Festa de Noantri. Trastevere. Madonna Fiumarola. From EternallyCool

The discussion over the third from last post had focused a) on a different vision of Italy by Italians from Italy and by North Americans of Italian origin; b) on Italian and Roman roots and the survival of ways which the Roman actress Anna Magnani epitomizes.

This post is mainly reporting the discussion over the second topic. I hence apologize to those readers whose comments have been omitted. I also apologize since all published comments have been edited out for the sake of brevity. Here you can read the original discussion.


MoR. When I wrote this post I had some headache and I later realised a few words were not just right. For example, Anna Magnani “weird mixture of nobility and abjection …” was overstated. I changed ‘abjection’ with ‘crudity’. Such crudity, not deprived of nobleness, is present almost only in Rome in my view. I’m sure the great and unusual past of the eternal city has something to do with it.

Market at Testaccio. From EternallyCool. Click for credits

Joe@italyville. In my opinion, you must be critical of your country. What would have happened if there was no criticism of Mussolini or Bush. If we didn’t criticize the handling of New Orleans or the trash in the streets of Napoli. [Joe’s blog]

The Commentator. These videos and songs remind me of my close friend Flavio who is, like me, Canadian born and my age. In the 1990s, I devoured Italian and French films ad nauseam. In the case of Italian films two defining characteristics stood out for me: humor, as in using humor to deal with the hard side of Italian life. The other was realism. Italians faced their decadence through film. My close friend Flavio made the exact same remarks about Romans as you said in your post. He found them to be crude. [The Commentator’s blog]

MoR. Well, Rome is so beautiful that those who have produced such beauty cannot be defined as just ‘crude’. There must be something else.

Pantheon by night

Joanne at Frutto della Passione. As a Canadian of Italian descent, living in Italy I know without a doubt that my view of Italy is very different from my father’s (Italian born, immigrated to Canada) who views it as the motherland and has romanticized it and all of his memories. My view? It changes almost daily. Somedays I love it beyond words other days it frustrates me to the point of tears. [Joanne’s blog]

MoR. I understand your difficulties, despite your roots. Well, here in Italy habits survive that puzzle many foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards ‘modernity’ seem clear. Are they only disadvantages? Foreigners from North America surely don’t come to Rome or to Naples to admire how scientifically organized traffic is. They come to enjoy other stuff (and not just the monuments.)

Commentator. Just would like to add something else. While there’s no doubt many still look fondly back on Italy, there are still others who don’t. I’ve known and met many Italians who wanted to forget everything about the old country and wanted nothing to do with it. Such was their anger towards her.

MoR. As I told Joanne, some survivals are real obstacles to progress. The “patron-client” relationship, for example, present here in disgusting ways: in universities, in state institutions and in the civil society of areas of the country. I don’t think it’s by chance that ‘patronatus’, ‘patronus’, ‘clientes’ are Ancient Roman words and concepts. I mean, favouritisms, recommendations etc. are here so ingrained that the best brains fly to countries where there is more meritocracy.

Colosseum candy at piazza Navona. EternallyCool. Click for credits

Paul Costopoulos. Dear MoR, “favouritism” exists everywhere. Here, we call it the “Old boys network” or “le patronage”, in Québec. Merit certainly enters the equation somewhere but «knowing the right person» is of great help. What my women friends of all origins were bothered by in Italy was the ogling and buttocks pinching they endured. It seems Italian males have restless hands. Maybe that is what Frutto della passione is writing about. Fruit of passion…very evocative. [Paul’s blog]

MoR. Ah ah ah, Paul, you made me laugh! Yes, you made me laugh but then you depressed me (even though I’ll say aloud to my female readers that I don’t go around pinching buttocks.)

Paul. Cheer up Man, certainly the sun and warm Mediterranean climate is responsible for all that. All those provocative sculptures that ornate your squares, fountains and even churches are probably the main culprits. They overstimulate and induce into temptation even the most hardy souls as so many popes attest to. The Medicis popes surely are eloquent examples.

MoR. Yes, Paul, yes, even the most hardy souls, no doubt.

Paul. You show great fortitude.

MoR. I do, Paul.

[See a post on Italian Don Juanism, an irritating behaviour now declining, to tell the truth]

Commentator. Quebec functions very much like a Latin country (corruption, patronage etc.), like Italy – only it’s not so overt.

