Category Archives: Italy

Frustingolo Italian Christmas cake

This Christmas cake is specifically from the Marche region of eastern central Italy. It’s similar to those other dense, nutty, fruity Italian Christmas cakes – panforte from Siena, which is probably the best known, and pangiallo from Rome, which I got to know while living there. All of them are of a very ancient form – no chemical raising agents, no fancy sugar craft. Indeed, the very first cakes humanity concocted would have been of a similar format – dense discs that combined dried fruits, nuts and honey for sweetening. I called them “primitive cakes” in my post about pangiallo.

If panforte means “strong bread” and pangiallo means “yellow bread”, I’m not too sure what frustingolo means. The verb frustare means to whip or to lash, or, less violently and more related to cooking, to whisk. As it’s a very dense mixture, you don’t whisk it though, you laboriously turn it with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula. My old friend, Italian teacher and philologist Giammarco suggests the cake’s name instead derives from the adjective frusto, meaning well used or worn out, but also used to mean un pezzetto, a little piece.* So I suppose in the sense of little pieces of nuts and fruit.

Anyway. I saw a recipe first in a cookbook by Anna del Conte but hunting around for more I found more Italian recipes online, which included chocolate. I love chocolate. I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas fruit cakes, so adding chocolate was surely essential.

I give some procedural method, but frankly it’s just a case of adding everything and mixing well. You may be able to see in the pics I included some pecans – I didn’t have quite enough walnuts, and pecans are more of a treat anyway. It’s not a strict recipe. You can adjust the spices or ground coffee if you wish, and use other nuts or fruit depending on what’s in your store cupboard. You can also include a shot of brown spirits if you like. There’s a certain amount of QB here – an Italian recipe term meaning quanto basta, “how much is enough” or “just enough” or “as required”, ie just adding until the mix feels right.

300g dried figs
100g raisins
150g blanched almonds
150g walnuts
100g breadcrumbs (dried)
50g pine nuts**
60g dark chocolate, ideally 80% plus cocoa solids
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
125g wholemeal flour
2g cinnamon powder
10g cocoa
100g caster sugar
80g honey
15g ground coffee, to taste
About 150g strong coffee, espresso, QB
Olive oil, QB
Rum or brandy (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line with parchment a 22cm loose-bottomed round tin.
2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.
3. Soften the figs in hot water then drain and chop roughly.
4. Put the figs in a bowl with the raisins and mix.

5. Roughly chop the walnuts and combine with the pine nuts, the honey, the sugar and the peel.
6. Add the melted chocolate, coffee powder and the breadcrumbs.
7. Sieve together the flour, cocoa and cinnamon and add to the mix too.
8. Add the lemon and orange zest.

9. Soften the mixture with strong coffee, adding more or less as necessary, and some extra virgin olive oil. Aim for a stiff mixture, rather than a batter, mixing everything well. Add a splash of brandy or rum if you like.
10. Put the mixture in the prepared tin and bake for around 1 hour 20 minutes, until nicely browned.
11. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then loosen and invert to cool completely.

12. To serve, you can decorate the top (formerly the bottom) with some more nuts or candied fruit and/or sprinkle with icing sugar.



* Giammarco explained frustare comes from the Latin fustis, meaning stick, rod or cane. Whereas frusto comes from the Latin frustum, meaning a little piece, a lump.
** Ideally Italian or European from Pinus pinea (the stone pine or umbrella pine) if you can get them, not Chinese ones from Pinus armandii (the almond pine or Chinese white pine). I couldn’t, and they’re considerably more expensive – but as with any expensive ingredient, it’s a treat to be used sparingly and doubtless better environmentally. I’m seriously mistrustful of Chinese agricultural practises, seeing as they supply much of the world with just about everything these days, and intensively intensive agriculture is one of our worst mistreatments of the planet: degrading and destroying soil that took millennia to develop; nuking it with toxins that end up in animals, rivers and the ocean; deforestation, etc etc etc etc.

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Filed under Baking, Cakes, Feasts, Italy

Ricciarelli – Siennese almond biscuits

When I had my short-lived biscuit stall on a market a few years ago, ricciarelli were my most popular item. Ricciarelli are in the macaron family, kinds of meringue made with beaten egg whites and sugar, and in this case ground almonds. As such, they fit in with the inclinations of those with an aversion to wheat and gluten, of which there are many round here. I also gave this recipe to The Hearth pizzeria in Lewes, and they sold well there for a few years too before it closed down.

Ricciarelli are originally from Siena. Despite me spending two years living in Italy, and indeed doing an art history degree many years ago, Sienna is not a city I know. It’s a place I’d love to visit on a food pilgrimage due to its association with such wonderful baked goodies. Ditto its rhyming cousin Vienna, home to another of my favourite ground almond and egg white concoctions: the Sachertorte. One of these years…

Ricciarelli for Christmas
In Siena, ricciarelli are traditionally made for Christmas. My friend Karin likes me to make her bags every year to give away to her family as presents. I must admit I couldn’t muster the energy to do that this year. December is intense enough with our modern early Christmas hype, never mind the effects of all the pressure on our children. So anyway, I’m sharing this recipe for you Karin! She’s from a Czech family and this Christmas just gone I was lucky enough to experience her lovely plate of traditional cookies. We’re talking about doing a Christmas cookies masterclass next year, so watch this space.

Ricciarelli are distinguished from other almond paste treats by their soft centres, crisp outside and lozenge shape. I’m sure professional bakers in Siena churn them out swiftly but I like to take my time over the shaping, cutting the paste into sausages, lopping this into chunks, weighing these, then using two plastic dough scrapers to form the lozenge. If you do a big batch, this can take a little while, but I find it quite meditative and like the results.

I developed this recipe based on various others I researched. Some call for resting the paste for a day or even longer, but I think it’s fine to rest for a minimum of four hours in the fridge, or overnight.

Some notes
1. You can use whole blanched almonds and grind them, but frankly I think the results are great with ground almonds.
2. This recipe can easily be scaled up and down as it’s a basic ratio of 1 egg white to 100g almonds, 100g icing sugar.
2. Egg whites keep well in the fridge, but it’s best to make the ricciarelli with them at room temperature. So remember to get them out the day you’re baking.

Makes 24

2 egg whites, about 66g
5g lemon juice
200g icing sugar, sieved
200g ground almonds
4g almond essence
2g vanilla essence
Zest of 1 orange (or lemon if you ain’t got orange. Or indeed both is you like the citrus.)

Extra icing sugar for shaping and dusting

1. Line some baking sheets with parchment or silicone sheets.
2. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
3. Add the essences to the egg whites at the end and combine. (Use more or less essences, to taste.)
4. Combine the almonds and sugar (sieved).
5. Add dry ingredients and zest to the egg white, combining to form a sticky paste.
6. Cover or bag and rest in the fridge for at least four hours, or overnight.
7. On a work surface well dusted with more icing sugar, form a rope the cut off pieces, each weighing about 20g.
8. Shape each into a into a lozenge or diamond shape. Using a pastry scraper – or indeed two – is ideal. The ricciarelli should be about 10mm thick.

9. Dust with even more icing sugar, to coat well. Really, don’t skimp.

10. Heat oven to 160C.

11. Place the ricciarelli on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicon.
12. Bake for about 15 minutes until only just starting to crisp up and but not colour too much. You want them soft inside, with a slight crunch to the crust.
13. Cool on a wire rack.


January 16, 2020 · 12:27 pm

Two days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park

We’ve just done a couple of days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park, in the central Apennines of Italy. We stayed at the small town of Pescasseroli, a very friendly place located in the centre of the park and at an elevation of around 1150m.

We followed a couple of routes from the Lonely Planet book Hiking in Italy by Brendan Sainsbury. We caught a bus direct from Rome to Pescasseroli, then just started our walks in the town.

Day 1 – short walk above Pescasseroli

We headed out of the town into a valley to the west. This is path B3, which climbs from pasture and into pine forest on the hillside. On the map we used, the hill and ridge are called Bocca di Forno – “The Oven’s Mouth”.

The path curved around the hillside, continuing through pine forest, with some clearings that were full of flowers and butterflies.

The path then descended into the ruins of Castel Mancino, a mysterious 10th-11th century fortress that fell into disuse then became a source of building stones for the village below. Seeing the first ruined tower among the pine trees was like something out of Skyrim. Fab.

And here’s Fran.

Day 2 – Rocca Ridge

This was our main walk. Sainsbury gives his route at 19.5km, but we finished it by looping back onto part of the path we followed yesterday, heading for a bar by a more scenic route, so we did around 22km (about 13.5 miles).

We headed up a valley due south of Pescasseroli, onto path C1, then, leaving behind a farm, onto path C3. The whole landscape here is shaped by transhumance, and we immediately encounterd a herd of white cows grazing among the beech trees by Rifugio della Difesa. There were guarded by a very professional Maremmano who barked at us until we were a decent distance beyong the herd.

Path C3 takes you up through beatiful beech forest, which reminded me of the Amon Hen woodland where Frodo separates himself from the Fellowship in the denouement the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) is in an entirely different botanical family to European beech (Fagus) though.

Although most of these trails are fairly well blazed, especially in the woods, occasionally the markings can be baffling, never mind the fact that the colour coding changes and the route names seem to be being revised. (This pic is probably out of order, can’t remember specifically where it was.)

We continued on, past the slightly sorry church of Santa Maria di Monte Tranquillo (at around 1600m), then up to a high pasture at the fairly derelict, private Rifugio (shelter) di Monte Tranquillo. There, four people on horses passed us, with the leader going all cowboy and chasing a grazing herd higher up the mountainside.

Although it’s hard to capture with a photograph, things got a bit steeper here as we climbed up around Monte Pietroso (1876m).

Fran, who has a kind of steep-slopes-vertigo, suddenly found herself facing one of her worst fears. Even though she’d chosen the route… clearly named “Rocca Ridge” in the book. (Another of her worst fears is formidable dogs. She’s even quite nervous around cows. So, so far, the walk was going well, challenging her fears and phobias!). The path up round Pietroso isn’t clear, but soon you reach the ridge itself.

Shortly after we got up to the highest point of the walk, La Rocca itself, with the 1924m summit marked by a cairn.

