When the Words Fall Out

I’ve posted short pieces previously about not being a native speaker in my adopted country and that the Italian language can at times lead to hilarious circumstances or great confusion. I’m happy when Italian’s praise me on my command of their language, and do find it easier now after several years to hold more than basic conversations. Partly this is due to my working in an office where 75% of the staff don’t speak English, (apart from the few, less than glamorous English words I have taught the boys). I’m equally proud when English people comment on my language skills; however sometimes I do feel like a fraud as I’m not as accomplished as they perceive me to be. But every day brings new vocabulary and a better understanding of those pesky irregular verbs. Only last week in the office I needed a pair of scissors and Nicoletta was on hand to tell me they are called, forbici

Then there’s those pesky words that trip up foreigners, words like, pesce (fish) and pesca (peach), the amount of times I heard an English person in a restaurant ask what’s on the peach menu is innumerable. Recently I fell victim to these tricky nouns: I was offered a coffee and biscotti by a lovely couple whose house I was showing to clients, I accepted the coffee but told them I’d already had breakfast so would pass on the biscuits. The man then asked me what I’d had for breakfast, and I replied that I have the same thing everyday, an egg. However as the Italian for egg is, uova and grape is uva and my pronunciation was lacking that morning, he assumed by grape I meant I have wine for breakfast, which he and his wife found most amusing.

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The most frustrating part of learning a second language is those days when the words fall out. Some mornings it’s as if I’ve woken up and parts of my stored Italian lexicon have fallen out of my ears during the night. For example this week I had a morning when I couldn’t recall the Italian for the word, who and yesterday I’d misplaced the word for, lost.

Another moment was when out one evening in L’Aquila we stopped to get some take away food and I asked for some salad, however as we were in polite company I didn’t want onions and despite foraging through the deepest recesses of my brain the word just would not come, so I ended up with onions, and onion breath all evening.

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There’s also those other moments when the words fall out, usually after too many glasses of wine the night before or a plethora of Peroni. I’m certain that under the influence my language skills are still adequate (although this could be disputed) but the next day I seem to have left great reams of words and whole sentences on the pillow.

This said, I have come to the conclusion that on the whole people are very forgiving of foreigners who mangle their language. I’ve found all of the Italian’s I have come into contact with very helpful and polite and I’m sure this can be said of most people regardless of their country. Unlike years ago in France when I went to buy a loaf of bread. The French shop keeper huffed and puffed before pedantically telling me my pronunciation was wrong. Needless to say I didn’t buy her bread.

No doubt as I continue on my journey with the Italian language there’ll be many more moments where the words fall out or my flat Northern vowels scramble what is in essence a beautifully lyrical language.

Seven Words that Strike Fear

We’ve been working on the back garden for the past few days and lunch has generally been a sandwich eaten sat in the sunshine. Today however, as the time approached one o’clock I put a pan of water on the hob and grabbed a few things from the fridge to prepare lunch. Then I heard those seven words, when spoken by an Italian will strike fear into any foreigner. No not, What-a ya doing with-a my wife eh?’ Nor,Touch-a ma car I touch-a ya face’. No, these words chilled the English blood in my veins, more than a visit from five men in black suits carrying violin cases saying, ‘Ya know what-a happen if-a ya squeal?’’ A horses head in the bed appears tame compared to an Italian saying to you, “Can you cook some pasta for me?”

Suddenly what was just going to be spaghetti with pesto becomes a trial. It couldn’t be more nerve wracking if Michelangelo had asked me casually, “Oi, can you just paint the eyes on the baby Jesus for me while I pop to the loo?” So the free pasta we got from the local supermarket gets put back and a fresh packet of maccheroni alla chitarra by De Cecco is removed from the cupboard, after all the Italian in question is from Fara San Martino, so it would be impolite to serve pasta made anywhere else other than Fara. The jar of pesto goes back onto the shelf and the freshly made one in the fridge is retrieved along with the hunk of Parmesan.

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Beads of sweat form on my brow. Questions race through my head; is there enough salt in the water? Is it a rolling boil? How long shall I leave it in for? not to mention the whole al-dente issue that we’re constantly reminded of. Several minutes later it was assembled and served with lashings of grated parmesan on top and I waited for the response from the Italian man sat on the patio. He chewed, nodded, smiled then said, “It’s okay.”

Later that day when breathing and heart rate had returned to normal, he said, “Your pasta today was good.” Result, a smiling straniero in middle Italy.