Paul. Commentator, it’s not only less overt, it’s also less. Under Maurice Duplessis, from 1936 to 1960 it was rampant and well organised, since then checks have been put in place…

Anna Magnani in the film Mamma Roma

Commentator. Here’s yet another thing regarding M. Anna Magnani. I was observing her and couldn’t help but notice she shares a common trait with how Italian women are generally perceived here. There are more “Anna’s” than women with the sensibilities or accent of a Northerner. Here, it’s all Rome and south. I went to school with many tough, joyous “Anna’s.” And you know what? There was indeed a certain way to them. What came off as crude didn’t mean there wasn’t a typically Italian panache to them. Shoot, in my family alone we have a gal that pretty much is Anna.

Mor. People in fact migrated from the most traditional areas of this country. I too like this crudity: it has verve, dash. Wow, so you have an Anna in family. Well, I do also, to a certain extent. These Annas I call ‘ancient’. Fellini said Anna (Annas) is/are a symbol and a survival. This he also meant by “She-wolf and Vestal, aristocratic and tramp, dark and buffoonish;” (listen to him saying it to Anna in the film “Roma”.)

I’m sure the perception of the artist is sometimes superior to that of the scholar. On the other hand, in my opinion, a peasant from the Italian South (or from Greece) is closer to the Greco-Romans than any historian of antiquity.

Moreover it could be that in the New World – and you seem to confirm it – some primordial traits are preserved, like hibernated, while here they can disappear: take archaisms in language (US ‘gotten’ instead of the more recent UK ‘got’), or cultures like the Amish in Ohio & Pennsylvania.
Actually I met a stunning Anna from Chicago here in Rome. This post tells about her .

Commentator. We are caught in an “Italy from a time past.” My friend went to Sicily in the early 1990s and they laughed at his accent. “We don’t speak dialect any more!”

MoR. Which makes the New World even more fascinating to me!

Female Portrait. Mosaic from PompeiiPaul. Man of Roma, the so called New World is a reservoir of cultures. The USA has strived to homogenize, the others such as Canada have taken pain to recognize, and even preserve, the cultures of their immigrant citizens. Thus our Anglophones speak a Victorian English, dans plusieurs régions du Canada les francophones parlent la langue de la province française de leurs ancêtres. The others tend to bunch together often by villages or towns they come from and keep the traditions and languages, at least the second, and at times third, generation. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver all have strong ethnic neighbourhoods where you find restaurants, stores, groceries, newspapers all catering to the native tongue of their inhabitants. It’s the Canadian mosaic…and I love it.

Roman woman. Late Republic. Click for credits

MoR. The Commentator had told me a bit about this USA – Canada difference. I have to get to Canada some day. I think I have a friend living in Toronto. I might love Montreal better though. Some students had told me Montreal is like a world-wide francophone hub, thence my interest.

Exposrip. As for melting pot versus multiculturalism I think I break with Paul here. Personally, enshrining multiculturalism in the Charter is nonsense. [Exposrip’s blog, warehouse of Commentator’s stories]

MoR. I see your point about multiculturalism: you care more about a Canadian identity, which I can understand. Although, call it selfishness, I like that somewhere things are preserved.

Paul. Go to Little Italy around La Madonna della Diffesa and you won’t know you are in Montreal. You may even not hear a word of French or English, but maybe lots of Abruzzi and Calabresi. As for food well you will judge. Caffe Italia may also please you.

Commentator. I think MOR would want to observe French-Canadian culture in action on rue St. Denis.

Paul. I agree with The Commentator, St-Denis and the Latin Quarter aroud UQAM are French Montreal “par excellence”.

MoR. I’ll be there Paul.

Canadians of Italian descent in Little Italy, Montreal

Paul. Welcome, and let us know, perhaps we could arrange a little informal meeting…however risky that may be…you know the Web and all that.

MoR. Thank you for saying that Paul. Oh … of course Paul, the risky chat encounters … I’ll bring my 4 bodyguards.

Paul. Sounds like a Maffia boss, I may hide. Ha! Ha!