We continued along the ridge, heading north along path C5. Fran pushed the pace here as she wanted off. Steep slopes on both sides weren’t an ideal birthday present. (I won’t even mention her anxiety about thunder storms.) It was a fabulous walk though, with flowers everywhere,  including several types of geranium, greater celandine, wild thymes, several types of euphorbia, viper’s bugloss (love that name; it’s great in Italian too – viperina azzurra. Nicer thatn Echium vulgare) and many many others, like wild chives. I never realised chives liked mountaintops that are covered in snow and ice for several months of the year.

And gentians. Such an amazing colour.

There were even the remants of some snow. If you look at one of the pics above, the beech forest seems to be tinged in Autumnal red, but this is actually withered and dying leaves – I suspect the spring growth was hit by some late snow-fall.

And some more rugged mountain horses. I’ve never seen horses as sure-footed and mountain goat-like as these.

Although there are a few dozen brown bears left in the area, wolves, golden eagles, and allegedly even lynx, our wildlife encounters included some raptors (possibly Buteo buteo, the common buzzard), innumerable butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers, and swifts whistling around our ears on the ridge. Best of all, however, was thisVulpes vulpes specimen, who came jogging along the the ridge path from the other direction.

We thought he’d run off when saw us, but he kept getting closer, until he stopped at our feet, like a pet dog expecting a treat. I suspect hikers do feed the foxes, hence the behaviour, but it was still a wonderful moment, as foxes are among my favourite animals. I even thought about patting him like a dog until the word “rabies” popped into my mind. He was a very healthy looking specimen though, so it was probably just my turn to be paranoid.

We eventually left the ridge at Rifugio di Lorio (padlocked – apparently you have to get the keys from the park authorities. Which seems pretty silly, to have a shelter you can’t access if you’re caught in a storm). I had a flapjack break, then we started the descent.

Path B4, dropped to the east, took us back into the beech forest and onto path B1, though this seemed to be called something else on the blazes (R7?), just to confuse things.

We even subsequently saw a small, weathered sign pinned to a tree that said we weren’t even supposed to have walked C5, the ridge route, without a guide, as part of the bear conservation programme. Maybe having some info on the park website, pinning the signs at both ends of the park, and, oh, opening the tourist office, might have been a better way to disseminate this info. Presumably none of the other half-dozen hikers we’d seen on the path had received this info either. So Italian.

We descended through the forest, past some ski facilities (absurd looking without snow), then back onto part of the path we’d done yesterday, under the castle ruins. I was craving a beer, but when we finally made it to Pescasseroli’s only birreria they only had foreign muck and industrial beer, so I forwent that essential part of any hike and settled instead for an aperitivo later.

We were joined by another Marammano, presumably retired. These guys are ubiquitious in Pescasseroli, wandering to the streets blagging stuzzichini (aperitivo snacks).

All in all, a great walk. Despite Fran’s uncertainties. Soon forgotten, after a glass and a half of prosecco. (Only a half – a big dog barged the table, smashing the glasss, before Fran could finish her second one.)

We concluded the day with one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy.

(Apologies – the pics are mostly taken on my rubbish phone’s 5MP camera I’m afraid. Fran is the real photographer with the proper DSLR. Maybe she’ll put some on Flickr at some point, and I can link to them.)


Filed under Italy, Main thread

How hard can it be to… buy stamps?

As with many ex-pats, I have a love-hate relationship with Rome. There are just so many ways to get exasperated. Now, I’m British, so I know a thing or two about the seemingly mundane things in life leading to exasperation (eg hoping that a train will run on time, or having any successful, succinct, constructive communication with companies that deal with communications, like ISPs) but really, things are taken to a whole new level in Italy. (Or Rome specifically, as that’s the only placed I’ve lived in Italy.)

So, I’ve been trying to retain a nice, old-school correspondence with a dear old chum who lives in New York, by way of postcards. She always finds wonderful vintage ones, I generally only manage lame tourist ones, but the sheer fact of getting something amiable and interesting in the snail mail is the motivation. I’ve got a postcard of part of Luca Signorelli’s wonderful frescoes in the Duomo in Orvieto to send her, but it’s stuck on my desk, awaiting a stamp. I knew I needed stamps, it’s been on my to-do list a few weeks, but I’ve been a bit busy to actually go and buy some.

Today’s my day off, though, so “Stamps” duly went on the shopping list, and off I trotted into the April sun, which is already hot enough to make a brisk walker sweat. (One of my main problems with living in Rome – I love to walk everywhere, at a swift pace, but at least four months of the year the heat give the process a somewhat uncomfortable, antisocial dimension.)

Buying a paper, I asked my regular newsvendor if he had any stamps as I’m sure I’ve bought them before from edicole (news-stands). He said no, he was a bit short of stamps for postcards. Okay, I’m in Trastevere, it’s full of tourists, and postcard outlets, said outlets must also have stamps. So I did a 360 and went over to a tabaccheria that has a lot more cards than it does nicotine products. The lady said she had stamps, but only if I bought postcards. Wuh?

Another errand I had to run was picking up a book, so I went to the bookshop – which also sells postcards – and asked on the off-chance if they had any. This really isn’t so strange in Britain, as most bookshops, and news agents, and supermarkets, and, heck, just about anywhere, sells stamps. But no, they didn’t have any. She suggested the post office – which is obvious, of course, but I’d be trying to circumvent such a place as they’re usually defined by long queues and long waits.

As I’d tried all the other options, though, I felt I had to. And at least the post office would have stamps, right? Wrong. Of course a post office in one of the most touristy parts of Rome wouldn’t have stamps, how silly of me. There was no queue at least, but the grumpy woman behind the counter said, “No, we don’t have stamps” – in a tone that inferred it was a stupid bloody request in the first place. She then said that I’d have to go over the river to another post office. Over the river? Just to buy stamps? Don’t be silly.

So I gave up, and headed home, back up the hill. As I reached my neighbourhood, I debated visiting the big local post office there. But by this time it was past 1pm, and far be it from a state-run institution to stay open at lunch time. The employees needed their hour and a half lunch break, where they could perhaps shrug their shoulders, with a few ah behs, in a brief mention of their lack of stamps.


Filed under Italy, Rome

The Unexpected Pharmaceutical

Even after a year and a half living in Rome, there are still many aspects of everyday life that confuse me. Any engagement with pharmacies, and even erboristerie (herbalists – places that basically sell a lot of the stuff that’s similar to what you’d find in health food shops), is one of these aspects. Unless I’m just buying some plasters (cerotti), the experience almost always yields unexpected results.

Pharmacies are ubiquitous in Rome, but we frequent the one nearest our flat. The staff know us now (we’re repeat and memorable visitors for sorry reasons I won’t go into now), and they’re friendly and helpful. But that doesn’t always mean you get quite what you want. And even if you do, broadly, get what you want, there’s bound to be something just plain weird about it.

So this week. Yesterday we visited both the pharmacy and the erboristeria. Fran needed something to sooth a cough that was keeping her (well, us) awake at night, I needed some cream for my hands. I’m working in a busy kitchen and the constant hand-washing with industrial strength soap is just simply wreaking havoc with my skin, darling.

Nothing too challenging or unusual there.Right?

We asked in both shops, they acted like they knew exactly what we wanted, we had a quick look, said ok, thanks, and made the purchases. Then we got home and looked a little closer. Fran said the cough mixture tasted weird. Cough mixture is always weird and full of unnecessary shit – like artificial sweeteners for example. Over-the-counter mainstream medicines have enough dodgy shit in them, so for me adding chemical sweeteners just seems like overkill. Plus medicine doesn’t need to taste sweet or nice, it’s not supposed to be a pleasant treat. The weirdness here? Vanilla and apricot flavourings. Vanilla? Is that really associated with cold rememdies?

As for my hand cream. It was okay, and when I tried it in the shop, its smell reminded me of our holiday on the Giglio last year as its primary ingredient is Helichrysum italicum, a herb that covers the island. But the weird factor was that the box says the cream is “Protective and Bleaching”. You what? Never mind the fact that something that bleaches is surely hardly good for you, why would you want a restorative skin cream to bleach your skin anyway? Perhaps it’s just a weird translation. Or not. The original Italian blurb is Protettrice e Sbiancante – protective and bleaching, or brightening, or blanching. It’s perturbing. I quite like my skin tone and don’t need it bleached or blanched thanks. A friend suggested it might be for old ladies wanting to bleach away liver spots. Thanks so much, lady in the shop, for lumping me with that demographic.

Other examples of this bewilderment include trying to buy some sort of basic antiseptic cream for small cuts, and being persuaded to buy something that, it transpired, contained antibiotics. Really, if I’m going to use antibiotics, I want to save them for when there’s a serious chance of serious infection, not when I’ve nicked my finger with a knife. We live in an era when antibiotics really really need to be used very selectively due to the rise of resistant “superbugs” and having them in an over-the-counter cream is arguably irresponsibly stupid.

Another friend also mentioned she’d asked for something for the flu. She came away with something, tried it, felt nothing, and only then discovered it was homeopathic. Whatever your feelings about homeopathy, when you’ve got a crappy flu, you really just want something a bit heavy duty than sugar water with unquantifiable magic vibrations.

Of course, the moral of the story is read the box closely before purchasing. But if you’re in a queue, or are dealing with a friendly pharmacist who behaves like they’re being very helpful and entirely understand your needs, or your Italian isn’t good enough for the medical blurb on the box, this can be tricky. Ultimately, sometimes all you want is something familiar. But tough – there ain’t no Lemsip in Italy.


Filed under Italy, Learning Italian, Rome

Italian names for fish and seafood

Since I moved to Rome in August 2011, I’ve been keeping a list of the names for fish and seafood I encounter on market stalls and restaurant menus. Then I try to learn the English name for said fish. It’s a challenge though. As not only do common names change from region to region in Italy, but the same names are often applied to different species, most notably merluzzo, which, according to Italian Wikipedia, can refer to 15 species.

Basically, I’ve been utilising both the English and Italian versions of Alan Davidson’s ‘Mediterranean Seafood’ (aka ‘Il Mare in Pentola’), the classic book that comprehensively tackles of the subject of seafood nomenclature. (Although I do occasionally carry ‘Il Mare in Pentola’ with me at the market, it’s not very convenient when I’m out and about and end up in a restaurant: this list, on the other hand, I can access through my phone.)

