The Edible Dormouse

Posted on 27. Aug, 2014 by in Nature

Cats are fascinating creatures, they teach us so much about nature! In fact nearly every day we study biology with them. They do the dissecting, leaving the dismembered carcasses outside the kitchen door, and we play the identification game: “Sooo, what did they kill for us last night? That looks like a rat’s head to me, and that’s a paw next to it … yes, that shoelace like tail definitely belonged to a rat. This one over here looks like a shrew … is that a bat’s wing?” and so on.

A few days ago we found a beautiful black fluffy tail, about 10 cm long. “My God, I hope they haven’t turned cannibal and eaten that little black kitten!” said Geoff. How does one set about identifying a tail without any other body parts for reference? Yesterday evening, however, Bella the cat gave us a clue: “It looks like I have to spell it out for you Humans … here’s some more evidence” she said, as she leapt through the kitchen window with the still warm body of the owner of a fluffy black 10 cm long tail. “It looks like a squirrel, but it’s not a squirrel” said Geoff. “I think it’s a ghiro (dormouse)” I observed.

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Ghiri, by Gustav Mützel (CC)

Il ghiro is a beautiful small rodent up to about 30 cm long, half of which is the fluffy tail which, unlike the squirrel’s that curls upwards, trails out horizontally behind it. The Italian dormouse is called Glis Glis, and is commonly found in woodlands throughout the peninsula, with the exception of the Pianura Padana, the big plain in the north of Italy. In Sardinia there’s a rare subspecies, gli glis melonii, which was thought to be extinct, but was sighted again in 2006.

The ghiro’s fur is grey to greyish-brown in colour on the upper parts of its body, while its tummy and the inner surface of its legs are white to pale buff. It’s a nocturnal animal, therefore it’s got big round eyes and large round ears. In the winter it hibernates for long periods, in fact it can sleep for up to seven months if the season is particularly cold (hmmm, sounds like a good idea!) From this habit comes the Italian saying “dormire come un ghiro” (to sleep like a dormouse).

dormouse
No known copyright

The Edible Dormouse, not just for cats!

In England, where it was accidentally introduced in 1902 when it escaped from a private collection, il ghiro is known as the “edible dormouse” or “fat dormouse”. In fact the poor little beast has been considered a delicacy since the times of the Romans, when it was eaten roasted as a snack! Today, here in Italy, il ghiro is a protected animal, and its consumption is illegal, but do cats give a damn about the law? … NO! In England, on the other hand, il ghiro is considered a pest because, being mostly vegetarian, it eats fruit and tree bark. But as Geoff pointed out, what does the most damage to the environment, a little dormouse, or human beings? Therefore, if the dormouse is a pest … what does that make us?

Most of the photos of ghiros that we’ve found show it with a greyish tail, and we haven’t yet discovered why our ‘specimens’ had black tails. Could it be that they were young, and the tail turns grey when they become adults? If you know the answer please let us know.

You can read more about il ghiro (in Italian) HERE

Objects Made from Body Parts

Posted on 25. Aug, 2014 by in Vocabulary

A couple of weeks ago, when I was helping Geoff with our article Mixed Up Body Parts!, I was sitting on the sofa with my arm resting on the armrest, and the word il bracciolo (the armrest) came into my mind. I thought to myself: “Il bracciolo obviously has its roots in the word braccio (arm), I wonder how many other objects take their names from parts of the body” Well, here’s a blog listing the most common ones.

Objects which take their names from:

la bocca = the mouth
il boccaporto (masc. sing; plural i boccaporti) = the hatchway 
il bocchettone (masc. sing.; plural i bocchettoni) = the pipe union

il braccio = the arm
il braccialetto (masc. sing.; plural i braccialetti) = the bracelet
il bracciolo (masc. sing.; plural i braccioli) = the armrest

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due braccialetti Romani – two Roman bracelets, part of the horde uncovered at Hoxne, England in 1992 Photo: (CC) by

il collo = the neck
la collana (fem. sing.; plural le collane) = the necklace
il colletto (masc. sing.; plural i colletti) = the collar (in shirts)
il collare (masc. sing.; plural i collari) = the collar (for animals)

il dito = the finger
il ditale (masc. sing.; plural i ditali) = the thimble

la gamba = the leg
il gambaletto (masc. sing.; plural i gambaletti) = knee socks

la guancia = the cheek
il guanciale (masc. sing.; plural i guanciali) = the pillow

la mano = the hand
le manette (fem. plural) = the handcuffs
il manico (masc. sing.; plural i manici) = the handle
il manoscritto (masc. sing.; plural i manoscritti) = the manuscript
la manovella (fem. sing.; plural le manovelle) = the crank

