Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Sicily -- Proverbs

On Sicily – Proverbs




I read several books by Sicilian writers when I was on that island. The authors cited these proverbs, among others:

"A woman is more dangerous than a shotgun."

"Arguing with a woman is like trying to wash the face of a donkey."

On crime and the mafia: "The soil of Sicily is so rich that no sooner do you uproot one weed, than two weeds take its place." (The name "Sicily" means "the fertile place.")

"Water is the best of all."

The latter phrase is something that the old Prince brings to mind as he is dying in Lampedusa’s great novel, The Leopard.

Our tour guide, Mari Accardi, had recently published a book, a series of linked short stories probably autobiographical in nature. The name of the book is Il Posto piu strano dove me sono inamorata – she translated this title as "Strange Places where I fell in Love." The book is shortlisted for a prize and has been well-reviewed in the Italian press. Ms. Accardi showed us a hand gesture used by Sicilians: she slid the side of her thumbnail down her cheek, pressing hard enough to pull her lower eyelid down a little. Acura – she spoke a Sicilian word that I am undoubtedly misspelling. She said: "Means ‘beware,’ or I cut your face." The tourists gasped at little at her audacity. "We use it mostly as a joke," she said. "Mostly."

Sicilian is the only European language that lacks a future tense. Ms. Accardi said that this feature of the language was, perhaps, related to the Arabic influence on the island. "Instead of saying: ‘I will do this,’ Sicilians say ‘Tommorrow I have to do this..." She speculated that this feature of her native language was diagnostic of a certain existential condition: "The Sicilians have never been their own masters," she told us. "They have always been slaves to someone else: the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Norman French, the Spaniards, and, now, the Italians from the north. They have never possessed a future of their own."

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