I’ve also been cross-referencing both the English and Italian language versions of Wikipedia. Say what you like about Wikipedia, but it is constantly peer-reviewed by a vast number of contributors, so it can’t be all wrong – plus Davidson’s first did his work in the 1960s and even with later imprints, the updating process just isn’t as dynamic as that on Wikipedia. I’m also using other sources, both online and offline (like a poster I bought of seasonal fish species).

Please note though, I’m doing this more for linguistic and bloody-minded reasons. I’m not doing it as an overt exercise in seafood ethics. That said, many of these species are not sustainable, and shouldn’t really be eaten these days. Seafood sustainability is an issue there just wasn’t much awareness of when Davidson first wrote his book in the 1960s, and it still doesn’t really get a look-in even in the 2002 English or 2005 Italian editions that I have.

Greenpeace produces a Red List of fish to avoid. It’s handy as it simply lists the fish. They are also US and NZ specific versions, among others. A more comprehensive Red List is produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It’s not as user-friendly for consumers as you have to search by specific name (preferably a Latin, scientific name). Their database does however provide very detailed information; look, for example, at the entry for Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus.

Back to practicalities: I’m doing fish (including some of the fresh water varieties I encounter), crustaceans and cephalopods together alphabetically, not in any separate categories. And I’m not going to list all the regional, dialect names Davidson mentions, though if you search here they may well be included alongside the standard Italian name. I’m also including a few bits of terminology, just cos.

Italian names are given in the singular form. Though (very) generally in Italian masculine nous ending in –o are pluralised –i, and feminine nouns ending in –a are pluralised with –e, there are exceptions, so I’ve included some for clarity. Note, for example, pesce (“fish”) is masculine, and becomes pesci in the plural.

Caveat: This whole undertaking is a minefield, linguistically and ethically. This list isn’t comprehensive, expert or entirely accurate. It’s just me trying to learn the names of fish I see used in Rome, and relate them to common English names. I’m British, so I’m talking about relating them to British English common names (which are more standardised than Italian common names, though not entirely standardised). But I’m also giving the principle scientific name for species, which can then be utilised to find common names in say, American English.

Please do comment or contact me though if you see something that you really don’t agree with. This is an ongoing project and I plan to keep revising it and honing it.

acciuga (plural acciughe) – European achovy. See alice.
acqua dolce – “sweet water”, that is freshwater. So freshwater fish are called pesce d’acqua dolce.
alice (plural alici) – the European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus). Some of the regional names are more similar to the English word anchovy or our more generic word for small, oily forage fish sardine, such as the Veneto’s anchiò and sardon, though this is an area of potential confusion as Engraulis encrasicolus isn’t considered a sardine species.
alalunga – see tonno alalunga.
alletterato – see tonno alletterato.
allevato in un vivaio – bred in a hatcher, fish farm
aluzzo – European/Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena) aka luccio marino, luccio di mare, luzzo.
anguilla – eel, or more specifically the European eel (Anguilla anguilla – gotta love those tautonyms). Saw a big tub of these, alive, on the market just the other day.
aragosta – spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas). Also know as aligusta, aliusta (Lazio, Marche, abruzzo); agosta, langusta, grillo de mar (Veneto); ravosta, rausta (Campania); arausta, ariusta, laustra (Sicilia).
argentina – argentine (Argentina sphyraena).
aringa (plural aringhe) – herring, or more specifically Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Not a Mediterranean fish, but here in Rome there are smoked (affumicata) herring fillets available in the supermarket and I’ve even seen kipper-like affairs in specialist food shops or on the market in certain seasons.
astice – European lobster, common lobster (Homarus gammarus). Also known commonly as elefante di mare, longobardo (Liguria); grillo de mar (“sea cricket”, as in grasshopper, not the daft/dull English game involving balls and sticks; Venezia Giulia); lupicante, lupocantero, lupo di mare (another “sea wolf”; Toscania).
azzurro, pesce – see pesce azzurro.

barracuda ­– barracuda. Refers to the Mediterranean barracuda or barracouta (Sphyraena viridensis), though possibly also the European barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena), which is also found in the Med. See aluzzo.
barracuda boccagialla – Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis).
baccalà – salt cod, that is dried salted Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). See also stoccafisso. Note, Atlantic cod is categorised as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Which is a problem for me, as traditional Roman trattorie frequently only have baccalà as the only alternative to red meat and offal. And I don’t much like red meat and offal.
bondella – see coregone.
boga – bogue, a type of seabream with one of the best tautonyms ever: Boops boops. It has a variety of cute regional names: buga, bacello, boba, boma, vopa, vova, vop, vopa, opa, uopa… you get the picture.
bottarga – related to fish roe, but I believe this is actually a product made from dried, compressed fish gonads, particularly from mullet (grey and red) and northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). Used a kind of condiment, grated on certain pasta dishes.
bronzino – see spigola.
bianchetti – the young (fry) of certain oily fish; fish just past the larval stage. This name, and gianchetti, is more from the northwest, Liguria. Called neonata and muccu in Siciliano. Neonata means newborn. I’ve eaten polpette di neonate (the fishing of which is strictly seasonal) in a Sicilian restaurant and they were very much like whitebait fritters I ate in New Zealand.

calamaro (plural calamari) – European squid (Loligo vulgaris). According to Davidson, it’s also called totano in Liguria and Venezia-Giulia, but if you scroll down to totano, that’s primarily the name for Europoean flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus).
cannochia, cannocchia – a freaky looking mantis shrimp (Squilla mantis). I’ll let Italian Wikipedia provide the regional dialect names: “panocchia, pannocchia (Abruzzo); spernocchia, sparnocchia (Campania); canocia, canoccia (Friuli-Venezia Giulia); cicala di mare (Lazio); balestrin, sigà de maa (Liguria); cannocia, pannocchia (Marche); cannocchiella, cecala (Puglia); càmbara de fangu, solegianu de mari (Sardegna); astrea, cegala de mari (Sicilia); canocchia, cicala di mare (Toscana); canocia, canoccia (Veneto).” Though I’ve never personally seen cicala di mare (“sea cicada”) used in Rome.
cappasanta – scallop, pilgrim scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). See conchiglia.
conchiglia del pellegrino, or di San Giacomo, or di San Jacopo – scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). Has a lot of local names. I’ve seen cappasanta used here in Rome, and there are other variables on that and the general religious name (pellegrino = “pilgrim”) according to Davidson, such as: capa santa, santarela (Veneto); pellegrine (Liguria); cappa pellegrina (Marche), etc. Interesting story about scallops, and dubious fishing practices, here.
capone coccio – red or east Atlantic gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus). Coccio means “earthenware”, a reference to the red colour presumabloy. It’s a species I see a lot on the market, and also used to buy from the market back in England. I’ve seen it called the rather complimentary occhiobello (“beautiful eye”) in a restaurant in Toscana/Tuscany. According to Davidson, capone coccio is also used in Lazio for another member of the gurnard family: the piper (Trgila lyra).
capone gallinella – tub gurnard (Chelidonichthys lucerna / Trigla lucerna). Gallinella means “chick” (as in young chicken) and is also a Roman name for the salad crop lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta). You know, just to add to the confusion. Also called cappone.
cappone – see capone gallinella.
cecinella – according to Norman Lewis in his superb account his wartime experiences in Italy, Naples ʼ44, this “tiny sand eels” eaten “fried in batter”.
cefalo – grey mullet (Mugli cephalus). In Lazio also known as mattarello, which also means “rolling pin”. Also muggine.
cefalopodo – cephalopod, ie those delicious molluscs in the Cephalopoda (“head-feet”) class that includes squid, cuttlefish and octopuses. I’m very sorry cephalopod populations but you provide some of my favourite seafood dishes.
cerino – literally “match”, “taper”, but also a name for a type of mullet. I’m not 100% sure, but possibly cefalo, grey mullet. Davidson says it’s also called cirinu in Sicilia, which is similar, and I think I’ve heard the pescivendolo use cerino and cefalo interchangeably at the market.
cernia – grouper, grouper family (Epinephelinae).
cernia bruna – dusky grouper (Epinephelus guaza). Also zerola (Lazio), according to Davidson, but again, I’ve only encountered cernia in Rome.
coccio – see capone coccio.
coda di rospo – what a great name. It literally means “tail of the toad” or “toad’s tail”. The other common name for this fish is rana pescatrice, “frog fisherwoman”. Slightly more prosaically, we call this type of monkfish “anglerfish” (Lophius piscatorius), though other English names are frog-themed. Some more colourful Italian names are: diavolo de mar (“sea-devil”, also a name used in English apparently), rospo di fango (“mud-toad”), pisatrice nera, etc. Novel names aside though, the angler is really one of the core species to not eat, and it’s been on the Greenpeace Red List since 2010.  Even the UK Marine Conservation society rates it as 4 (with 5 the worst).
coregone – name used for several species of freshwater fish, notably the bondella or coregone bianco (Coregonus macrophthalmus, which occurs in Lake Constance in the Alps). We encountered this word on a menu in a restaurant at Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, so it may also refer to other small lake fish.
cozza – mussel, or more specificalloy the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Cozze (plural) is apparently the Lazio name. The more standard Italian name is mitilo,though of course there are numerous regional names including variations likes cozzica, cozzeca, cozzela, or peocio, peocchia and similar in northeast , etc.

dentice – generic name for the Dentex, but most commonly used to refer to the common dentex (Dentex dentex). The dentex family (Sparidae), is referred to as the seabream or porgy family and includes the sargus/sargo genus.

elefante di mare – see astice.

fasulari – another one from Norman Lewis’s Naples ʼ44, which he says are “bean-shaped bivalves” and a local speciality at Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples.
fragolino – see pagello fragolino.
fellone – a name we encountered in Naples for a kind of crab; it turns out to be Eriphia verrucosa. Davidson says the full Campania name is rancio-fellone, while the standard Italian name is favallo.