MoR. Ah ah ah

(*Silly Roman laugh…making a phone call in search of the four boys*)


Other related posts:

Italian Songs. Anna Magnani, Dean Martin, Pavarotti and the Three Tenors
Pre-Christian Rome lives
Experiencing All

35 thoughts on “On Roman, Italian and Latin Roots. Italy and the New World

  1. This last picture could have been snapped on St-Laurent street, in Montreal’s Little Italy, the day Italy won the Mundial. In the background you have a sign that reads Caffé Italia and there is one on St-Laurent in the middle of Little Italy.


    1. I liked this picture for its New World feel and because some of the people really look from here. I first looked for a rue St. Denis photo, but then I thought a little Italy one was better for this post. If you click on it you get a much bigger uncropped picture.


    1. I usually get my photos from Flickr where I search for pictures with a Creative Commons license which you can publish if you provide a link to the original for credits. If you in fact click on it, you’ll see a much wider picture in Flickr that you can better analyse. I used the keywords ‘Little Italy’ ‘Montreal’.
      PS. I wonder what language are these people speaking.


      1. By the looks of them I’d say many spoke Italian but there were many Franco and Anglo on the photo. The way they dress and their complexion give them away.


      2. So you suggest Paul that Canadian Italians speak Italian, not English or French, which is interesting. It’s not language nationalism, I see it in the context of the roots thing. I’m interested in continuity, in streams of cultural tradition that keep on resurfacing, even though history comprises also change, of course. I tried to show some continuity with women’s faces in this post, dead or alive, but didn’t have time to find really good ones.


        1. In that corner of Montreal, in Montreal-North and Anjou-St-Léonard many families still speak Italian at home and at such gatherings about soccer, bocce and other sports.


  2. I found you. Yes, it does take a bit of tenacity to go rooting for small print opportunities.

    I will return to respond in depth.


  3. Continuity you say. Well this afternoon, on my son’s recommendation, I went to Salon de Barbier Albanese. When I came in I was greeted with a resounding “Buon Giorno” and asked, in Italian, how I wanted my hair cut. Switching from Italian to English and back we got splendidly along. Signor Albanese has been on Ste-Catherine street west between St-Mathieu and Fort for the last 47 years…and the place looks it. I left with a molto grazzie i arrivederci. I’ll be back there prossimo mese.


    1. Interesting. Not that I think a language should be preserved at any cost. A single language can more or less disappear in favour of something allowing overall communication. If a state hosts 50 different cultures and they all keep their original speeches, chaos necessarily ensues. Preserving to a certain extent distinctions, valuable cultural aspects (which includes language), could though be an enrichment to the whole. Very complicated topic. Canada is in any case very admired abroad for its multiculturalism.


  4. I was there that day. Even though French is heard (French-Canadians are huge patrons in Little Italy), I can assure you it was overwhelmingly English-speaking which I’m sure would upset the nationalist boobs in the PQ.

    Ah, I can still vividly remember Grosso’s goal and how the Da Vinci Center in St. Leonard erupted. “Gol di Grosso, gol di Grosso, gol di Grosso!”


  5. @ The Commentator

    I’ve just read something about Canadian multiculturalism here and there, it seems a bit complicated.

    I do not really care if Canadians of Italian origin speak Italian or English. On the contrary, I hope for them they master English well for a number of reasons. But the original Chinese, Indian, Italian, Arabic etc. cultures (and languages) shouldn’t totally disappear in my opinion. I mean, why being mono-cultural and monolingual? Is it an enrichment? On the contrary, it can generate provincialism plus it is proved that a person can master many languages at the same time. Such a great enrichment for the individual mind and for the overall society (whose mind is collective)!

    Besides, doesn’t the future belong to cosmopolitanism?


    1. I do agree and that is why I regret, even though I can understand it, Québec’s nationalists wish to promote French at the expense of other languages, mainly English.


  6. It’s complicated for nothing. I’m against multiculturalism as a policy. It’s superficial. More often than not, Canada takes a back seat to whatever prevailing culture.

    I agree about the monolingual thing. But, forgive me for my crudeness here, that’s China’s and Italy’s problem. They have to preserve their own culture. It’s not, for example, North America’s place to protect and preserve other cultures. Here, it’s English and it should stay that way for simplistic – legal, political etc. – reasons. If not, you get a Quebec problem.

    There’s preserving a culture at the social level (ie., Italian-Americans or Canadians) and at the political level. I’m against the latter.

