It is a cliché of the late capitalist age that we baby-boomers are an economic burden. A perception has arisen that a huge number of wrinklies will require medical care on a scale never seen before. Furthermore, in societies that have come to depend on the maintenance of a minimum level of welfare services, this aberrant bump in the population pyramid will place impossible burdens on a much smaller generation of workers who are still in the rat race and whose taxes fund those services.
Mass media have struck their usual cosy deal with politicians and the 'lifestyle' industry to impose a consensus around the responsibilities of the ageing. It is hardly surprising that the aged are perceived as a problem only in capitalist systems where the family unit has been fragmented in order to liberate the young into wage slavery. In some situations, the 'costs' of caring for the elderly are merely opportunity costs because the care takes place in kind, in the informal way it has done for centuries. In modern industrialised economies the costs are real in that it is assumed that aged care will take place vicariously in institutions outside family homes, by workers who require payment.
In order to reduce the burden on the young, the ageing are encouraged to stay healthy and alert. We are told to exercise, moderate our diets and do crosswords and sudokus. In order to delay the ravages of dementia, we should take up a musical instrument and learn another language. Well, regardless of the benefits for society, music and reading are great pleasures that everyone should enjoy. The ukulele and the button accordion are two instruments that have recently made their appearances at our place, and we have a growing library of parallel texts in English and Italian.
Learning Italian – or any language – with parallel texts is possible for individuals, but like saving water by showering with a friend, it is especially enjoyable when done in pairs. My wife is more competent than I with Italian pronunciations, so in our situation, she reads a long sentence or short paragraph and then I read the English version. Some of the translations are more faithful to the originals than others, but variations are always great opportunities for discussion. Sometimes the differences between the languages make such variations natural. Word and phrase order do not transliterate mechanically.
Our current reading is a Commissario Soneri investigation, Valerio Varesi's Il fiume delle nebbie, or River of Shadows (translated by Joseph Farrell). An elderly man has fallen to his death from a hospital window and his brother has disappeared from his barge in the badly flooded Po Valley. Soneri manages to persuade the magistrate that the two cases should be investigated as one. There is some evidence that the brother who fell may have been pushed and the other's barge shows signs of interference. Both were active fascists in their youth.
We tried some classics of both Italian and English, such as Calvino and Dickens. Unfortunately, an Italian classic in English or an English classic in Italian often lacks the rhythm of the original language. At a less literary level perhaps, crime fiction provides a good opportunity to gain experience in Italian and also to steep oneself in the culture – the locations, the foods and the colloquialisms.
I can heartily recommend Andrea Camilleri's series of Commissario Salvo Montalbano novels translated by Stephen Sartarelli. Many of Camilleri's novels have been made into telemovies with Luca Zingaretti in the title role. The opening credits are among the best ever employed for a television series. The camera soars over the south-western shores of Sicily highlighting the old buildings, while strings play Franco Piersanti's perfectly matched tango-like music. Of course, Sicilian is a dialect and as such, distinct, but in the written form in particular, it is possible to work through with an Italian dictionary.
There are some good Italian detectives who do not make it into Italian. Neither Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti of Venice nor Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen have translated. Curiously perhaps, many of the novels featuring P.D.James' Commander Dalgleish of Scotland Yard have been translated into Italian. While these are enjoyable, it is quite obvious that the Italian in these translations is not as natural or as stimulating as that in those novels originally written – and thought - in Italian.
After the Montalbano series, we discovered Marco Vichi's Commissario Bordelli, including Morte A Firenze or Death in Florence. This novel has won awards 'per il miglior romanzo noir italiano'. It is refreshing to find that the writing in Italian crime novels is so diverse. Adjustment is required between the authors.
Inspector Soneri is currently visiting old bargemen who have had to evacuate their club because of the rising floodwaters. They have set up temporary home in the bar Il Sordo. Verdi operas play in the background as Soneri shouts an illicit Fortanina (a wine low in alcohol but high in tannins and so sparkling) and some spalla cotta to help the rivermen relax. We settle for a pinot grigio from one of the fabulous King Valley wineries. For us, relaxing is not an issue.
Besides the parallel texts, you need a dictionary to consult when problems arise. Also helpful is access to a good library such as that in Norton Street, Leichhardt run by Co.As.It. (Italian Association of Assistance). Everyone should try this exercise at home, but don't do it to sharpen the ideological knives of those who think that 'gerries' are becoming a burden. Do it for yourself. It won't spend much of the inheritance.
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