Over the last few years, on most weekday mornings and evenings, I have walked along London Bridge railway and underground station in Central London, watching the ongoing building work change the London skyline and the feel of the very streets themselves. It’s actually hard to recall what lay before on the spot of the now towering Shard–the tallest building in Western Europe. In London, and indeed in many UK cities, the construction of new buildings has embraced bold, sometimes controversial architectural styles. In this respect, there have been both success and failures, as in any enterprise.
I have never been a fan of comic books or magazines. I’ve always felt that there is something dark about most comics–perhaps it is because the protagonists rarely age or change with each episode. It is as if they are stuck in limbo, doomed to go on endless adventures for our entertainment. Maybe it’s the same reason that I’ve never enjoyed the Peter Pan novel, with its depiction of children stuck in eternal childhood. Something not quite right there.
The BBC has recently been broadcasting the Italian police dramas Il Commissario Montalbano and Il Commissario De Luca. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Montalbano, though this post isn’t about him. Instead, I’d like to focus on a part of speech that sometimes crops up in these shows, and indeed many others. Even now and then, the protagonist will find himself talking to a new acquaintance (yes, usually a woman) and she will say to him the enigmatic phrase “Diamoci del tu.” Literally, this means “Let’s give each other ‘you’.” The English subtitles translate this phrase as the slightly bland “Let’s talk less formally.”
Most languages have some sort of expression to say “good luck”. Thinking about its actual meaning for a moment, what these expressions are all about is wishing success to someone who may be about to do something in which there may be actual danger or simply the possibility of failure or embarrassment. So we say good luck before an exam, an interview, a big project, moving house, etc. You don’t typically say good luck if someone is taking a trip down to the supermarket, unless, for instance, the roads are blocked or the item they really want to buy could well be out of stock.
In English, we typically use the word ‘Romans’ to refer to the inhabitants of the ancient city of Rome and the citizens of the Roman Empire. It feels a little strange to use the word to refer to the modern-day inhabitants of the Italian capital. We’d probably say something on the lines of “He’s from Rome,” or “It’s a style seen in Rome.”
The phrase ‘fare la bella figura’ is commonly used to describe the supposed (often true, though stereotypes are unfair) Italian preoccupation with keeping up appearances. It translates literally as ‘making a beautiful figure’ or more accurately as ‘making a good impression’. It is not, as is often assumed, simply to do with how you dress, or just looking good. It is also about how you behave and the kind of impression you leave on other people, particularly in public. The last thing you want to do is to ‘fare la brutta figura’, or ‘make an ugly figure’. In English, we’d translate this as ‘making a bad impression’.