gallinella – see capone gallinella.
gambarello – common prawn (Palaemon serratus). Presumably the serratus in the Latin name is related to the English word serrated, and another name for this one is gambero sega – where sega (politely) means “saw”.
gambero – prawn, shrimp. Can refer to several species, including the three below.
gamebero imperiale – see mazzancolla.
gambero rosa – red Mediterranean prawn (Parapenaeus longirostris). Rosa means “rose” or “pink”. It’s also called the gambero bianco, “white prawn”. This and the below don’t seem to have even vaguely specific English names (or at least nothing I’d use), but I suppose I’d use the French name, after eating a lot of them while on holidays in Brittany: crevettes.
gambero rosso chiaro – “red-clear shrimp” (Aristeus antennatus). Another one with confused colour-related naming, presumably on account of how it changes when cooked, it’s also called gambero viola (“violet shrimp”) in Italian.
ghiozzo paganello – goby, rock goby (Gobius paganellus).
gianchetti – see bianchetti.
granchio – crab; generic name but also used to refer to common shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Too many different regional names to mention them all, but some are: granso (Veneto), rancio (Campania), vranzi (Sicilia).

lanterna – see pesce prete (Uranoscopus scaber).
lanzardo – or sgombro cavalla is the Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias). Also known as macarello (Lazio), a name it shares with Atlantic mackerel.
latte di pesce – “fish milk” literally, but referring to soft roe, milt. I bought some fish from our pescivondolo one day and, when gutting it, he told me how lucky I was to get the milt. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but for some people it’s a delicacy.
latterino – small fish from the order Atheriniformes, silversides or sand-smelt. If memory serves, I’ve seen small ones served deepfried in Rome (the Romans do love to deepfry).
leccia stella – doesn’t appear to have a British English name, but in American English is apprently (according to Davidson) the pompano (Trachinotus ovatus). In the English version of Mediterranean Seafood Davidson also mentions an older BE name: derbio. I’m sure I’ve heard them referred to here in Rome as simply “stelle”, but Davidson says they’re called leccia bastarda (Liguria), lissa (Veneto), pesce stella (“star fish”, Toscana), ricciola (Campania, just to confuse things with Seriola dumerili), sdofereo, cionare (Sicilia) etc etc.
luccio – pike, northern pike (Esox lucius). Traditionally eaten at Lake Bracciano,  north of Rome but it was a pretty sorry affair when I tried it, small and most unlike the formidable predator freshwater fish of lore. Presumably fished too young.
luccio marino – “pike of the sea”, see aluzzo.
lupino – small bivalve, described to us as in a restaurant as a “small vongole”, where vongole really is just a generic word for members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. Specifically Dosinia exoleta and similar.

maccarello – see scombro/sgombro and lanzardo.
marmora – striped bream (Lithognathus mormyrus). Also mormua, mormora, marmarozza, marmolo, mirmora and other names that, helpfully, don’t sound at all similiar.
mazzancolla – a type of king prawn (Melicertus kerathurus), also commonly known as Gambero imperiale (“imperial prawn”), spannocchio. Davidson says mazzancolla is the Lazio name, though it’s also used on Italian Wikipedia.
mazzone – see ghiozzo paganello.
melù – blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou). Davidson says it’s called stocco and stoccafisso in Tuscany, so perhaps this cod relative has a history of being used for “saltcod”. English Wikipedia says “The fish is usually not marketed fresh, but processed into fish meal and oil. However, in Russia and in southern Europe, blue whiting are sometimes sold as food fish.”
merluzzo – boy oh boy. This one is the one that’s quite possibly the trickiest. Just look at Italian Wikipedia and it says this generic word used to refer to 15 different species. Most commonly, it seems to refer to Atlantic cod, but also other cod, and other members of the wider cod family like hake (Merluccius merluccius; commonly called nasello in Italian) and also pollack (Pollachius pollachius; which isn’t common in the Med so is just legally known as pollack in Italy).
mitilo – mussel. See cozza.
moscardino – another type of octopus. It’s generally small when it’s sold or served, though my research seems to say it’s Eledone moschata ­–  a pretty large species (growing up to 74cm, compared to 24cm for the common octopus). So this is either wrong, or they get it when it’s young.
motella – shore rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus). Davidson calls it the three-bearded rockling, but according to Wikipedia that’s a different species (Gaidropsarus vulgaris). It also says they’re “often confused.” Also known as mosella, moustella, mostella, musdea e’ funnale. Hence potential confusion with musdea.
muggine – see cefalo.
musdea, musdea bianca – forkbeard, greater forkbeard (Phycis blennoides). Some of its regional names are mostella, mustella gianca, mustia – which sound like motella and some of its regional names. The two species are in the same order (Gadiformes) and family (Gadidae; the true cod family) but not the same genus. My guess is that they live in similar rocky environments, so were, in days of yore, caught together and discussed together by twinkly eyed, rough-handed fishermen.

nasello – hake (Merluccius merluccius). One of the fish commonly called merluzzo, but has numerous dialect names, such as pesce lupo (“wolf fish”; Marche), mazzone, mazzune, nuzz (Puglia), mbarluzzu, milluzzu, miruzzu (Sicilia) etc etc.
neonata – see bianchetti.
novellame – a generic word for young fish, just past larval stage. Although it’s on Italian Wikipedia, I’ve run it past several Italians and they looked kinda blank, so it can’t be that common. See bianchetti.

orata – Sparus aurata, gilt-head bream

occhialone – see rovello.
occhi di canna – literally “eyes on stalks”, I saw this in a restaurant in Rome and it refers to small, young octopus, smaller than moscardini. Then I saw them on the market (pic below).Occhi di canna
ombrina – doesn’t have a British English name as far as I can see (presumably because it’s a Med fish, not one from the seas around the UK) but seems to be called the Shi Drum (Umbrina cirrosa) in various places online.
orata – gilt-head (sea) bream (Sparus aurata). In this picture, it says they’re pescate, meaning fished (in the wild) not farmed.
ostrica (plural ostriche) – oyster, European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis). Although the (Latin-derived) Italian word is not unlike the English word, it also sounds like ostrich. In Italian an ostrich is the entirely dissimilar struzzu. Clear? Good.

paganello – see ghiozzo paganello.
pagello fragolino – common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), which is in the same family as sea bream (Sparidae). It’s a cute name though as fragola means “strawberry”, and fragolino is means little strawberry, or wild strawberry. It’s presumably named for its red-pink skin.
pannochia, pannocchia – see canocchia.
palamita – Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda), from the Scombridae family, that is related to mackerel and tuna. Despite the Latin name, not to be confused with sardines.
paranza – small fish such as ling and others. It literally means fishing boat, trawler. So small fish that’s trawled up and served up before its time.
palombo – a kind of houndshark, which Davison calls the Smooth hound. He says this can refer to the Mustelus asterias and Mustelus mustelus. The former is called the Starry smooth-hound on Wikipedia, the latter the Common smooth-hound. I often see fillets of palombo on the market, though have never tried it. Which is probably a good thing, as Mustelus mustelus is “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  Such is the tragic irony of many species with “common” in the name.
passera – European flounder (Platichthys flesus).
pelagico – pelagic. Not a fish, but a word commonly used to describe oceanic species that shoal near the surface, such as mackerel. Handily it’s basically the same in English and Italian.
pesce azzurro –  a generic Italian term for the smaller species of marine oily fish, from anchovies to mackerel. But also used to refer specifically to pesce serra (Pomatomus saltatrix).
persico – generic name for perch, also used to refer specifically to the European perch. See persico reale, below.
persico reale – European perch (Perca fluviatilis).
pesce castagna – Atlantic pomfret or Ray’s bream (Brama brama).
pesce persico – see persico, persioc reale.
pesci piatti (plural) – “plate fishes”, generic name for flat fish.
pesce prete – literally “priest fish”. This is the Atlantic stargazer (Uranoscopus scaber). This is the fish that started me on this mission. I’d asked the pescivendolo for something to make a stew and he sold me these ugly buggers. Some posting of pictures on Facebook led to long discussions, with ultimately the more helpful identification input coming from the Sicilian friend of a friend and from a British friend who’s an experienced diver, and drew on his diving community’s knowledge. I’ve seen them also called pesce lanterna and Davidson says regional names include pesce lucerna and lumera, though even in English “lanternfish” is very generic. A few other nice regional names from Davidson: bocca in cielo from Abruzzo and Campania, boca in cao from the Veneto, and pappacocciula, which I’d hazard mean the same thing: “mouth in the sky” (cielo means “sky” or heaven in “standard Italian”).
pesce sciabola – see spatola.
pesce serra – bluefish, blue fish (Pomatomus saltatrix). Had this in a restaurant in Sorrento. The waiter said it was also known as bandira, though Davidson doesn’t mention this name.
pesce spada – swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Spada does indeed mean “sword”, despite how much it might sound like “spade”. Greenpeace includes swordfish on the Red List, sayingSwordfish stocks… are fully fished in the Mediterranean.”
The IUCN Re List also says, “Globally, this species has shown a 28% decline over three generation lengths (20 years). The only stock that is not considered to be well-managed is the Mediterranean”.   So really, the Med fisheries particularly need to pull their fingers out.
pezzogna – red (sea) bream or blackspot sea bream (Pagellus bogaraveo). Also known as rovello (see below).
platessa – this name, handily, directly relates to the Latin name Pleuronectes platessa, which is European plaice. Davidson says it is “not really a Mediterranean fish” and Italian Wikipedia says ” È rara nel Mediterraneo” (“it’s rare in the Mediterranean”) though I’ve seen it offered in restaurants here in Rome. Presumably not freshly caught. Or trawled to be specific: it’s also on the Greenpeace Red List, for the damaging bottom trawling, though the IUCN says ” A widespread species which is vulnerable to overfishing in the sea, but this is not currently thought to be causing a decline great enough  to qualify the species as threatened.”
polpessa – this octopus seems to have a lot of names in English too: Atlantic white-spotted octopus, white-spotted octopus, grass octopus or grass scuttle. Its Latin name is great: Octopus macropus. Other regional Italian regional names include vurpessa, pruppessa, vurpàscele etc.
polpo, polpo commune – common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). Also polipo, piovra, folpo, tolbo, tulbo, fulbo, fulpo, vurpe, pruppu….
potassolo – see melù.

