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Here in Italy the schools are closed for the summer holidays, and children are at home playing. A few days ago I saw a small group of bambini (young children) aged around 2 to 8 playing an old traditional playground game: Il Girotondo (the equivalent of Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses). I felt a touch of nostalgia as many happy memories came back to me, and at the same time I was pleased to see that in this era of electronic virtual entertainment kids are still playing these traditional playground games which have been passed down for generations. I felt inspired to write about some of my old childhood favorites, and decided to do a bit of research on the Internet to try and find out about their history and origins, but I couldn’t find anything definitive. One interesting fact that did emerge however is that these games are all part of a very old oral tradition, and are common all over Italy. The same games can be found from Friuli Venezia Giulia in the very north down to Sicilia in the south, with a few minor variations and spelling adaptations.
In keeping with tradition I would like to pass on to you three of my giochi preferiti (favorite games). The first is the aforementioned Il Girotondo, in which the children make a ring by holding hands and walking in a circle while chanting this short rhyme, at the end of which they throw themselves down onto the ground with great hilarity.
Casca il mondo
Casca la Terra
Tutti giu’ per terra!
Turn round and round / the world falls down / the Earth falls down / everybody down on the ground!
La bella lavanderina
This is another popular “ring-a-ring-a-roses” type game, but the attraction of this one is that it gives the children the possibility to express their acting abilities! In this game, while the children fanno il girotondo (make a ring) and sing the nursery rhyme, one child is chosen to be la lavanderina (the little washerwoman), and stands in the center of the ring acting out the ‘script’ of the rhyme. When the rhyme is finished the bambino or bambina chooses another child from the ring and they swap places.
La bella lavanderina
che lava i fazzoletti
per i poveretti
fai un salto
fanne un altro
fai la giravolta
falla un’altra volta
guarda in su
guarda in giu’
dai un bacio a chi vuoi tu!
The pretty little washerwoman / who washes the handkerchiefs / for the poor people / of the town / make a jump / make another one / twirl around / do it again / look up / look down / give a kiss to whom you want!
Quante belle figlie, Madama Dore’
You will recognize the tune from this very old game if you listen to Ottorino Respighi’s Pini di Villa Borghese (Pines of Villa Borghese), which is the first scene of his evocative symphonic poem Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome). In this descriptive scene the composer wanted to represent children playing in the park of Villa Borghese. The game itself can be played in different ways and has many variations in the text. I’m going to describe the one I used to play as a child. The children create two rows facing each other, each row has their arms interlocked. One row is the king’s party, and the other one is Madama Dore’s party, and they each take it in turns to sing a line of the rhyme. The king’s party begins, followed by Madama Dore’s, as if they are having a conversation. The row that is singing steps forward and backward as they sing. At the end of the song the king’s party chooses the most beautiful daughter from Madama Dore’s party. This is repeated until all the children from Madama Dore’s row have been chosen except one, who is Madama Dore’ herself. To illustrate how the ‘conversation’ works I have highlighted the king’s party in maroon and Madama Dore’s in green:
– Oh quante belle figlie, Madama Doré,
oh quante belle figlie.
Oh, how many beautiful daughters, Madame Dore’, how many beautiful daughters. / They are beautiful and I keep them for myself, King’s Squire, they are beautiful and I keep them for myself. / The King would like one of them, Madame Dore’, the King would like one of them. / What does he want to do with her, King’s Squire, what does he want to do with her? / He wants to give her a husband, Madame Dore’, he wants to give her a husband. / Whom would he marry her to, King’s Squire, whom would he marry her to? / To the Prince of Spain, Madame Dore’, to the Prince of Spain. / And how would he dress her, King’s Squire, how would he dress her? / He would dress her with roses and violets, Madame Dore’, he would dress her with roses and violets. / Take the most beautiful one, King’s Squire, take the most beautiful one.
– Son belle e me le tengo, Scudiero del re,
son belle e me le tengo.
– Il re ne vorrebbe una, Madama Doré,
il re ne vorrebbe una.
– Che cosa ne vuol fare, Scudiero del re,
che cosa ne vuol fare ?
– La vuole maritare, Madama Doré,
la vuole maritare.
– Con chi la mariterebbe, Scudiero del re,
con chi la mariterebbe?
– Col principe di Spagna, Madama Doré,
col principe di Spagna.
– E come la vestirebbe, Scudiero del re,
e come la vestirebbe?
– Di rose e di viole, Madama Doré,
di rose e di viole.
– Prendete la più bella, Scudiero del re,
prendete la più bella.
As children, when we used to play this game we often ‘modernized’ it by substituting the ‘Prince of Spain’ with famous actors and singers who were popular at that time.