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A Poem For January

Posted on 26. Jan, 2015 by in Literature

Here’s a lovely poem by Giacomo di Michele (1280-1332), better known as Folgòre da San Gimignano, from the beautiful Tuscan town of San Gimignano, near Siena. Folgòre was a knight and courtier who wrote in the Tuscan language just before the time of Dante. He is famous for his set of sonnets known as La Corona dei Mesi (The Crown of the Months), each of which is dedicated to a month of the year, describing its particular beauties and pleasures. Let’s find out what the month of January has to offer:

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Gennaio. Photo by Geoff

Di Gennaio di Folgòre da San Gimignano

I’ doto voi, nel mese de gennaio,
corte con fochi di salette accese,
camer’ e letta d’ogni bello arnese,
lenzuol’ de seta e copertoi di vaio,

tregèa, confetti e mescere a razzaio,
vestiti di doagio e di rascese:
e ‘n questo modo star a le defese,
mova scirocco, garbino e rovaio.

Uscir di for alcuna volta il giorno,
gittando de la neve bella e bianca
a le donzelle che staran da torno;

e quando fosse la compagna stanca,
a questa corte faciase retorno:
e si riposi la brigata franca.

Contemporary Italian paraphrase:

Nel mese di gennaio, vi regalo
una sala con fuochi di erbe secche che bruciano,
camere e letti coi più begli arredamenti,
lenzuola di seta e coperte di pelliccia,

confettura, dolci e vino frizzante,
vestiti di seta di Douai e di lana di Arras;
e in questo modo possiate stare al riparo
sia che soffi lo scirocco o il libeccio o la tramontana.

Possiate uscir fuori qualche volta durante il giorno,
a tirare palle di neve bella e bianca
alle donzelle che staranno attorno;

e quando la compagnia fosse stanca, 
faccia ritorno a questa sala
e si riposi la nobile brigata

English translation:

In January I give you
a hall with fires of dry grass burning,
bedrooms and beds with the most beautiful furnishings,
sheets of silk and blankets of fur,

comfitures, sweets and sparkling wine,
clothes of silk from Douai and of wool from Arras;
and in this way may you remain sheltered,
whether sirocco or libeccio or tramontane may blow.

May you go outside sometimes during the day,
to throw balls of beautiful white snow
at the damsels around you;

and when the company is tired,
all may return to the hall
and may the noble brigade rest

Image: Public Domain

These sonnets have their satirical counterparts, written by a 13th century jester and storyteller from Arezzo called Cenne da la Chitarra (named after the instrument which he used to accompany his compositions). Cenne da la Chitarra wrote a series of poems based on Folgòre’s sonnets called  ‘Risposta per Contrari’ (Contrary Reply). Every pleasure described by Folgòre is transformed by Cenne into its opposite: an annoyance! Here is his satirical sonnet for the month of January:

Di Gennaio di Cenne da la Chitarra

Io vi doto, nel mese di gennaio,
corti con fumo al modo montanese;
letta qual ha nel mar il genovese;
acqua con vento che non cali maio;

povertà di fanciulle a colmo staio;
da ber, aceto forte galavrese,
e stare come ribaldo in arnese,
con panni rotti senza alcun denaio.

Ancor vi do così fatto soggiorno:
con una veglia nera, vizza e ranca,
catun gittando de la neve a torno,

appresso voi seder in una banca;
e rismirando quel suo viso adorno,
così riposi la brigata manca.

Contemporary Italian paraphrase:

Io vi regalo, nel mese di gennaio,
sale con fumo come avviene in montagna;
letti scomodi come hanno i marinai;
acqua con vento che mai diminuisca;

mancanza di fanciulle in abbondanza;
da bere, forte aceto calabrese,
ed essere nelle condizioni di un vagabondo,
coi vestiti rotti e senza un soldo.

Inoltre vi regalo un soggiorno siffatto:
con una vecchia scura, appassita e zoppa,
dove ciascuno getti la neve tutt’intorno,

seduti vicini in una stessa panca con la vecchia,
e ammirando quel suo viso così conciato,
in questo modo riposi la brigata che manca di tutto

English translation:

I give you, in the month of January,
halls filled with smoke like they have in the mountains;
uncomfortable beds like those the sailors have;
rain with wind that never drops;

a complete lack of of girls,
and to drink: strong Calabrese vinegar,
and you’ll live like a tramp,
with ragged clothes and without money.

Moreover I give you a living room made like this:
containing a dark, withered and lame old woman, 
and in this room everyone throws snow around,

sitting close together on the bench with the old woman,
and admiring her devastated face, 
this is how the brigade that lacks everything may rest

You can read Folgòre and Cenne’s sonnets for the month of June HERE

Helpful Labels – The Car

Posted on 19. Jan, 2015 by in Vocabulary

In our previous ‘Helpful Labels’ posts we looked at short, useful phrases which could be made into labels and placed strategically in relevant places around  the house.

Today we are going out and about in the car. Sticking labels all over the interior of your car may not be very practical, so we’ll leave it up to you to decide what works best. However, you can always keep a phrase list in the glove compartment, then next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam you’ll have something useful to keep your mind occupied!

June 2012 059

Serena meets an old friend, the mythical FIAT Topolino, predecessor of the Cinquecento. Photo by Geoff

Here are some phrases which you should find helpful when talking about cars

apro la portiera or lo sportello = I open the door

chiudo la portiera or  lo sportello = I close the door

salgo in macchina = I get into the car

scendo dalla macchina = I get out of the car

allaccio la cintura di sicurezza = I fasten my seat belt

slaccio la cintura di sicurezza = I unfasten my seat belt

aggiusto il sedile = I adjust the seat

guardo nello specchietto retrovisore = I look in the rear-view mirror

abbasso il finestrino = I lower the window

alzo il finestrino = I raise the window

metto in moto la macchina = I start the car, or accendo il motore = I turn on the engine

spengo il motore = I turn off the engine

ingrano or innesto la marcia = I shift into gear

metto in folle = I shift into neutral

metto il freno a mano = put on the handbrake

tolgo il freno a mano = I take off the handbrake

Incidente Macchina (24)

Some German visitors to our village demonstrate how not to park the car! Photo by Geoff. The car park is in the top left corner of the photo. (It’s a long story)

parcheggio or posteggio la macchina = I park the car

metto la freccia a destra/sinistra = I put the right/left indicator on

svolto a destra/sinistra = I turn right/left

accendo i fari = I switch on the headlights

accelero = I accelerate

rallento = I slow down

freno = I brake

fermo la macchina = I stop the car

faccio retromarcia = I reverse

faccio benzina or faccio il pieno = I put petrol/gas in or I fill up the tank

suono il clacson = I honk the horn

and finally ……. speriamo ….. guido la macchina! = I drive the car!

Here’s a link to an older article covering car vocabulary: La Macchina

and here are the links to our old ‘Helpful Labels’ posts:

The Living Room

The Kitchen

The Bathroom

The Bedroom

Castagnaccio – Tuscan Chestnut Pancake

Posted on 15. Jan, 2015 by in Food, Traditions

Large parts of central and northern Italy are covered with castagneti (chestnut woods), and for centuries chestnuts were the main source of food for the contadini (peasants) during the winter. This is reflected in the large variety of chestnut dishes, both sweet and savoury, which are still popular today.

The traditional Tuscan pancake made from farina di castagne (sweet chestnut flour) is known by various different names. In the area between Lucca and Florence it’s called castagnaccio (literally: bad chestnut), near Siena torta di neccio, and here in Lunigiana pattona. Here’s the recipe for il castagnaccio, which is very simple. However, if you want it to turn out well, it’s important that the chestnut flour is of a good quality and naturally sweet.

Ingredienti: Ingredients:
300 gr di farina di castagne 300 grams of sweet chestnut flour
4,5 dl di acqua 450 ml of water
50 gr di pinoli 50 grams of pine nuts
50 gr di uvetta 50 grams of raisins
1 rametto di rosmarino 1 sprig of rosemary
olio extravergine di oliva extra virgin olive oil
1 pizzico di sale 1 pinch of salt
Castagne. Photo: (CC) by mauro
Castagnaccio. Photo: (CC) Marco

Soak the raisins in warm water for about 10 minutes, then drain them and pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Sieve the sweet chestnut flour into a wide mixing bowl. Slowly pour the water into the flour while mixing the batter with a fork or a whip to avoid lumps. When the batter is nice and smooth, add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt, and the soaked raisins. Carefully mix everything together.

Oil the bottom of a baking tray (about 24 cm wide) or line it with greaseproof paper. Pour the chestnut mixture into the prepared baking tray, and sprinkle the pine nuts and rosemary on top of it.

Put the baking tray in an oven preheated to 200°C (400°F), and bake for 30 minutes. The surface of the pancake should be all brown and cracked (see picture above).

Serve the castagnaccio warm. It’s particularly good with fresh ricotta cheese spread on it.

Variations: I like my castagnaccio the way I learned to make it from my next-door neighbour in Lucca. I sprinkle it with a little finely sliced orange rind, together with the pine nuts and rosemary. This adds a nice tangy taste that perfectly complements the natural sweetness of the chestnut flour.

Note: If the chestnut flour is not very sweet, add some caster sugar to the batter.

According to folkloric tradition, the rosemary used to flavour the castagnaccio is a very powerful elixir of love. If a girl offered a slice of castagnaccio to a young man, he would immediately fall in love and propose to her. Is it true? Well, tentar non nuoce (there’s no harm in trying).