razza – ray.
razza bianca – bottlenose skate, white skate (Raja alba/Rostroraja alba). The IUCN Red List categorises it as “Endangered”.
razza chiodata – thornback ray (Raja clavata). Davidson says it’s called Arzilla pietrosa in Lazio, but on my local market’s fish stall in Rome, ray is just ray, razza, they don’t make distinctions. This species is categorised as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List.
ricciola – greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili). Our first year in Italy, we asked the pescivondolo for something for Christmas Eve, when fish is traditionally eaten in Italy. They offered us a substantial ricciola, though we had no idea what it was. A white, very meaty fish it made a serious meal.
rombo – turbot; generic name for several species of flat fish (pesci piatti) not just Scophthalmus maximus; see below.
rombo liscio – “smooth turbot”, or brill (Scophthalmus rhombus). Also known as soarzo/soazo, rombo minore (Veneto); rombetto (Marche, Abruzzo); rombo d’arena, rombo piccolo (Lazio); linguata mascula (Sicilia).
rombo chiodato – “spiked turbot” (chiodo means “nail”, “spike”) turbot (Scophthalmus maximus, also Psetta maxima). Also known as rombo maggiore, rombo gigante, and several regional names like rombo di pietra (Lazio); rombo di sasso (Veneto); rummo petruso (Campania); romolo, rummulu pitrusu (Sicilia) and various names evoking stones and rocks (sasso, pietra, pitrusu etc). If it’s line or trap caught, it’s possibly okay to eaet, but frankly most vendors and restaurants won’t want to or be able to provide provenance information, and it’s likely it’ll be trawled. Trawling is not good.
rombo giallo – megrim, whiff (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis).
rombo di rena –wide-eyed flounder (Bothus podas). Among the regional names are the delightful rumbo bastardo (Liguria) and quattr’occhio (Toscana). Inevitiably, variations on these names are used for different species in different regions.
rombo quattrocchi – “four-eyed turbot”, or four-spot megrim in English (Lepidorhombus boscii). Also known as suace, suacia etc.
rovello – another member of Sparidae (seabream, porgy) family: Pagellus bogaraveo, which seems to be known as red sea bream and blackspot sea bream (according to Wikipedia) and blue-spotted bream in English (according to Davidson). Also known as occhino, besugo, bezugo, mupo, mupa, occhialone, pampuni, pampini, pezzogna etc etc (Davidson gives many others). Even Italian Wikipedia concedes “anche se i vari nomi locali possono creare confusione tra le diverse specie di pagelli che si pescano nel mediterraneo” – that is, “the various local names can create confusion between the diverse species of the pagellus (genus) that are fished in the Mediterranean.”

salmone – salmon, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). These days, most of the salmon you eat will be farmed. I avoid it, as although fish farming has its place, it can be dubious, particularly when it involves carnivorous species (like salmon and bass) that have to be fed with other fish, at an inefficient rate of exchange. So for example, for 1kg of salmon you have to process 4kg of wild fish.  Personally, I’d rather eat the wild sardines, anchovies etc than the salmon. Again, it’s a question of sense and sustainability.
sarago – generic name for Diplodus genus. Most commonly refers to Diplodus sargus, the white seabream or sargo, aka sargo maggiore.
sarago sparaglione – annular bream (Diplodus annularis). Here’s one where a  lot of the regional dialect names at least sound similar (ish): saragu, spareddu, saraghetto, sparleto, sparlotto, sbaro, sparinole, sparo etc etc.
sardina – sardine (smaller, younger), pilchard (larger, adult). As in English, a generic word for small oily fish, but also used to refer specifically to the European pilchard(Sardina pilchardus). Most European langauges call it some variation on “sardine”, and there are also many Italian dialect names like sardon, saraghina, sarducola, but there are also plenty that are completely different sounding, like palassiol, renga, falloppe, biancomangiare, sfiggiata, nunnata. The later is Sicilian and sounds like neonata (see bianchetti).
sargo maggiore – white seabream or sargo (Diplodus sargus). Among the many regional names are: cappuccino (“hooded”; Abruzzo, Marche); saricu monica (Calabria); saricu tunnu (Sicilia).
scampo (plural scampi) – the prawn family member most commonly cooked up and known as scampi in the UK (though monkfish tail has, illegally, also been served up as scampi). This is the Dublin bay prawn, langoustine or Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus). Italian regional names include: arancio, arganello, astracio, scampolo.
scombro/sgombro – mackerel, Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). Also maccarello (Lazio; I see both names in Rome), lacerto (Liguria).
scombro cavallo – see lanzardo.
scorfano – scorpion fish. Refers to seveal species. I wrote my first investigations prompted by buying scorfano.
scorfano rosso – red scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa). Also called cappone in Toscana; cappone means “capon”, ie a castrated cockerel, but in the fishy world is also used for capone gallinella (tub gurnard).
seppia – cuttlefish or common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Regional names include sepa, seccia, siccia, purpo siccia, pruppusiccia, so at least there’s a pattern. Though Davidson says it’s also called a scarpetta in Puglia. A scarpetta is a ballet shoe or trainer, and one nice Italian expression for when you mop up the sauce in your plate with a piece of bread is “fare la scarpetta” – make the ballet shoe – just to confuse things.
sciabola – see spatola.
seppioline – little cuttlefish.
serra – see pesce serra.
soace – see suacia.
sogliola – sole, or more specifically the common sole (Solea solea). Italians do catch other species, but this is the main variety, and one Brits will know as Dover sole. Another problematic species due to beam-trawling.
spigola – bass, European seabass, Mediterranean seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). Also known as bronzino (Liguria); ragno (Veneto, Toscana); lupasso (Davidson says this is the Lazio name, but I’ve only ever seen spigola in Rome); lupu de mari (Sicilian); and pesce lupo, though frankly variations on the latter names (“wolf fish”) seems to pop up for various species, including Anarhichas lupus. These days, it’s commonly reared in fish-farms, something I’ve got very mixed feelings about (see salmone).
spatola – silver scabbard fish, frostfish, beltfish (Lepidopus caudatus). Pesce bandiera (Lazio).
squalo – generic noun for shark.
stella – see leccia stella.
stoccafisso, stoccofisso – like baccalà, dried salted cod, Gadus morhua. The difference between the two seems to be a matter of argument, but It’s possibly a question of where the Gadus morhua is sourced: baccalà being Atlantic, stoccafisso being Norwegian/Arctic. It’s also a question of a different salting process.
suacia – Mediterranean scaldfish (Arnoglossus laterna), a flatfish related to flounder. A lot of the northern Italian names seem to be variations on petrèe, petrale, pataracia, peteracchia, but in the south things just spread out and have no apparent similarities. Also commonly known as zanchetta. My poster also lists it as soacia, though I can’t find any reference to that name in Davidson or online.
sugarello – Atlantic horse mackerel, scad, jack mackerel (Trachurus trachurus). Confusingly, the fish that’s literally called “horse mackerel” in Italian, Sgombro cavallo, is a different species – see lanzardo. (Note, mackerel is one of those vague terms that doesn’t exclusively include members of the same family of fish. So while the true mackerel, Scomber scombrus, and the chub mackerel,  Scomber colias, are members of the Scombridae family, this one is instead a member of the Carangidae family. They’re all, however, oily fish or pesce azzurro that have certain cosmetic similarities, notably the sheeny-shiny skins.) Scad isn’t generally eaten in the UK.
suro – see sugarello.

tellina – wedge shell, a type of bivalve (Donax trunculus). Apparently also known as fasiola and trilatera in Lazio, though in her book The Food of Rome and Lazio, Oretta Zanini de Vita just uses tellina, while Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called arsella. I had them in a pasta dish very much like spaghetti alle vongole, except that they’re small so it takes a lot longer to get the meat out of the shells. Tellina is also the French name. Strangely, Donax trunculus isn’t in the Tellina genus of bivalves – I can only assume it was scientifically reclassified after the Latin name became commonly used (via Vulgar Latin) for various edible bivalves.
tilapia – tilapia. Farmed tilapia is found in Italy, such as in my local DOC supermarket where they have it in packets, smoked. Unlike the aquaculture of salmon, which requires wild fish for feed, tilapia can be fed on a less unsustainable food source: algae. But they are also fed maize, a controversial crop (intensive monoculture, GM etc etc). Never mind the questions of hormones and chemicals. It’s a tricky one. I would say “try to buy organically reared tilapida” but a) you may not be able to get the relevant info and b) people will moan about it being pricier. You know what you – saving human civilisation in the face of environmental meltdown requires us to recalibrate their food consumptions habits. Anyway, back to tilapia in Italy. The farmed species found here are Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and Mozambique tilapia(Oreochromis mossambicus).
tonnetto – see tonno alletterato.
tonno, tonno rosso – tuna, specifically northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). I’ve tried not to eat this perenially popular fish, well, for most of my adult life really as it’s the poster boy of over-exploited marine life. Indeed, most tuna species are firmly Red Listed these days, despite what supermarkets may sell you about line-fishing or even “ranches”, which are fish farms that don’t raise tuna from eggs, but instead still deplete natural stocks by taking young fish from the wild. Insanely, “Ranching also uses high amounts of other wild fish as feed – about 20kg of wild fish to produce just 1kg of tuna.” (from Greenpeace, here). Here is it too on the IUCN Red List.
tonno alalunga – albacore, longfin tunny (Thunnus alalunga). It’s on my poster of seasonal fish, but even the albacore is on the Greenpeace Red List these days, while the IUCN Red List categorises it as “Near Threatened“, having undergone an estimated 37% decline in the past 20 years.
tonno alletterato – little tunny, little tuna, false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus). This one’s not on the Red List (at the time of writing, Feb 2013), and Wikipedia gives its status as “least concern”. Also known in Italy with other diminutives like tonnetto, tunnella, tonnello, plus loads more dialect names like sanguinaccio in Tuscany (this also happens to be the name of a blood sausage and a chocolate pudding made with blood); ‘nzirru (Campania); alittratu, littrata, culuritu (Sicilia) etc.
totano, totano commune – European flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus). Totano may also be used for the southern shortfin squid (Illex coindetii), notably in Sicily. See discussion in comments, below.
tracina –general name for fish from the Trachinidae family, weevers.
tracina drago – greater weever (Trachinus draco). Also (Davidson): agno, aragno, dragena, ragna, ragno, varagno, tracena, parasaula, antracina, tracchio, ragnas, aragnas. Although drago means “dragon”, a lot of these names are related to ragno, standard Italian for “spider”. It would also seem to indicates a lot of interchangeable nomencleature with the tracina ragno (Trachinus araneus), below. Unless Davidson was getting in a muddle too.
tracina ragno – literally “spider weever” in both Italian and Latin (Trachinus araneus), though in English it’s called the spotted weever.
triglia – generic name for red mullets, goatfish.
triglia di fango“mud mullet”, in English one of the two fish called red mullet (Mullus barbatus).
triglia di scoglio – “rock mullet” or “cliff mullet”, also known as red mullet in English but  a different species to the above (Mullus surmuletus).
trota – trout, brown trout (Salmo trutta).

