Italian Book Club - Week 10

We're almost to the end of the book! Maybe start thinking about what to do after this?

Bentornati! This is the discussion for week 10 of the Italian Book Club. We are reading Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous. You can find information on acquiring the book here:

For this week, we have read up to "La verità di Abdallah Ben Kadour + Decimo ululato." Feel free to talk about anything before this section, but no spoilers for the rest of the book! : ) As before, try to keep the discussion in Italian as much as possible.

For next week:

Sept. 15: La verità di Maura Bettarini + Ultimo ululato o prima che il gallo canti (last section of the book!)

Previous discussions:

Week 1:

Week 2:

Week 3:

Week 4:

Week 5:

Week 6:

Week 7:

Week 8:

Week 9:

September 8, 2019


These are the grammar notes for week 10.

from La verità di Abdallah Ben Kadour domanda che mi lascia molto perplesso...
Lasciare perplesso means "to perplex" or, more literally, "to leave (someone) perplexed".
The word perplesso is an adjective, but it also sounds like a past participle. In Italian many adjectives can be at the same time the past participle of a verb, e.g. aperto means both "open" (adjective) and "opened" (past participle), and the past participle ending -esso is quite common among verbs of the 2nd conjugation (messo, concesso, flesso, espresso, etc.).
So over the past few years the invented verb "perplimere" (which does not exist) has become relatively common in very informal communication, after being used as a catchphrase by a famous comedian in the 1990s. This verb would have perplesso as a natural past participle.
The inflected verb is used merely as a pun, because the official verb is lasciare perplesso. The Accademia mentions it as a neologism, but it is not listed in dictionaries yet.
Should you encounter this verb, e.g. Questa cosa mi perplime (for Questa cosa mi lascia perplesso), beware that it is not an official verb.

...ho cercato di mantenere i nervi saldi...
Tenere or mantenere i nervi saldi is an idiom for "to keep one's nerve", "to keep a cool head".

...stretto tra due fuochi...
This is another idiom wich translates quite literally to "caught between two fires".

la ragazza di turno...
By saying di turno after a noun, the inferred meaning can be "one of many", often with a disparaging nuance (as in this case).
With other nouns, di turno simply means "on duty (at a given time)", e.g. medico di turno, or for shops "open at a time when all others are closed", e.g. farmacia di turno.

grasse risate
When a laugh is particularly hearty, it is commonly described as grassa risata, often used in the plural form.
Grossa risata or gran risata is very similar (a "big laugh"), but does not infer the same nuance as grassa risata (e.g. an unrestrained belly laugh).

...sei un porco - slightly further: sei un porcone
In modern Italian porco is a derogative epithet. It used to have the same meaning as maiale ("pig", both as an animal and as a food), but this use is now obsolete.
Porco conveys a meaning of "indecent, sleazy, lecherous person".
It is also a word commonly used for swearing, by adding a noun after it, so in some contexts it may be perceived as a coarse word.
Maiale too can be used as an epithet, with the same meaning, if porco seems to coarse to use.
But their augmentatives, respectively porcone and maialone, are rather playful (athough they convey a similar meaning), and are almost always used jokingly, so they sound quite milder than the plain epithet; this may seem paradoxical.

In a following sentence, Abdallah says:
il porco è il simbolo della virilità in Italia
If this is true, I have just learned something new. :-D

...come lo chiamiamo da noi
In this expression ("as we call it"), the preposition da expresses a geographic belonging by the speaker (da noi = "we, in our country").

