able, and w liat the Collins Sanson! eannotrnconvey, is the extent to which thernItalians have learned to make a spectacle,rnas well as a irtne, of being cartooncharacterrnpredictable. This is a traitrnwhich their common spoken langnage,rnartificialK’ disseminated at the expense ofrnthe local dialects since the nnifieahon ofrnItah’ (but most ruthlessly since the ad-rnent of national television), at once beliesrnand encourages, with what I makernout to be rather unique consequences.rnIt would be wrong to claim that in orderrnto understand the English, one mustrnmaster the literature their ancestors createdrncenturies ago; far more instructive,rnperhaps, to absorb their journalism of thernlast 40 years. To understand the modernrnRussians, one need not learn their verse;rntheir Soviet political heritage is far morernrele’ant. But the plain fact is that,rnwhatever the cultural antecedents, anrnanalogous brawl in Birmingham orrnChelyabinsk would not run along plotrnlines that were known long in advance,rnrehearsed many times over, and perfectlyrnfamiliar to all the native participantsrnsince childhood. Similarly, if you happenedrnupon an English or a Russian girlrnstanding in front of a shop window, lookingrnat blouses or shoes the way womenrndo, ou would not be able to guess her innermostrnthoughts if your life dependedrnon it. Only a Shakespeare or a Chekhovrncould put them in words, now as centuriesrnago, with any plausibility or veracih’:rniX’Iedvedenko: Why do you alwaysrnwear black?rnMasha: Because I am in mourningrnfor my life. I am unhappy.rn”Che belle scarpel” is the Roy Lichtensteinrnthought bubble above the youngrnItalian’s gracefully inclined head. She isrnnot permitted to have any other text inrnthe caption by her culture, her iq^bringing,rnand her manners, any more than shernis permitted to call a driver impolite withinrnthe first three-quarters of an hour’s argumentrnin the street. Of course I cannotrnswear that the text is one hundred percentrninvariable, since she may well bernthinking “C/ze carinel” or “Che meraviglial”rnwhen she looks at the shoes, muchrnas in the dramatic denouement at Eraneo’srnbar one may sometimes hear a variantrn”Disgraziatol” or “Ignomntel” But arnthought bubble is what it is, not muchrnroom for thought there to begin with,rnand hardly a suitable place for anythingrnreally unexpected.rnThe Shakespeare and Chekhov of thernsynthetic language spoken by modernrneducated Italians throughout Italy is notrnDante or Pirandello but DottoressarnPaola Rosa-Clot, professor of foreign languagesrnat the Universit)- of Turin and authorrnof the Linguaphone Corso d’italiano.rnHere is something from a lessonrnentitled “The Fashionable Friend,”rnwhich I take to be the rough equivalentrnof the opening lines from Chekhov’srnSeagull quoted above. Two women arerndiscussing a pair of shoes one of themrnbought on sale, and the irony is that thernother thinks the heels might be too high:rnRaffaella: Che belle scarpel Dove lernhai comprate?rnL,uciana; Le ho prese hi una svendita…rn.Tipiacciono?rnRaffaella: Si, ma come fai a camminarerncon dei tachhi cosi alti?rnLuciana: E un po’ difficile, ma sai,rnsono di moda.”rnI cannot restrain mvself from dippingrninto “Sightseeing in Rome,” where arnwoman asks her companion whether thernColosseum was built with the sole aim ofrnputting Christians to death:rnGraziella: Era usato solo per farrnmorire i cristiani?rnGiovanna: No, per ogni sorta dirnspettacoli sanguinosi.rnDo people really talk like this? Flere theyrndo. I think I have heard this very exchangernon more than one occasionrnamong the Italian tourists now throngingrnto Rome, as if it were a finishing schoolrnfor Italianncss, to round off their conversationalrnskills before all the maleducatirnarrive from abroad, all those funny, unpredictablernstrangers with highh’ unfashionablernknapsacks and improperly modulatedrncurses.rnAnd if I haven’t, I’m sure to hear somethingrnvery nuich like it before the millennium.rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’ Europeanrncorrespondent.rnR: What lovely shoes! Where did you buyrnthem?rnL: I got them on sale . . . Do you like them?rnR: Yes, hut how are you going to walk with suchrnhigh heels?rnI,: It’s a little hard, hut you know, they’re inrnsb,’le.rnSTATEMENTrnOFrnOWNERSHIPrn••i» >( u*iicu bai.firn-tlvff^t ^ ‘ ” ^ t ^ ‘rnItMlrucUon* to PuM>h«’irnSUI«m«ni ol Ownarahlp, Minaganwnt, ind Clrculallonrnl/tt9tndt,XrnrtiiiUir-rn- • . • . . i l M ^ * . ^ * ^ * – ^ •rn• j*j^;|lji-i,vw«L.–t=r,ii;i-r”rnMllVOM—»rnDECEMBER 1998/37rnrnrn