shop-force1
la manovella – the crank (author unknown)

l’occhio = the eye
gli occhiali (masc. plural) = the glasses/spectacles
l’occhiello (masc. sing.; plural gli occhielli) = the buttonhole (also called l’asola)

l’orecchio = the ear
l’orecchino (masc. sing.; plural gli orecchini) = the earing

il piede = the foot
il marciapiede (masc. sing.; plural i marciapiedi) = the pavement
il piedistallo (masc. sing.; plural i piedistalli) = the pedestal

il polso = the wrist
il polsino (masc. sing.; plural i polsini) = the cuff

la schiena = the back
lo schienale (masc. sing.; plural gli schienali) = the back (of a chair)

la spalla = the shoulder
la spalletta (fem. sing., plural le spallette) = the parapet
la spallina (fem. sing.; plural le spalline) = the epaulette; the shoulder strap

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Che bel paio di spalline! what a lovely pair of epaulettes. Oscar II of Sweden (Public Domain) 

la testa = the head
la testiera (fem. sing.; plural le testiere) = the headboard

il viso = the face
la visiera (fem. sing.; plural le visiere) = the visor

Crapa Pelada

Posted on 21. Aug, 2014 by in Humour, Music

If you had grown up in Italy in the Sixties and Seventies you would almost consider the four members of Il Quartetto Cetra as part of your family: they were on every TV show both for adults and for children. Well of course at the time we only actually had two TV channels: Rai Uno and Rai Due. But for me in particular, as a child in the Seventies, Il Quartetto Cetra will forever be linked to the song “Nella Vecchia Fattoria” (Old MacDonald Had a Farm).

Let’s leap forward in time four decades … Geoff and I are watching one of our favourite TV series, Breaking Bad. It’s Season 3, episode 13, ‘Full Measure’, and there, right in the middle are my old friends Il Quartetto Cetra singing a slightly surreal song that I’ve never heard before: Crapa Pelada. The song is performed in a mixture of Italian and Milanese dialect, and the Milanese title Crapa Pelada means Testa Pelata (Bald Head) in Italian.

Let’s have a listen …

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Here are the lyrics in ITALIAN and MILANESE

Original lyrics Translation of Milanese section

A voi, miei signori, io voglio narrare
la storia che tanto mi fa disperare.
Son già sette mesi che vedo cadere
dal capo i capelli bianchi,
ormai son pelato, deluso, avvilito,
non so quali cure adottar.

Ma senti cosa dice
quel povero infelice:
"Non ti lamentar,
ma prova a cantar
con noi questa canzon".

 

Crapa Pelada la fà i turtei,
ghe ne dà minga ai sò fradei.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
I sò fradei fan la fritada.
ghe ne dan minga a Crapa Pelada.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Crapa Pelada la fà i turtei,
ghe ne dà minga ai sò fradei.
I sò fradei fan la fritada.
ghe ne dan minga a Crapa Pelada.

Crapa Pelada la fà i turtei,
ghe ne dà minga ai sò fradei.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Crapa Pelad…….(variazioni di jazz)

Crapa Pelada la fà i turtei,
ghe ne dà minga ai sò fradei.
Crapa Pelada, con la parrucca
forse potrà guarir!

Crapa Pelada fa i tortelli,
non li dà mica ai suoi fratelli.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
I suoi fratelli fanno la frittata.
non la danno mica a Crapa Pelada.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Crapa Pelada fa i tortelli,
non li dà mica ai suoi fratelli.
I suoi fratelli fanno la frittata.
non la danno mica a Crapa Pelada.

Crapa Pelada fa i tortelli,
non li dà mica ai suoi fratelli.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Crapa Pelad…….(variazioni di jazz)

Crapa Pelada fa i tortelli,
non li dà mica ai suoi fratelli.
Crapa Pelada, con la parrucca
forse potrà guarir!

 

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Gale (David Costabile) sings Crapa Pelada in Breaking Bad

English Translation

I want to narrate to you my ladies and gentlemen
a story that makes me really despair
It’s seven months now that I see white hairs
falling from my head,
I’m bald, disappointed, crestfallen,
I don’t know how to cure it.

But listen to what he’s saying
that poor unhappy one:
”don’t complain,
just try singing
this song with us”.

Bald Head makes tortelli,
he doesn’t give any to his brothers and sisters
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
His brothers and sisters
make an omelette
they don’t give any to Bald head
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Bald Head (Jazz Variations)

Bald Head makes tortelli,
he doesn’t give any to his
brothers and sisters
Bald Head, with the wig
perhaps he’ll get cured!

 

Now, how on earth did David Costabile manage to sing along with that!!?