Hell of a Distraction

Today I’m trying to organise myself. I have several ideas for future articles to pitch, research and upon acceptance write, I also need to crack on with my novel, ‘52’. But I’m being distracted. The source of this distraction is a five track EP from Stoke on Trent band, Moscow. I should be sorting files into folders and other interesting tasks, but listening to the EP titled Hell Fire is robbing me of my concentration.

One thing I do miss from England is the wealth of music I came into contact with. I’m not a fan of the radio, I can’t stand DJ chatter, so discovered new bands mostly by word of mouth. I miss having my office chats about new music with Becky, who has similar tastes to me. (I don’t miss the stress of having an office though). Here in Italy the music I get to hear is mostly pop from the UK charts, but it’s always about two or three years out of date. At a recent barbecue there was an Italian DJ, playing vinyl and every song played was English. We had a little bit of disco, some T. Rex and Bowie, a smidgen of northern soul and a blast of James Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I have quite an eclectic taste in music so can enjoy most offerings, I’m not partial to classical or instrumental music but do like a bit of opera. I’m not keen on musical theatre, for me it’s a bit twee, I much prefer music that has meat on its bones. I guess I’m essentially an indie kind of guy. My youth witnessed the emergence of punk, the new romantic scene with its androgynous images and the dark brooding gothic movement. Yes I was a safety pinned, lip-stick wearing, pink haired pop junkie. Honestly some days I’d emerge from my bedroom looking like the love child of Toyah Willcox and Steve Strange. (Sadly I never did grow out of the sticky-up hair stage.)

I have no one here in Italy to talk to about music, none of my friends have the same passion for new music that I do and the occasional message to Becky on Facebook doesn’t really quench my addiction to music related jibber-jabber, so I’m resorting to previewing music on iTunes and scouring the web for anything new and interesting.

Today I came across this EP by Moscow on Facebook, I’d heard a taster previously of one of the tracks Lizard Lords and it sounded promising. The four piece, made up of Matt – guitar, Nic – vocals, Tom – bass and Mark – drums have an edgy yet urgent sound; It’d be lazy to call them simply indie, rock or even post-punk, their music is a fusion of all these genres with touches of frenetic thrashing: epileptic music.

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I don’t really like comparisons, but can see how people could compare Nic’s vocals to those of Editor’s frontman, Tom Smith, but it’s not that simple, there’s something darker in Nic’s timbre, its almost menacing, daring you to listen. On the track Cold Hands, there’s touches of Echo and the Bunnymen singer, Ian McCulloch hidden between the lines, but Nic defies all comparisons on the track The Night, two minutes and forty-one seconds into the song and the music fades leaving Nic alone, his vocals become trapped: an inmate inside a musical asylum he calls out, giving the listener twenty-one seconds of uncomfortable joy.

But what makes one band better than another? That’s the rub. In my opinion it’s that mix of people that just works. It’s something evident in the music. It’s not image, stage presence or pretty boy looks that makes a great band, (apologies to One Direction), it’s something that you cannot define but you can hear it when you listen to the music they produce.

Being someone who makes a living out of words, I believe an essential ingredient any band needs is a clever wordsmith. Someone who can weave lyrics into something more than a formulaic format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc. Bands like Scouting for Girls and dare I say it, Kaiser Chiefs all know the importance of getting the lyrics right. Back in the 1980’s Haircut 100 singer Nick Heyward was applauded in the music press for his clever phrases and wordplay, so much so he once said he was looking for a way to fit the word, Toblerone, into one of his songs. This is all rather excessive and a tad pretentious, you don’t need to use clever words and phrases like, Drifting apart like a plate tectonic, (Kaiser Chiefs), you just need the right turn of phrase. On Don’t Look Back, the track starts with a repetitive guitar riff and a bass line akin to a heart patient with arrhythmia: A simple introduction to the song, add to this the opening lyric of, ‘Don’t look back, you’ll see’  and you’re hooked, but simple is not the case here, words like, transmission and rearranged are tossed into the mix with phrases like ‘robot eyes never blink’ and ‘the most effective kind of cage, is the kind you can’t see’  and you can see why as writer I’m distracted by this band. In my opinion, I don’t believe this is four guys who just set up and jam in a mates garage, before sloping off to the local for a few pints, this is a band that think carefully about the important craft of song writing.

But don’t just take my word for it, check out Moscow at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lizardlords?fref=ts and their Bandcamp page: http://moscowmusic.bandcamp.com/

Download Hell Fire, I dare you. But if you do I take no responsibility for your inevitable distraction.

Photo used with permission