Uova di pesce – “fish eggs”, meaning roe, or specifically hard roe. For soft roe, milk, see “latte”.

vongola – clam, generic name for various members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. In Italy, for dishes like spaghetti alle vongole, it usually refers to to Venerupis decussata, in English the carpet shell, or cross-cut carpet shell. Davidson also gives Italian names vongola nera (black clam), vongola verace (true clam), and says it’s call capa incrocicchiata and archello in Lazio, though I’ve not seen or heard this.

zanchetta – see suacia.
zerro –  picarel, blotched picarel (Spicara smaris/Spicara maena). I’ve never actually seen this one, or heard of it before now, so I’m not even going to go there with the dozens of regional dialect names Davidson lists. Life’s too short.

Coda: If, like me, you enjoy eating seafood, but want to see stocks managed and fished sustainably, I’d urge you to get involved with organisations that campaign for changes to policies and law. In the UK, for example, there’s Fish Fight.

I’d also recommending  watching the film The End of The Line, which has a global swep, and checking out the related charity, the Blue Marine Foundation.

If you’re based in the UK, another notable body is the Marine Conservation Society, which tries to provide consumer information via FishOnline and its Good Fish Guide.


Filed under Food misc, Italy, Learning Italian, Rome

The Euro-mankiss

Hugs are great. I love a good hug. They’re versatile. They can be reassuring at a teary emotional level. They can cement a reunion between friends of any sex, whether it’s after just a few days separation or several years. They can celebrate a shared experience. They can even celebrate a shared manly experience like scoring a goal or, I dunno, shooting a boar. In a perfectly masculine way. Heck, think of all the American movies where a bunch of “the guys” are watching “the game” and their team scores “a touchdown” or whatever, and they leap up, spilling their cans of pissy beer, high-fiving, bumping chests and, yes, hugging.

It’s all good.

I’m really not very British about hugging. Many Brits are still more stiff and formal, proferring a hand for gentlemanly shake. Not me. When I was younger, I lived in New Zealand on and off for about three years with people others would probably describe as hippies. I would have been described as a hippy too. We all enjoyed hugs. I like hugs with my family too. Even with my more conventional brother, who’s tall like me (1.89m) but burly, so does a good bear hug. I’m even perfectly happy for a good Italian chum to give be jovial hugs or take my arm when we’re joking in the street.

When I am very British, however, is when a Euro-mankiss is involved. That’s where I draw the line, which leads to some slightly awkward situations living in Rome. I’m not sure how widespread the mankiss is, but from an outsider’s perspective, it seems to be absolutely commonplace in Italy, France and other countries in the Romance language group. Perhaps it’s the ancient Romans’ fault. Somehow, however, the habit didn’t survive the crossing to the barbarous shores of Britain with Caesar and co. For a Brit, it’s just not done. Unless you’re in theatre. Or unless you live on the continent and have gone really native. And I haven’t. My wife is a Brit too, and we have plenty of friends here who are either British or have a slightly closer cultural heritage (like Canadians). There’s no mankissing with them. We have plenty of Italian friends too, though, and that’s where the trouble starts.

It’s not all good.

So, the other night we were going out to meet some friends. She’s Sicilian, his background is from various parts of Italy. We go to a restaurant. I’m already antsy as I don’t like eating at Italian dinner time. For me, I’m generally hungry around 6pm, and my family always ate dinner at 7pm. I can survive a little longer if I have snacks, but not too many as I don’t want to ruin my appetite (as my mum would say) for the proper meal. Eating at 9.30pm plus seems crazy to me, especially if you’re shovelling away all the courses, and dolce, and coffee and digestivo. How can the body cope with all that? Never mind the diners who I hear yacking away at midnight in the summer at the restaurant just down the road from our flat. How the heck do they digest and get up for work the next morning? I mean, strong coffee is the obvious answer, but surely there’s a cumulative effect of eating late, not getting much sleep and drinking loads of coffee? I don’t geddit. But then I’m northern European.

Anyway. The restaurant. So we arranged to meet at 8pm. They finally arrive about 8.30pm. By which time, my (self-diagnosed) hypoglycemia is making me go squiffy. I can’t really think straight. I manage a Euro-womankiss, one on each cheek. That’s fine. I used to be involved with the art scene enough to have practised that at gallery openings and whatnot. But then my hungry brain and body have to contend with the male greeting. He goes in for a mankiss, I go in for a quick hug. He ends up airkissing, the hug happens sideways. Feathers aren’t notably ruffled; it’s a tolerably minor cross-cultural semi-faux pas. But I’m relieved half an hour later when some food finally arrives and I can start to think straight again. First thing I think is that next time I’ll have to try and line up my approach for either a handshake or a hug or both a bit better. Though I’m not quite sure what body language is required to give the message “Nice to see you but I don’t do the Euro-mankiss.”


Filed under Italy, Learning Italian, Rome

Translating Tensione Evolutiva by Jovanotti into English

As usual, I’m hearing Italian music on Rampower, a radio station that doesn’t tell you what the songs are or who they’re by, or on the supermarket tannoy. And as I’m so resounding ignorant* of Italian music, I have to Google to get any info.

Anyway, this is one I genuinely like (until I get sick of it it being played to death). It’s a catchy combo of gutsy ballad and rave tune that shouldn’t work, but does. Some googling tells me it’s  ‘Tensione Evolutiva’ by Jovanotti  (aka Lorenzo Costantino Cherubini), a massive star here. It’s a far more sophisticated bit of song-writing than the last bit of Italian pop I had a go at translating.

Even if I didn’t know his name before, checking up on him now, I already knew some of his tunes. My chum Michele says it was Jovanotti who introduced hip-hop to Italy, as both a DJ and performer, but he has innumerable other influences beside. This familiar track from 1995, ‘L’ombelico del mondo’, exhibits a similar set of influences to Manu Chao. While his 1988 Italo house tune ‘Welcome’, released under the name ‘Gino Latino’, apparently reached number 17 in the UK charts.

I can’t say I like much of his older stuff listening to it now on YouTube (he started out doing iffy reggae), but I like ‘Tensione Evolutiva’ more after watching the great video, which is directed by Gabriele Muccino, who’s made a few Hollywood films. Though his most recent one looks terrible.

Anyway, I also like the song more after having a stab at this translation, as it seems to actually have something interesting to say, something that can still be rare in pop songs.

Here’s the video:

And here are the original lyrics (by Jovanotti and Michele Canova Iorfida):

Abbiamo camminato sulle pietre incandescendi
Abbiamo risalito le cascate e le correnti
Abbiamo attraversato gli oceani e i continenti
Ci siamo abituati a i più grandi mutamenti
Siamo stati pesci, e poi rettili e mammiferi
Abbiamo scoperto il fuoco, inventato i frigoriferi
Abbiamo imparato a nuotare, poi a correre, e poi a stare immobili.

Eppure ho questo vuoto
Tra lo stomaco e la gola
Voragine incolmabile
Tensione evolutiva
Nessuno si disseta
Ingoiando la saliva.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
Pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene.

E una ragione per vivere
Per sollevare le palpebre
E non restare a compiangermi
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più.

Abbiamo confidenza con i demoni interiori
Sappiamo che al momento giusto poi saltano fuori
Ci sono delle macchine che sembrano un miracolo
Sappiamo come muoverci nel mondo dello spettacolo.

Eppure ho questo vuoto
Tra lo stomaco e la gola
Voragine incolmabile
Tensione evolutiva
Nessuno si disseta
Ingoiando la saliva.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
Pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene.

E una ragione per vivere
Per sollevare le palpebre
E non restare a compiangermi
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora di più.

Pioggia, vento, sangue nelle vene.

E innamorarmi ogni giorno ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora di più.

And here’s my (not entirely literal) stab at translation:

We’ve walked on burning stones
We’ve pushed our way up cascades and currents
We’ve crossed the oceans and the continents
We’ve got used to massive changes
We were fish, and then reptiles and mammals
We discovered fire, invented fridges
We learned to swim, then run, and then stand still.

Yet still I have this emptiness
Between the stomach and the throat
Unbridgeable chasm
Evolutionary anxiety
No one can slake the thirst
By swallowing saliva.

We need rain, wind, and blood in the veins [see below]
Rain, wind, and blood in the veins
And blood in the veins
And blood in the veins
And blood in the veins.

And a  reason for living
To raise the eyelids
And not going on feeling sorry for ourselves
And fall in love every day, every hour
Every day, every our, and more
Oh-oh, more
Oh-oh, more
Oh-oh, more
And fall in love every day, every hour
Every day, every hour, and more.

We have assurance with our inner demons
We know that at the right moment they’re jump out
There are miraculous machines
We know how to hurry ourselves in the world of showbiz. [see below again]

[Then repeated bits. ]

So yes. Anyway. It seems to be saying we need more than just what modernity has to offer us – and what we’ve evolved into – to get the most out of life.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene = We need rain, and wind, and blood in the veins
“ci vuole” literally means “he/she/it needs”, but I think he’s saying more that we – humanity – need these things, to live fully. We’ve evolved from lizards to people with fridges and more static lives, but we – our animal or atavistic selves – need stimulation.
We need these things – and falling in love. (E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora – “And fall in love every day, every hour”.) It is a pop song after (and an Italian pop song to boot). What’s a pop song without mentioning love and/or falling in love?

Ci sono delle macchine che sembrano un miracolo = There are machines that resemble a miracle, or There are miraculous machines
Sappiamo come muoverci nel mondo dello spettacolo = We know how to rush in the world of showbiz. Or something. I’m a bit lost here. Shame really, as it’s the last lines (before the repeats), so I’m sure it’s significant.


* As for this ignorance of Italian music – my theory is that if you’re an Anglophone, and have grown up with the great music produced in such cities as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, New York, Detroit, Memphis, Seattle etc, you have an attitude that’s not unlike the attitude Italians have about foreigners’ knowledge and understanding of food.

