Forget Me Not

Posted on 26. May, 2015 by in Grammar, Nature

Do you have problems remembering all those convoluted and seemingly arbitrary rules of Italian grammar? I’ve often found that simple mnemonic devices can really help. Here’s a nice easy one in the form of a flower: the humble Forget me not.

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Forget me not. Photo (CC) by Martin Snopek

It’s difficult to trace the exact origins of the forget-me-not’s slightly nostalgic name. Its Latin name for example, Myosotis, comes from the Greek ‘mouse’s ear’, after the shape of its leaf. What is certain though is that many different cultures have a similar name for it, and in some cases use the flower, or its image as a symbol of remembrance.

A German legend, for example, states that when God named all the plants, a tiny one that he’d overlooked called out “Forget-me-not, O Lord”, and God replied: “Then that shall be your name”. The flower was often worn by lovers when they were apart in order that they not be forgotten, and has also been used as a symbol of remembrance, for example: in Newfoundland for the nation’s war dead and in Armenia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

So, how is this going to help me with my Italian grammar you may ask. Simple: its Italian name is ‘non ti scordar di me’, and that pretty name contains an important rule: in Italian, we use the infinitive to express the imperativo negative singolare, which, in simple terms, means ‘don’t …!’

Photo (CC) by  Henry Hemming

Photo (CC) by Henry Hemming

Forget-me-not is just a poetic way of saying ‘don’t forget me’, and in Italian we have two ways of saying ‘to forget’: ‘dimenticare’ and ‘scordare’ which are both used colloquially in their reflexive forms ‘dimenticarsi’ and ‘scordarsi’, e.g. mi sono dimenticato di comprare il latte, or mi sono scordato di comprare il latte = I forgot to buy the milk.
If I want to tell someone ‘don’t forget the milk’ in Italian I say non ti dimenticare il latte’ or ‘non ti scordare il latte’. N.B. in the case of the flower ‘forget me not’, the Italian name ‘non ti scordar di me’ drops the ‘e’ at the end of the infinitive ‘scordare’ for purely poetical reasons.

If you want to use the negative imperative when speaking to more than one person then simply use the regular second person plural conjugation of the appropriate verb: non dimenticatevi /scordatevi il latte = ‘don’t you (plural) forget the milk’.

Here are a few more examples that reinforce the concept:

non guidare troppo velocemente = don’t drive too fast
non andare in cucina perché c’è troppo casino = don’t go in the kitchen because there’s too much mess
non fumare, fa male alla salute = don’t smoke, it’s bad for your health
non perdetevi = don’t (you plural) get lost
non avvicinarti troppo al bordo, è pericoloso = don’t get too close to the edge, it’s very dangerous
non camminate sull’erba = don’t (you plural) walk on the grass

Now take a short musical break by clicking on the video link below, then have a go at translating the following phrases:

"Luciano Pavarotti - Concert" di Mariomanias - Opera propria. Con licenza GFDL tramite Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luciano_Pavarotti_-_Concert.jpg#/media/File:Luciano_Pavarotti_-_Concert.jpg

“Luciano Pavarotti – Concert” di Mariomanias – Opera propria. Con licenza GFDL tramite Wikimedia Commons

don’t shout (singular)
don’t eat too much (singular)
don’t get home too late (plural)
don’t forget that in Italian we use the infinitive to express the imperativo negative singolare

Now, whenever you get into a muddle with ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ phrases just think of the lovely little blue flower who’s begging you: non ti scordar di me.

Any questions? Leave a comment.

La Canzone del Piave

Posted on 25. May, 2015 by in History, Music

My grandparents used to live in Via XXIV Maggio (24th of May Road), and that date was an enigma for me in my childhood days. “What is the importance of the 24th of May?” I used to ask myself, “ There are lots of important dates in May: dad’s birthday is on the 6th, dad and mum’s wedding anniversary is on the 3rd, Mother’s Day is on the second Sunday of May, but the 24th?” Well, it was many years before I understood the answer.

On the 24th of May 1915, almost a year after the start of WWI, Italy entered the conflict by declaring war on Austria. La Grande Guerra (The Great War) is generally considered to be the ‘Fourth Italian War of Independence’ because it achieved the annexation to Italy of the north-eastern regions of Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia, which up until then were still part of the Austro Hungarian Empire.

La grande guerra -Piave

“Tutti Eroi! O il Piave o tutti accoppati”

The river Piave runs north of Venice and at the time it marked the border between the newly born Italian kingdom and the Austro Hungarian Empire. On the dawn of the 24th of May the Italian army crossed the river and began their attack on the Austrian army. The Piave is the main ‘protagonist’ of a famous WWI song, La Canzone del Piave (The Song of the Piave), also known as La Leggenda del Piave (The Legend of the Piave), written by the Neapolitan composer Giovanni Gaeta during the final months of the war.

