click here if you want to learn or repeat them.

AT CARNIVAL, ANYTHING GOES: 3 EVENTS NOT TO BE MISSED

Are you planning to visit Italy in February? Wise choice. Indeed, wise perhaps is not the right word: we can say inspired choice if you want to know Italy's irreverence, irony and desire to laugh heartily. Every year, in fact, Italians from North to South are in the mood for playing and indulging themselves in Carnival excesses. From Latin carnem vale, which means goodbye meat, Carnival is the other side of the coin of Catholic rigor and spirituality. It is approximately ten days of party-time, which culminates and ends on Shrove Tuesday. The following day is actually the Ash Wednesday, which in the Catholic Church, signals the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting, abstinence and repentance.

The most popular Italian Carnival is Venice, but if we look towards south, we are not spoiled for choice. Each region has living traditions that deserve to be known. The carnival manifestations are many, but I want to mention three: Sciacca in Sicily, Castrovillari in Calabria and Putignano in Puglia.

SCIACCA AND PEPPI NAPPA

Every Carnival, in Italy, has its own king, and the one of Sciacca, province of Agrigento, is called Peppi Nappa. Wearing enormous green clothes, Peppi Nappa is a Sicilian mask of the Commedia dell'Arte who embodies the figure of a lazy, but mocking and gluttonous servant. Peppi is the nickname of Giuseppe and the Sicilian term nappa means patch: so his full name should be Joseph Patch. He is a good-for-nothing man with extraordinary agility. Since the '50s, Mayor of Sciacca gives Peppi Nappa the key to the city exactly ten days before Shrove Tuesday. In this way, Peppi becomes the absolute master of the city and Carnival’s celebrations can begin.

 Peppi Nappa

Peppi Nappa

Peppi Nappa is represented on an allegoric float out of competition that opens the carnival parade handing out grilled sausages, candy, wine and squeezed oranges. His pranks and his insatiable appetite will be the leitmotif of all celebrations until the day of Shrove Tuesday when the mask is burned in the center of the square, so sanctioning the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. This final event is highly addictive with people dancing around the bonfire on notes of the hymn 'e Peppi N'ppa'.

CASTROVILLARI AND “A SERENATA D’A SAVUZIZZA”

In addition to the traditional parade of allegorical floats, in Castrovillari relives in the form of competition and serenades the old "masquerade" ritual. During Shrove Tuesday, the entire historic downtown district comes alive for the so-called Sirinata d’a Savuzizza, which means Sausage Serenade.
Masked groups knock every door offering serenades in return for hospitality. For the occasion, each landlord prepares grilled sausages and offers wine, while groups perform at the sound of accordion and tambourine. Performances are evaluated by members of a jury that will decide the group winner. It’s a competition, but the atmosphere is festive throughout the country and its visitors are greeted by tarantella’s sound and local products’ scent.

PUTIGNANO, THE BEAR AND “IL GRAN CORNUTO”

Among the oldest carnivals in Europe, Putignano has such a rich calendar of events that it is difficult to talk about it in a few lines. In a continuous confrontation with Catholic celebrations, events related to Carnival even begin Dec. 26, when at the end of the procession of St. Stephen’s relics, you can attend the Rito delle Propaggini, where groups of dialectal poets in peasant clothes retrace past years’ events in biting satires, reciting through city streets.

Between sacred and profane is also the Bear festival that takes place on February 2, a day religiously marked by the blessing of candles and known as Candlemas Day. The bear, represented both as a dangerous animal to kill and as a winter-end symbol, runs through the city followed by a procession of farmers, hunters and scarecrows to arrive, finally, in Piazza Plebiscito. Here takes place the bear capture and process. At the end of this representation, the beast provides for the rest of winter weather.

 

The atmosphere becomes even more irreverent with the approach of the Carnival. Every Thursday, from the end of January, are expected satirical shows for different social groups: Monsignors, Priests, Nuns, Widowers, Madmen (i.e., young people not yet married), Married women and last but not least, “Horned” (that are cuckolded men). The latter, edited annually by the Horns Academy, is undoubtedly the most characteristic and takes place on Shrove Tuesday. In the early morning, the Horned meet each other in the municipal cloister to polish their horns and create the Corneo, the cuckolds procession that will visit the "Great Horned of the Year" unexpected elected by members. This goliardic event continues in the evening with rite of purification of the horns’ cut.

NOBODY IS PIRATE, NOBODY IS EMIGRANT...

