Letter From thernArgentariornby Andrei NavrozovrnItalian LessonsrnTwo or three times a week, after dinner,rnI watch the traffic jam outside Franco’srnbar. What causes it nobody knows, but arnperfectly ordinary intersection of twornperfectly ordinary country roads is suddenlyrnblocked. Nobody knows why thernbest watermelon is the one with thernsmallest spot on the bottom, or howcomernthe tastiest tomatoes are alwaysrnmisshapen, or what it is about myrtlernleaves that causes a suckling pig to be sornmarvelously tender. It’s just one of thosernthings, and anything other than simplyrnaccepdng it is every bit as foolhardy asrnwondering why the Northern Line is thernone to avoid when traveling on the Undergroundrnin London, or why Americanrncollege professors like cheating on theirrnwives.rnPractical Homesckoolin^rnis the Most HomeschoolrnMagazine for Your Money!rnEvery twornmonths you willrnget: more homeschoolrnstyles,rnmore colorfulrnpages, ourrnfamous Spotlightrnreviews, featurerniirtirlcsrn»lO/hoMyeW that keeprnf l9«5/one yeo’ you up torn(35/tWO yeOW ilate, greatrncolumnists,rncontests, and how-tos. Now featuringrneducational software reviews, onlinernacademies, and distance education,rntoo. From preschool to Ph.D., wernshow you how!rnTo order callrn1-800-346-6322rnOr mail order to Home LifernPOBox 1250 • Fenton, MO 63026-1850rnPrici’s subject to change wiihoul notice.rnAll other subscription offers have expired.rnAlthough at most three vehicles, andrnseldom more than a dozen persons, arerninvolved in the ensuing commotion, inrnthe dilating twilight it is never clear whornwas behind the wheel of which car. Thernactors and the spectators are quicklyrnamalgamated, as the passengers and therndrivers get out and take up the parts ofrnvictims, witnesses, experts, and jurors.rnThough less contrived than the report ofrnthe Warren Commission or a JamesrnFenimore Cooper novel, their mutuallyrninconvenient entanglement is as picturesquernas any this side of pure fiction.rnSince I do not drive, and the impartialrntruths of motoring are hidden fromrnme—much as the truth of music is hiddenrnfrom many people who assume thatrnhe plays best who plays loudest—I usuallyrnthink the driver of the car that has thernprettiest girl in it is the villain, who oughtrnto be thrown in jail as a matter of publicrnsafet)’. But my own opinion in the matterrnis beside the point. What I come tornthe bar to savor is the escalation of hostilitiesrnon all sides, which, Italy being Italy,rnalways follows a pattern.rnThe very first of the many namesrnwhich one Christian is likely to call anotherrnin such situations here would fall,rnin English, Russian, or any other languagernor culture of which I have evenrnthe scantiest knowledge, under the narrowrnrubric of grave insult, usuallyrnanatomical or scatological in form.rnThere follows what appears to be a ruminativernpause, during which the participantsrnevaluate and focus their invectivernbefore proceeding to the next level ofrncalumn}’, still more unprintable and, tornany but the Italian ear, still more barbarous.rnThis almost mandator)’ intermission,rnlike the traditional interval in therntheater, allows the machinery of stagecraftrnto project a new mood, as shirtrnsleeves are rolled down, trousers pulledrnup, cigarettes stubbed out, and rear-viewrnmirrors demonstratively tweaked. Nowrnreferences to sexual practices, gender uncertainties,rnand genealogical defects ofrnevery kind are flung right and left, obscenernfulminations rending asunder therngentle, echoless dusk of Tuscan summerrnuntil the next nrandatory interval oncernagain shrouds the scene in silence.rnAnd there ends the second act. Mindrnyou, we are not at the point when thernplush seats empty, and refreshments,rnchampagne and smoked salmon onrntoast, are taken by the wear}’ in the buffet.rnWe are not at the point when the lessrnplush use lavatories, fan themselves withrnplaybills, or pore over the list of corporaternsponsors to kill time. We are, rather, atrnthe point at which any man or womanrnoutside of Italy, no matter how mildlyrnmannered, is already mad as hell, andrnwould be quite prepared for as muchrnphysical violence as might be justified inrnthe eyes of his or her culture. A bleedingrnnose, a cheek lacerated by a manicuredrnfingernail would be the kind of bargainrnprice one would expect to pay, under lessrnvelvet}’ skies and on a night not as deep asrnthis indigo, for verbal provocations so extreme.rnInstead the curtain rises to reveal arnstage emptied of all movement, wherernonly the crickets, in the orchestra pit belowrnthe bar’s terrace, keep on grindingrnout their Buddhist hymn to forbearance.rnA passing mongrel dog, infected by thernexcitement of an otherwise supperlessrnevening, barks in the audience like anrnold man clearing his throat on an oldrnrecording. And then it comes. It wouldrnbe tempting, but I think misleading, tornsay that it sounds operatic, like somethingrnout of La Forza del Destine or thatrnblood-curdling shriek in Rigoletto whenrnthe jester discovers that his daughter isrnthe body in the sack. No, it is simply spoken,rnnever shouted, and it always comesrnperfectly enunciated, like a great linernfrom Racine:rn”Maleducatol”rnThe word is the awful forbidden, andrnthe uttering of it is the third act and the finalrndenouement of the performance Irnwould happily attend ever}’ night of thernweek if Franco could organize it andrncharge admission. WTiat can it possiblyrnmean, this most awesome of taboos, thisrnsacred malediction spat in the face of arnsuspected perpetrator of traffic congestion?rnWhat is it, this most potent of curses,rnused long after all other means ofrnabuse have been exhausted and it is clearrnto all, including the stray dog, that thernmalfeasant in question is both an impotentrnbom of a promiscuous mother and arnracial aberration sired by a whole gallen’rnof sexual deviants? What is this lethalrnbite of the Italian imagination’s hydrophobicrnechidna? The Collins SansonirnDictionar}’ says “I. a. rude, impolite,rnill-mannered, ill-bred. II. s. m. (i. -a)rnrude person.”rnIf one could rely on dictionaries, ofrncourse there would be no reason to sit inrnthe bar and watch a lot of people who arernmad as hell, in other words, in an emotionallyrnand hence culturally revealingrnpredicament. What I find so remark-rn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn