Monday, March 5, 2012

Dept. Of I Didn't Know That Dept.

Charles V, the Habsburg emperor, is alleged to have said that he spoke French to men and Italian to women; he also revealed that he conversed with God in Spanish and with his horse in German.
David Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy

It's a much more interesting book, and more readable, than I anticipated. Reading about the reality of Italy and its history makes it a lot easier to understand its seemingly chaotic politics. Italians don't really identify as a single people of a single nation.
We talk of the Italian language and the Venetian dialect as if the second is a sort of deviant of the first whereas it is in fact much older, evolving from Latin centuries before the birth of Dante.
Venetian is only one example. There are dozens of dialects alive and well in Italy, where half the population speaks a dialect at home and thousands and tens of thousands still speak German, French, Slav, Arabic, Spanish and variations in different parts of the country.
They are as possessive of their dialects as any Native American tribe is of its lost language, and for much the same reason. Italy is a country of many tribes, not many of them ethnically "pure," however.
 It's the geography mostly, its vulnerability to invasion and the difficulty in travel with a mountain range dividing it north to south. I've lost that romantic notion of Italy and will henceforth retain it only for Tuscany. And Venice, of course. Fuck Rome and the Nazi horse you rode in on, Benedict.

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