This famous song succinctly describes the main advances and retreats of the two armies during the 1915-1918 conflict as witnessed by the river Piave, which is depicted as an active participant in the war. The first stanza of the song describes the crossing of the Piave by the Italian infantry. In the second stanza we hear about the tragic defeat of the Italian army at the battle of Caporetto (now in Slovenia), which was fought in November 1917. The third stanza describes the resistance of the Italian army along the banks of the Piave, their final defensive line. And the last stanza, written immediately after the war, celebrates the Italian victory against the Austrians.

La Canzone del Piave immediately became very popular, and remained so for many years. In fact it was the Italian national anthem between the 8th of September 1943 (end of the Fascist era and of the alliance between Italy and Germany in the second World War), and 1946, when the Italian Republic was born. Here are the lyrics:

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Click on the photo above to listen to the song ‘La Canzone del Piave’

La Canzone del Piave di Giovanni Gaeta

Il Piave mormorava calmo e placido al passaggio
dei primi fanti il ventiquattro maggio;
l’esercito marciava per raggiunger la frontiera
per far contro il nemico una barriera…
Muti passaron quella notte i fanti:
tacere bisognava andare avanti.
S’udiva intanto dalle amate sponde,
sommesso e lieve il mormorio dell’onde.
Era un presagio dolce e lusinghiero.
Il Piave mormorò: non passa lo straniero!

Ma in una notte trista si parlò di un fosco evento
e il Piave udiva l’ira e lo sgomento.
Ahi, quanta gente ha vista venir giù lasciare il tetto,
poi che il nemico irruppe a Caporetto!
Profughi ovunque! Dai lontani monti,
venivano a gremir tutti i suoi ponti.
S’udiva allor dalle violate sponde
sommesso e tristo il mormorar dell’onde.
Come un singhiozzo, in quell’autunno nero,
il Piave mormorò: ritorna lo straniero!

E ritornò il nemico: per l’orgoglio e per la fame
volea sfogare tutte le sue brame…
Vedeva il piano aprico di lassù: voleva ancora
sfamarsi e tripudiare come allora!
– No – disse il Piave. – No, – dissero i fanti –
mai più il nemico faccia un passo avanti!
Si vide il Piave rigonfiar le sponde!
E, come i fanti, combattevan l’onde…
Rosso di sangue del nemico altero,
il Piave comandò: indietro, va’, straniero!

Indietreggiò il nemico fino a Trieste, fino a Trento
E la Vittoria sciolse l’ali al vento!
Fu sacro il patto antico: tra le schiere, furon visti
risorgere Oberdan, Sauro, Battisti!
Infranse, alfin, l’italico valore
le forche e l’armi dell’impiccatore!
Sicure l’Alpi, libere le sponde
Si tacque il Piave, si placaron l’onde.
Sul patrio suolo, vinti i torvi Imperi,
la Pace non trovò né oppressi né stranieri!

You can find an English translation by clicking on this link: First World War – La Leggenda del Piave

Belgium’s Got Talent … Italian Style!

Posted on 21. May, 2015 by in News

Un Italiano di 22 anni stupisce tutti e vince il Belgium’s Got Talent (A 22 years old Italian amazes everyone and wins ‘Belgium’s Got Talent’). This is the sort of news title that I usually try to ignore, but then I invariably end up reading anyway. So, after a token resistance, I clicked on the video link and, despite the tacky glittery leggings worn by the dancer, Domenico Vaccaro, I was immediately taken by the beauty and elegance of his performance. Domenico’s speciality is called the ‘acropole flagman’, a development of gymnastics in which the dancer performs all sorts of acrobatic manoeuvres on a vertical pole using only the strength of his arms.

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Huge numbers of Italians migrated to Belgium in the Fifties and Sixties to work in the coal mines, and consequently there are many second and third generations Italians who were born in Belgium, but Domenico Vaccaro is not one of them. He was born in the southern Italian town of Trani, in Puglia, famous for its beautiful Norman cathedral built right on the sea front. Apparently, having failed many auditions on Italian TV, he decided to move to Maasmechelen, in the Flemish part of Belgium, where he has a cousin.

Domenico’s triumphant success in the Belgian talent show has created a lot of controversy in the country as the population is divided over the victory of a ‘foreigner’. But an unfazed Domenico simply states: “Ognuno ha diritto alla propria opinione. Comunque, per ogni belga che si scaglia contro di me, ce ne sono quattro che mi difendono” (Everyone has the right to their own opinion. However, for every Belgian who is against me, there are four who defend me).

Talking about his future, Domenico says: “Finalmente un po’ di riconoscimento. In Italia ho fatto innumerevoli audizioni ed ho investito un sacco di soldi in una potenziale carriera, ma nessuno ha creduto in me. Ecco perché ho deciso di non tornare più in Italia” (At last a bit of recognition. In Italy, I did innumerable auditions and invested a lot of money in a potential career, but nobody believed in me. That’s why I’ve decided not to go back to Italy anymore). Domenico is determined to stay in Belgium and learn to speak Dutch, one of the two main languages spoken there. But he’s not interest in pursuing a career in television because his true dream is to become a member of the famous Cirque du Soleil.

Tanti auguri, Domenico, e in bocca al lupo per la tua carriera!