Le Parole del Giorno~ The Words of the Day~


MOSCA e ZANZARA~

The weather has been absolutely perfect this past week here in the Deep South. Warm, non-humid days and cool, crisp evenings have made it perfect for opening the windows and doors and eating meals outside, al fresco.

And besides the blossoming azaleas, dogwoods, and soon-to-be flowering magnolias, the weather has also given birth to the other telltale signs that summer is approaching in the South…

MOSCA is the Italian word for the common house “fly.” Yes, the warm weather here as started to bring them out and into the house through open doors and windows. Pronounced “MOE-skah,” this Italian word for “fly” is also the Italian word for “Moscow.” Hmmm, I wonder if politics were involved when the Italians created that word for the capital of Russia.

In Italy, where there is still little air-conditioning and most houses do not have screened doors or windows, curtains are hung in the open doorways and windows to keep a vast majority of flying pests from entering a house or business. The curtains come in a variety of materials—long strands of beads strung together in tightly fitting rows, a large piece of fabric often fringed at the bottom, panels of clear plastic that one often imagines as the entrance into a frozen foods locker, or even bottle caps crimped on cording—all providing a barrier for pests while still allowing a breeze and people to pass through.

During the August I lived with the Stefanis in Viterbo, Italy, the only time the backdoor was closed was when it was raining, at night when we went to bed, or if no one was at home; otherwise the door was wide open and the green, flowered curtain was pulled across the doorway keeping pests from entering the kitchen but still allowing the much needed breeze to circulate the hot summer air out of the house. It also made it easier for the dogs and us to go in and out of the house—I cannot even begin to imagine how many times my mother would yell at us kids to keep the screen door closed, or have to go over and let the dog out, or yell at my brother for missing the door handle and pushing through the screen. A curtain or string of beads would certainly have been easier back then. The Italians have the right idea.

Naturally, the occasional fly would find its way into the kitchen and while we were cooking Nonna would exclaim, “Mosca” and immediately stop what she was doing to grab the fly swatter and begin the hunt. Soon I learned to hunt the pesky “mosca” with a determination to kill as strong as Nonna’s, but with a much smaller success rate. She was the master of the hunt and I was the inaccurate hitman—knocking things off of tables, swatting myself, or just plain missing a completely motionless target. Mamma mia! Disastro, Marco!

There were times when the tone of Nonna’s voice as she exclaimed “mosca!” made it hard for me to tell if she was only pursuing a fly or if she was instead hunting down Lenin or Stalin at home in—“MOSCA!”

ZANZARA is the other pest to make an appearance here in the south—the mosquito. Pronounced “zahn-ZAH-rah,” it is an onomatopoeia—a word that sounds like what it is, or at least it is one to me. In Italian, the “z” is pronounced with an almost buzzing quality and the fact that the word has two of them in it only makes it buzz around in your mouth as much as the flying pest does in your ear. “Zzzz-zzz-zzzzzz-zanzara!

I don’t quite remember the exact circumstance of when I learned the word, but I do have a memory that Nonna was with me when I swatted the first one on my leg. The Italians complained about how awful le zanzare were in Italy with the same kind of disdainful pride that we do here in America. Whether I am at home in the South, working in Minnesota or South Carolina, or visiting family around Chicago, everyone claims to have the worst mosquitoes—“There are as big as birds here!” “I saw one suck a cow dry with one stick!” “In other parts of the country they just bite you, here they eat you alive!”

Either way I hope that le mosce and le zanzare are not pestering you enough to keep you from enjoying the warmer weather. And I really hope you aren’t having problems with Lenin or Stalin, too!

Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao~

Mark

(the first photo is of the Stefanis’ backdoor and the second photo is of a bottle cap curtain that Richard saw in an antique shop in the south of France. Leave it to the French to glitz it up!)

*The book’s website is still under construction, but you can add your name to the e-mail list which will notify you when the site goes active…meaning you’ll be able to BUY the book, Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family.