Italians disdain the very idea that foreigners know anything about food, and that they could even begin to produce food worth eating. (It’s a board stereotyping generalisation, but I’ve encountered it enough to believe it.)

So similarly, if you’re an Anglophone, you don’t grow up consuming Europop. Why would you? You don’t even think it’s possible for France or Italy or wherever to produce decent pop music.

Of course there are exceptions. It’s just a working theory. But I think the Italians-food/ Anglophones-music analogy is reasonable and viable.




Filed under Italy, Learning Italian

English-Italian confusables and false friends / Falsi amici


Italian is a Romance language (or series of dialects) that predominantly evolved from Vulgar Latin. English (I’m British, so I’m talking about BE) is a mongrel language, evolved from a blending of Vulgar Latin, Anglo-Saxon Germanic dialects, Norman French (another Vulgar Latin derivative spoken by a group of northern French of Viking descent), and all the rest (notably words added to BE from the British international imperial and post-imperial experience, eg anorak, canoe, pyjamas, curry, etc etc).

So English shares a lot of language roots with Italian, but not all.

Quite often, if you’re an Anglophone learning Italian, you’ll encounter a word that looks and sounds like an English word and assume it has the same meaning. And quite often you’ll be right, the words will be cognates – with the same linguistic roots – and friends – with the same meaning.  But not always. They might have the same etymological Latin DNA, but it will have got twisted somewhere along the way.

So here’s my ongoing list of false friends and English-Italian linguistic confusables. Along with a bit of etymology, because that’s how I roll.

Word list, A-Z

accidenti! – this is a fun one. It sounds like ‘accident’, ‘accidents’, but actually can be translated in a number of ways, depending on your favoured English idiom. I like ‘crikey!’ ‘Bimey! ‘Flipping heck!’ It’s a cute, non-religious, old-fashioned way of saying ‘dammit’. So the more US English equivalents might be ‘dang it’, ‘gosh darn it’, etc. I suppose it’s also not unlike mamma mia! An accident in Italian is un incidente, which is also a cognate for incident. Phew.

affermazione – is a cognate of ‘affirmation’, but more in the sense of a statement that provides motiviation. The other English sesnse, of a statement that confirms a fact, is una conferma, from the verb confermare.

annoiato  – doesn’t mean ‘annoyed’. It means ‘bored’. But the word ‘annoyed’ is related to ‘ennui’, so there is an etymological connection in there somewhere. Noioso means ‘boring’.

attico – rather than being a direct equivalent for the English word ‘attic’, meaning a loft or roof space for storage, it more normally means a top floor flat or penthouse appartment. A loft storage space would instead be called a soffitto. Which is slightly confusing as the word for ceiling is soffitta. Other words for a loft (storage, not fancy urban living) or attic are solaio and sottotetto. The latter is nice as it literally just means “under-roof”. You have to watch it a little with tetto though, as I mentioned here. Both attico and ‘attic’ are from the Greek ‘attikos’, meaning from Attica, the region around Athens. The term(s) came to be used in architecture to refer to a certain type of pilaster used to decorate top storeys, so the migration to the related modern meanings in English and Italian becomes slightly clearer.

camera – the old classic. It doesn’t mean camera in the English sense, it means ‘room’, and relates to the English word ‘chamber’, which derives from the Latin word for room, camera, which is from the Greek kamara. A camera, ie a device for taking (primarily still) photographs, is a macchina fotografica or fotocamera in Italian. A video or film camera is a telecamera. The English name for a camera comes from camera obscura, an early set-up for capturing images that was original just darkened room with a hole in the wall. Camera obscura literally means dark room in Latin. The room became a box, the box became a device with film in it. And so it goes.

capitolo – doesn’t mean capital in the sense of capital city (that’s capitale), and doesn’t mean capital in the sense of upper case letters (that’s maiuscola). It doesn’t mean the capital of a column either (that’s capitello). Nor does it mean ‘capital!’ in the sense of a blustery Victorian gentleman praising the latest imperial victory from the confines of a leather armchair in the tabacco smoke atmosphere of his private members club (that would be eccelente! meraviglioso! stupendo! or even splendido!, all good friends). No, it means ‘chapter’, in the sense of a section of a book or a biker gang. All these cap– words are related to caput, the Latin for head, which lives in in capo, the Italian for boss, leader or even head (still).

casino – literally means ‘little house’. In modern English it’s become almost exclusively used for a gambling house, but in Italian it means a brothel. It’s also used figuratively in the sense of “what a shambles!” – “che casino!“. A place for gambling in Italian is a casinò, with the emphasis on the final o, or a casa da gioco – ‘a gaming house’.

confetti – during carnival (after Christmas and before Lent, so usually around February), confetti is thrown around all over the place to celebrate. Or at least it is here in Rome, where the streets are liberally sprinkled with the stuff. You’d assume that in Italian confetti was confetti, as it’s clearly a loanword. You’d be wrong. It’s actually called coriandoli. Coriandolo is the herb/spice coriander. So it’s plural coriander that’s thrown around. Confetto (singular of confetti) is actually a type of sweet, a sugared almond, or a pill (as in medicine).

confezione – I was buying a Christmas poinsettia yesterday, and the vendor offered me some confezione. It’s not unlike the English word ‘confection’, and even the word ‘confectionary’. In the sense the vendor was using, it’s more like the former: he was offering to decorate or gift-wrap the pot. So it means ‘packaging’, but it also means ‘tailoring’, ‘sewing’ or, more broadly, making. This latter is closer to the English sense. ‘To confect’ means ‘to prepare’, even if it’s most used in the sense of preparing something sweet, confectionary. Both the Italian and the English (via old French) have their roots in the Latin verb conficere, to make, which itself is derived from facere, to make. In modern Italian to make is fare but its conjugation has more overtly Latin forms such as faccio, I make.

confidente – we were talking about this one last night. A Sicilian friend said it’s not actually the Italian word for ‘confident’, in the sense of having confidence, being self-assured, though it has come to be used in that sense. For confident in that sense the Italian word is sicurezza. Confident in the sense of ‘in confidence’, it’s confidenza. For being ‘confindent in someone’, in the sense of having trust, it’s fiducia. Confidente can also be translated into the gender-variable English nouns ‘confidant’/’confidante’, ie someone you have entrusted a secret to.

conveniente –  although it can mean ‘convenient’, more normally it means means ‘suitable’, ‘appropriate’ or ‘favourable’, ‘advantageous’. So it’s a cognate – ie it has the same linguistic roots – but it’s distinguished by nuance and context. For ‘convenient’ in the sense of useful, easy for that particular moment or opportunity, a better Italian word is comodo, but that also means ‘comfortable’. And relates to the English word ‘commodious’ – which comes from the commodus, meaning ‘convenient’. Though ‘convenient’ and conveniente themselves, as well as ‘convene’, ‘convention’, etc come from the Latin convenire, that is con + venire, where venire is still the verb ‘to come’ in modern Italian (and pretty much the same in French and Spanish: venir): ‘to come together’.

deluso – You might assume this means ‘deluded’, but in fact it means ‘disappointed’. The verb deludere is ‘to disappoint’, ‘to betray’ or ‘to let down’. The verb ‘to delude’ on the other hand is illudere. They all have roots in the Latin ludere – ‘to play’. So the English ‘to delude’ is from the Latin deludere, ‘to play false’, but the meanings have evolved in slightly different directions over the centuries.

doloroso – is arguably both a cognate and a good friend of the English adjective ‘dolorous’, but I feel there’s some distinction. In English, we generally use in the sense of emotional pain, anguish, grief, and in Italian I believe it’s used more in the sense of physical pain, ie when an injury is painful, it is una ferita dolorosa. Both are from the Latin dolere, ‘to feel pain’.

etichetta – while this does translate as the English ‘etiquette’, meaning ‘code of conduct’ or ‘manners’, it also means ‘sticker’, ‘tag’, ‘label’, ‘docket’, ‘ticket’. Which at first seems odd. But with a bit of digging, the relationship becomes clear (ish). Apparently, it’s from Old French, and mid-18th century French, when rule of decorum were written or printed on small cards.  Which is all very well, but surely it would have been rude, in specific social situations, to keep having to say “Hold on a mo,” then flick through your deck of crib-cards? BTW, the verb etichettare does mean ‘to stick a label on’. You’d think the reflexive form etichettarsi would mean ‘to behave oneself’, but it doesn’t seem to exist.

eventualmente – no, this doesn’t mean ‘eventually’. It’s a classic false friend. It actually means ‘possibly’, ‘in case’. Thankfully possibilmente is a true friend. Eventuale means ‘possible’. Thankfully eventualità is a true friend – it means ‘eventuality’. Though ‘eventually’ itself can be translated as alla fine, infine, finalmente – more literally ways of saying ‘finally’, ‘at last’.

fattoria – means ‘farm’, not ‘factory’. A factory is a fabbrica, ie a place where things are fabbricated or manufactured.

fiasco –  it’s another one of those words where you get a clue by replacing the i with a l: it literally means a ‘flask’. From scouring all of two different dictionaries it seems to be the case that the feminine form, fiasca, does strictly mean ‘flask’, though the masculine form fiasco can be used figuratively in the same sense as we know it in English: a farce, a shambles. Though I’ve never heard this; more common terms are a casino (see above), macello (slaughterhouse – so literally the same as ‘shambles’), or even bordello (which we also have as a loan word in English, meaning ‘brothel’). “Che casino!”, “Che macello!”, “Che bordello!”

genitori – no, not ‘genitals’. It means ‘parents’. What are parents? They are people with children. How are children made? From matter originating in the genitals. It’s all from the same Latin root. The Latin genitalis means ‘relating to birth’, it’s from the past participle of gignere, meaning ‘to beget’. The Italian for genitals is a nice neat cognate actually: genitali, or organi genitali.

gentile – it can mean ‘gentle’, but the more typical translation is ‘kind’, or even ‘gracious’. The ‘gens’ part of these words all has the same Latin root meaning, gens, meaning ‘family’, ‘race’, ‘people’ (see genitori, genitals etc). Somehow, perversely, the idea of being of noble lineage got mixed up with the idea of being gentle and kind. The mind boggles.