Last week, I've taken the time to write my manifesto. I started jotting down ideas about slow travel and multiculturalism but there was a quotation that I've needed to consider, even because it's a verse of a song that I've got stuck in my head.  

   
  
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  Let's go, let's go at the same party/   
  
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  With music made by different people/   
  
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  From Naples that invents melody/  To drums of Algeria.

Let's go, let's go at the same party/With music made by different people/From Naples that invents melody/To drums of Algeria.

 E nisciune è ppirate, e nisciune è emigrante, simme tutte navigante (Nobody is pirate, nobody is emigrant, we are all sailors) is the refrain of Eugenio Bennato's Che il Mediterraneo sia. Who speaks a little Italian doesn't understand this sentence. It's because it isn't Italian but Neapolitan.

The song text mixes Italian, Arabic, French, Neapolitan language indeed and sounds from different parts of the Mediterranean sea. It's overwhelming. I love it.

The deep sense of this song is a spirit of brotherhood among population living in coastal areas of Mediterranean sea. I find it currently relevant. Nowadays Southern Italy lives a real immigration crisis. Thousands people from many nations are coming over here from Libya. It's what Italians call "una patata bollente", a great problem, for our Government, torn between welcoming migrants or closing borders.

In any case, this song looks at Southern Italy history, characterized by meetings of different people and different cultures. This is the reason of our richness in folklore, cooking and arts.

Che il Mediterraneo sia
la fortezza ca nun tene porte
addo' ognuno po' campare
d'a ricchezza ca ognuno porta
ogni uomo con la sua stella
nella notte del dio che balla
e ogni popolo col suo dio
che accompagna tutti i marinai
e quell'onda che non smette mai
che il Mediterraneo sia.

That the Mediterranean is
the fortress without doors
Where everybody can live
the richness that everyone brings
every man with his star
on the night of God dancing
and every people with his God
accompanying all sailors
and that wave that never stops
that the Mediterranean is.

We have ever felt contrasting emotions in relation to invasions. Ruins of hundreds of towers and fortifications are disseminated in Sicily and Calabria. There are a lot of myths in our popular culture that tell about the love of a local woman and a saracen: in each town we have The Giants, two figure represented this love that are brought in procession and dance to the drummers beat.

These contrasting emotions are very important to understand the rhytm and soul of Southern Italy and "that wave that never stops" described by Bennato.  In conclusion, quoting this song, I want to highlight a different point of view over multiculturalism and all the world around us. We can learn more considering each person nor better nor worse than us. We are all travellers, all sailors: nor pirate nor emigrant.

Andare, andare, simme tutt'eguale/affacciati alle sponde dello stesso mare.

Let's go, let's go, we are all the same,/overlooking the banks of the same sea.

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT ON THIS BLOG

 The Italian Midday's Manifesto

The Italian Midday's Manifesto

 

This blog won’t be only a travel blog specialized on Southern Italy. It won’t be just a language learning blog. But it will be all of these things. It will be also a food blog with a lot of regional Italian recipes. It will talk about traditions, popular dance and folklore. The main theme of my posts will be Southern Italy and its complicated and fascinating culture.

WHY YOU NEED TO READ IT

I’m writing The Italian Midday blog to empower Southern Italy to show its great beauty, to convince people, culture of South is worthy to be known. So if you are interested in reading attractive information about Naples or Calabria, or you want to know something more about Sicilian food or Salentinian “Pizzica” and more, you are in the right place. Moreover, Italian language occupies a special place to offer you a basic travel kit.

SOMETHING ABOUT THE BLOGGER (THAT IS ME!)

My name is Emanuela,  but my family and my friends call me Emi (pronounced like Amy). I'm a journalist and an Italian teacher for foreigners based in Palmi, a little town in Calabria, at the toe of the boot. I’ve got a very simple life philosophy. I’ve a keen interest in multiculturalism and I find learning otherlanguage very important. Quoting Simon Fairbairn & Erin McNeaney: “The best way to dig deeper into a culture and get to know its people is by learning the language”. I’m a fan of slow travel and I believe that people can really understand Southern Way of Life only with a very slow journey but if you can’t wait I offer you my tried-and-true way to enjoy it. If you want to know something more about me read my manifesto or click here.

THE DEAL

In conclusion, I think we should make a deal. I'll give you a lot of information about Italy using English but I'll ask you not to be too meticulous. If you find some mistakes, please tell me. All things considered, English is my second language and I want to learn!