    There’s debate about whether they should make Spanish an official language in the USA. That’s inviting a whole pack of new problems if you ask me. Let Spanish thrive or die on its own. If it takes over English one day so be it. If not…it’s not.

    I hope to spark a heated debate here.


    1. Vent all your crudeness, Commentator, you have a Roman before you, don’t forget lol!

      I understand your point, in fact I said I’m for a common language and I hope Canadians of Italian origin speak good English (I didn’t btw mention French.)
      Beyond this common vehicle, English, that various cultures and languages should be preserved by their own efforts or by the state is not a problem that concerns me. It concerns the people of democratic Canada.

      I know you are for liberty and no government intervention.


      1. MoR, At the federal level Canada has two official languages: English and French. Our New Brunswick provincial constitution says that N. B. is bilingual (English/French). In Ontario, Bill 8 states that french services must be available where numbers (10%) warrant. Manitoba was bilingual from the beginning although it abolished French in 1890. Our Supreme Court reinstated it in 1990.
        Alors, oui, le français devrait être mentionné dans votre dernière intervention.
        Dernièrement, en Alberta, une contravention donnée à un automobiliste francophone a été déclarée nulle car rédigée en anglais seulement. Qu’en pensez-vous?
        Our Nunavut Territory has four official languages: Inuktitut, Dene, English and French, population: 35 000.


        1. Paul is right but allow me to:

          Alberta and Quebec have been going at it for some time. I remember when I was a broker I wasn’t allowed to trade in Alberta and vice-versa. Petty nonsense between provinces if you ask me. Inter-provincial squabbling is absurd. I don’t even think Italy, in all its regionalism, doesn’t trade with itself. Construction workers in Ontario and Quebec can’t work in each others province. It’s patently stupid.

          It’s still ironic Paul, that every province has some sort of law to either protect French or provide services (at least there are attempts) while we in Quebec remain tightly unilingual (with repressive laws) at the legislative level. Once again, in my opinion, we trail on that progressive scale. Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s a form of human rights violation all in the name of protecting and promoting the majority – of course, I speak of Bill 22, 101 etc.

          In fact, when I cross into Vermont and Ontario highway signs are in both languages for a good part of the ride! Vermont for crying out loud!

          Here? It’s French and nothing else. Says a lot about us, no? Playing politics with highway safety that is.


    1. Come to Rome with your Indian friends! I will cook pasta for all and you can cook Bharwan Baingan or Kashmiri Pulao. Bring tons of Masala, of course 🙂


  7. @Paul

    What do I think Paul? Speaking very generally, my knowledge of Canada being zero, it is well known that the French, at least in France, feel they are like an endangered species. They have been beaten historically by the Anglo-Saxons in many fields and this makes them very upset.

    Their attitude towards the French language seems a consequence of this: desperate (and stubborn) protection, which makes them behave weirdly.

    So in Canada, this sort of ‘human rights violation’, as Commentator calls it – wonder if it’s not an exaggeration lol – can be a consequence of this as well. I understand the French, and I love their culture which I personally find exquisite, but I also understand the Commentator. This is why I said that I was happy Italians there spoke good English (and I didn’t mention French.)

    Let’s face it, French ex colonies still speak French but they are a bit isolated for this reason (and France a bit too). The world now speaks English. In the future, nel futuro, chi vivrà vedrà.


      1. Mandarin I can understand. Arabic I don’t know, unless Islam converts millions of people, which I do not hope for, not because of Islam in itself, no: being agnostic, (not atheist,) I think all the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) believe in supreme truths which in my view doesn’t favour a spirit of doubt and inquiry which is the core of modernity. The stem cell research is one example. The war against evolution is another example. Did you know that many Islamic and Christian fundamentalists are now allied and united in creationism, and go even preaching around together?

        I digressed.


    1. “Exaggeration?” I often ask myself if I tend to get over zealous about it. However, the mere fact French-Canadians have no right to send their kids to English school, I would consider this a rights violation. It’s government intrusion on the personal lives of citizens regarding education.

      And this is but one example.


        1. It is. But a bit long and absolutely useless to explain here. Commentator knows all about it and it has been discussed at lenght on another blog. I basically agree with him but, the law is the law even if stupid…to a certain extent. Dura lex sed lex.


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