ginnasio – does mean ‘gymnasium’ in the British sense, but more typically it’s used to mean a secondary school or high school. The word is apparently used in various countries in this sense. I’d never encountered it before as a Brit whose longest time overseas was living in New Zealand (where all the linguistic education I got was an accent, pronouncing “peg” as pig, “pen” as pin etc). In ancient Greece, the gynmasium was a place of exercise for body and mind. Naked (gymnos means naked). So it’s no surprise that in different countries it’s taken either one meaning or the other: place of physical exercise or place of education. For those who like to go to the gym and use environmentally costly electricity to run on the spot, , like so many giant hamsters, what you’re looking for in Italy is a palestra. Though today neither places involve requisite nudity.

macchina – this isn’t a false friend, but it can be a little confusing. It does literally mean ‘machine’, but for the most part it (at least in the Italian I’ve encountered, mostly in Rome) it means ‘car’. It’s the quintessential Italian metonym. Italians are so obsessed with cars it’s no wonder the car is their ultimate machine, the machine. (Rome has an obscene amount of internal combustion personal transportation, something that’s just not viable for a 21st century civilisation that needs to move beyond fossil fuel gluttony.) Other examples of where macchina is used in the non-car sense include: macchina da scrivere (“machine for writing”, ie typewriter); macchina da presa (“machine for gripping”, meaning movie film camera, gripping ye old celluloid); macchina fotografica (see camera); macchina da guerra (war machine), etc.

magazzino – nope, not a magazine. That’s a rivista (ie “re-viewed”, reviewed). A magazzino is a warehouse, storeroom or store. It’s not such a false friend really, though, as English still uses ‘magazine’ to refer to a store of explosives or ammunition, for example. Apparently, books and periodicals acquired the name ‘magazine’ in English, directly from the Italian word, in the mid-17th century; it was being used figuratively, as publications were stores of information. Oh, and this one isn’t from the Latin, it’s from the Arabic: makhazin, meaning storehouses. In Latin, a warehouse is an horreaum. No idea what the ancient Romans called a magazine, like ‘Ampitheatre Times’ or whatever.

mansione – doesn’t mean ‘mansion’. It means ‘task’, ‘job’, or ‘function’. A mansion – a grand house – can be translated with palazzo (which also means apartment building, or the more obviously related palace) or villa (which means a detached house or large country house or… villa). A manor house is a maniero. I can’t quite get my head around the etymology here. The English ‘mansion’ is related to the French maison (house), and both have the same root in the Latin manere (itself from the Greek, from the Persian), which means ‘to remain’ (in Italian rimanere); as such a house was a place to stay or remain. But quite how the modern Italian meaning of task emerged I can’t say. Especially as this (old) Italian etymological dictionary seems to say mansióne (with an acute on the o) does mean ‘staying place’, a definition I can’t find in any other (newer) Italian dictionaries like Wordreference & Collins here, or the offline ones we have at home.

occorrere – this verb’s primary meaning is ‘to be necessary’, ‘to be required’. It can mean ‘to occur’, but the most direct translation for this English verb is succedere. (see below)

pavimento – doesn’t mean ‘pavement’. It means ‘floor’. Pavement (or ‘sidewalk’ in North American English) is marciapiede, which is a lovely word that makes me think, semi-literally, of “marching feet”. Pavimento, like ‘paving’ etc, is derived from the Latin pavimentum, a hard floor, from the Latin verb pavire, ‘to beat hard’.

piano – isn’t the musical instrument. That’s called a pianoforte in Italian, and indeed that was the name originally used in English. Piano is one of those interesting words in Italian where, if you replace the I with an L (think piatto, ‘plate’; piazza, ‘plaza’), it gives you some idea of the translation. So think piano, ‘plane’, in the sense of an even, level surface. Also think piano, ‘plan’. It also means ‘smooth’, ‘gently’, ‘softly’, ‘easy’, ‘floor’ (in the sense of ‘storey’), etc. The instrument – pianoforte – means ‘softloud’, ie the instrument was capable of this range. Though in English we’re just really calling it a ‘soft’ now.

radice – looks and sounds (“radishay”) like the English word ‘radish’. But it ain’t. That’s ravenello or rapanello. What is a radish? It’s a root. Radice means root. It’s from the Latin radix, which is also the the root of such English words as ‘radical’ and ‘eradicate’.

reduce – related to the English word ‘reduce’, sure, but in Italian it has two meanings: il reduce is the veteran, or the survivor, while reduce da means returning from, back from.

rumore – doesn’t mean ‘rumour’, it means ‘noise’. Fare rumore means ‘to make noise’. For ‘rumour’, Italian uses voce (literally ‘voice’); pettegolezzo (which is closer to ‘gossip’), chiacchiera (which is closer to ‘chatter’). There’s also the Neopolitan dialect word inciucio, which has apparently become more widespread throughout Italy. Rumore and ‘rumour’ may or may not have the same roots. The English word comes from the Old French, and thence the Latin (rumor – common talk), but the roots may go deeper than that, to the Old Norse rymja, ‘to roar’, and even possibly to the Sanskrit raut, rauti, ravati, (he) cries.

simpatico – this is a classic semi-false-friend-that’s-really-quite-friendly. An Anglophone might well assume it means ‘sympathetic’ when more commonly it means ‘likeable’ or ‘pleasant’. Someone can be molto simpatico – very nice. Though if they’re that nice, they’re probably going to be sympathetic too, which is lucky as it helps clarify the shared etymology, which is from the Greek sympathetikos, via Latin sympatheticus, meaning ‘having fellow feeling, affected by similar feelings’. (With+pathetic, where pathetic is based on pathos, feeling, suffering.) Having said all that, simpatico – in the Italian sense – can be found in English dictionaries….

succedere – this verb’s primary translation is ‘to occur’, ‘to happe’n, not ‘to succeed’ in the sense of ‘to accomplish something’. A better verb for that is riuscire. Which I find confusing, as uscire means ‘to go out’, ‘to exit’, so literally riuscire also means ‘to re-exit’, ‘to go out again’. Succedere can mean ‘to succeed’ in the sense of to be successful, to be good at something.

vizioso – this is another one of those nuanced ones. It is related to the English word ‘vicious’, but is another example owhere the words in Italian and English have evolved in slightly different directions. So, by and large we use the word vicious increasingly to mean savage, ferocious, ‘a vicious dog’. Officially and literally though, it means ‘characterized by vice’, ie ‘depraved’. Which is closer to the Italian sense. For vicious in the sense of ‘ferocious’, there’s the nice feroce, un cane feroce. Confusingly, Italians do use the expression un circolo vizioso, but, like in English, it’s less to do with depravity and more to do with generic, unfortunate cause-and-effect.


Filed under Italy, Learning Italian

Roman parking – shame on you!

Rome has as pretty much many cars as London*. Problem is, it’s a city a third the size, around three million compared to nine million inhabitants. And much of the historical centre consists of tiny windy cobbled streets, some of them – nominally at least – off-limits to vehicles.

Hence, there’s an issue with parcheggio: parking.

We’ve always laughed a bit about the absurdity of Roman parking, about how if the road’s full or somehow off-limits, the pavement seems to be an acceptable alternative. Even if that means pedestrians have to squeeze by – and people with prams, or, god forbid, wheelchair users, cannot fit by at all. (I seriously feel for wheelchair users in Rome: the pavements are in a terrible state, even when they’re not garlanded with dog poo.) Even the cops up the road park on the zebra crossing. While many, many car owners don’t seem to care much about their tyres and ride up onto the kerb if they can’t be arsed to concentrate on parking well, or there isn’t quite enough room.

I even asked an Italian friend about it, and he was bewildered when I said it was largely unheard of, or at least thoroughly frowned on, to simply park on the pavement in London. I don’t think he was being ironic.

Frankly, though, it’s not funny – the packed parking reflects the vehicle ownership situation, and these levels of personal vehicle usage just shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century, here or anywhere else. It’s not viable. Not with all we know about climate change. Not with the basic fact that an environment dominated by vehicles isn’t an environment well suited to people.

I feel very strongly about this sort of thing; always fantasised about writing a book about how vehicles radically compromised the human environment through the second half of the 20th century. I never get my shit together but this guy, Taras Grescoe, has. Must read his book, even though it apparently doesn’t consider the major city I know best: London.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about blogging about Roman parking for ages. Never quite reached that point where stimulus outweighs laziness though. Until today, when I saw a note shoved into the windscreen wiper (tergicristallo – new word for me) of a car nearby. telling the owner off for blocking the route to buggies and wheelchairs. So apparently not all Romans are blasé about random, inconsiderate parking.

This particular location has been bugging me for weeks. There’s a lovely flight of steps near where we live. It cuts through a patch of semi-wild land, dropping down between the hairpins of a street. At the bottom, a zebra crossing – frequently parked on – cuts straight across the road to, well, nothing much: more parked cars, a wall, no pavement. So you have to go diagonally, to a break in the wall, where the pavement resumes.

Except that someone had parked a car across the break in the wall, so you have to climb around. One form of protest I’ve seen here is to pull up the tergicristalli. It’s a quiet, vaguely polite form of protest, which would probably give the driver some irritation, but not really irritation commensurate with that of innumerable pedestrians.

The wiper protest was taken to another level with this particularly vehicle, as it has been there for so many weeks. Someone has broken the wipers. Gosh. This flyer, meanwhile, was left by a woman with a buggy I suspect. (Questo spazio non e’ un parcheggio. Vergognati! – “This isn’t a parking space. Shame on you!”) How she negotiated the blockage I don’t know.


Shame on you flyer

The increasingly knackered-looking car in question has been there so long, however, I’ve come to suspect it’s been dumped. Two other cars opposite were burnt-out earlier this week, so maybe it’s a popular spot for delinquents, joyriders or somesuch. But my suspicions were aroused mostly by the fact that the car doesn’t have Italian number plates. They’re Swiss. A Swiss would never park like that, surely?



* Time Out Rome 2008 quotes a Eurostat survey, that shows Rome to be the most dangerous EU capital for road safety: 8.37 dead and injured accidents per 1000 population. Next in the list is Copenhagen, with 1.4 per 1000. It says there are 950 vehicles per 1000 population, compared to London’s comparatively sane 300 per 1000 population. I don’t have TO’s source material and can’t find anything more recent. Hey, it’s a blog – don’t expect journalistic standards!

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Filed under Italy, Rome