Termini vuol dire che il viaggio è finito
This is a wrong belief, not only by Abdallah. The name Termini comes from the Latin thermae ("public baths"), since nearby stand the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian (late 3rd century), the largest facility of its kind in ancient Rome. By the late Middle Ages the surroundings became known as Termino , which in time changed into Termine, then (18th-19th centuries) Termini.

ho tirato un bel respiro
Tirare un bel respiro and the more common tirare un sospiro di sollievo are idiomatic expressions for "to feel relieved" (literally, "to breathe a sigh of relief").

seminò sgomento
Seminare sgomento is an idiom for "to shock", "to cause dismay" (literally, "to sow dismay").
The word sgomento is also commonly used in the similar expression lasciare sgomento = "to leave someone shocked / in dismay", "to cause shock / dismay".

from Decimo ululato

...è triste fare Ramadan...
Fare followed by the name of a festivity means (informally) "to celebrate" or "to spend". It is one of the many uses of fare as a joker verb, in replacement of more specific ones, in this case, festeggiare (→ ...è triste festeggiare Ramadan...), or trascorrere or colloquially passare (→ trascorrere Ramadan).

...come faccio a dimenticare...
Here fare is used as an aspectual verb, as it is followed by the preposition a and a second verb in the infinitive form, which better focuses on the action (aspectual construction).
Come fare a + infinitive translates to "can", "manage to", but it can be only used in a direct interrogative clause, or an indirect interrogative clause (which is a type of subordinate clause), always introduced by come ("how"):

(Io) come farò a entrare? = How will I manage to get in?

(Tu) come facevi a sapere l'indirizzo? = How did you (manage to) know the address?

Ti mostro come (io) faccio a togliere questa macchia. = I'll show you how I manage to remove this stain.

When the subject of the independent clause and that of the subordinate (indirect interrogative) clause are the same person, also the first verb after come usually takes the infinitive form, instead of being inflected (implicit form of the clause). Due to the meaning of this expression, with this construction the verb of the independent clause is very often sapere ("to know", "to be able"). But sapere come fare a + infinitive may sound redundant in English:

(Loro) non sanno come fare a pagare il conto. = They don't know how to manage to pay the bill.

Paolo non sapeva come fare a dirlo a sua moglie. = Paul didn't know how (to manage) to tell his wife.

Il tuo amico saprà come fare a raggiungerci? = Will your friend (be able to) manage to join us?

Ho l'australiana
Flu epidemics are commonly named after their geographic origin, and shortened by dropping the noun (influenza), speaking only the adjective (feminine), which therefore turns into a pronoun, e.g. la spagnola, l'asiatica, etc.
So l'australiana is the Australian flu (in full: l'influenza australiana).

September 9, 2019

Sei un porco....

As I understand it, the word "troia" is also a very bad word to use to describe a female...originally from the term for a female pig. I find it interesting to know which words not to use. I really don't want to offend anyone, unless I really mean it.

September 10, 2019

Yes, it is a rather coarse word, which originally meant a female pig (and is no longer used with this meaning, for obvious reasons).
Curiously, it is also the name of the ancient Greek city where Homer set the Iliad, discovered by Heinrich Schliemann around 1875. But in this case the word should be capitalized.

September 10, 2019

Abdallah Ben Kadour è un promemoria della verità dietro l'esterno calmo e rilevante di Amedeo. È impossibile sfuggire alle proprie radici o ai ricordi e agli odori di casa. Amedeo ha vissuto una bugia come un modo di vivere con un dolore straordinario. Ma lo ha fatto onorevolmente finora, e ha cercato di evitare di dare dolore agli altri. Ma le radici sono profonde, in un nome, nei ricordi, nella religione e negli odori di casa. Ho trovato questo decimo ululato estremamente commovente perché gli incubi sono intollerabili e non si può sfuggire a loro.

September 8, 2019

Abdallah ci dice che Amedeo era molto stimato nel suo paese in Algeria. Ma dopo la morte tragica di Bàgia non poteva più vivere nel suo paese e lui è scomparso. Nessuno sapeva dove. Forse la famiglia ha saputo, ma non ha detto niente agli altri.

A Roma è la stessa cosa. Tutti pensano bene del Amedeo. Ma dopo l'omicidio del Gladiatore, Amedeo è scomparso. Nessuno sa dov'è Amedeo. Ha ucciso il Gladiatore? Tutti credano che ciò non sia possibile.

September 13, 2019
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