Tag Archive: Italian language


This cryptic thought is from Andrea Camilleri’s mystery The Shape of Water (or La Forma dell’Acqua in the original Italian). Since the concept is key to how Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano unravels a suspected murder, I won’t reveal what it means, but it’s one example of the fascinating way this Sicilian author thinks. His characters are not only funny, smart, daring and charming but even philosophical.

cover, Italian edition of La Forma dell'AcquaAnother line I like from the book is, “At that moment, the studio door opened, and an angel appeared.” You might expect the tough cop Montalbano to have this thought about a beautiful woman (especially since he tends to meet lots of them), but the angel turns out to be a sensitive young man overwhelmed with grief for the victim in the story.

The book lovers on Bookflurries first led me to the Montalbano books and the TV series based on them. Figuring that the subtitled TV shows might help in my slow quest to learn Italian, I started watching them with Hubby and got hooked at the opening aerial views of hillside architecture in bella Sicilia. Hubby bought me La Forma dell’Acqua after I mentioned wanting to try reading the book in the original language.

Even with my limited fluency, stumbling through La Forma was a labor of love. Like Winnie in my own Italian-set mystery The Five-Day-Dig, I’m fascinated by language. It’s interesting to note that some English idioms translate almost word-for-word into Italian. Montalbano worries about dealing with someone “non avrebbe voluto spartirci il pane,” literally, with whom “he wouldn’t want to break bread.” And when a colleague he dislikes asks how he knew something unexpected, he says, “Mi l’ha detto il mio uccello,” the way we might say, “A little bird told me.”

Loved both the book (linked above) and the TV version. The episode isn’t currently available for video streaming on Amazon (even though it’s listed here), but you can get it on DVD with two other episodes here.

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The first time I visited Italy, back in college, I hadn’t studied the language at all. In Rome, my friend Nancy and I met two local guys, and “mine” didn’t speak English. Nancy’s date told us that Italian was close to Spanish and I knew a lot of that, so I spent the evening talking in Spanish. But Nancy’s date, not mine, always seemed to be the one who answered…in Spanish.

Later, I took a semester of Italian and aced it but didn’t stick with it. In 2009, when Hubby and I went back to Italy, we planned it on the fly, so I didn’t have time to brush up. Digging deep, I remembered a little but wished I knew more. Since then, I’ve been on a slow course of self-study in hopeful anticipation of “next time.”

The fun thing about writing a book is that you can live vicariously through characters that do what you wish you could—like speak fluent Italian. The Italian in The Five-Day Dig probably isn’t perfect, but I did my best to research it in the time that I had. My favorite exchange of dialog, between Winnie and Domenico when they first meet, contains the only Italian sentence in the book that isn’t translated—a little “Easter egg” for those who either speak the language or are inclined to look it up. ; )

For a good book about the beauty of Italian, check out La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales. For a fun way to learn it, try The Easy Italian Reader by Riccarda Saggese. (Only the beginning is easy, though; it gets hard pretty quickly!)

Still to learn: the gestures!

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