~ Le Parole del Giorno ~
~ The Words of the Day ~
I have done “The Word of the Day” posts in the past, but today I thought I would do “Words” of the day—“Su” e “Giù” —“Up” and “Down.”
When I lived with the Stefanis in Viterbo (*), we were forever telling each other whether we were going “su” (pronounced like the name “Sue”)—upstairs to the sleeping quarters on the second and third floors, or “giù” (pronounced like the word “Jew”)—down to the kitchen and the rest of the public rooms of the main floor.
“Un momento, vado su”—“One moment, I’m going upstairs”—I would say to Nonna as I sprinted upstairs to the third floor to grab my umbrella before we headed out to run errands.
“Tequilla, giù, giù”—“Tequilla, down, down”—I would insist to the Stefani’s dog, Tequilla, to keep moving ahead of me down the stairs as we headed to the kitchen for a treat. I feared he would stop short on the railing-less stair, looking behind himself to make sure I was following him, and trip us both, causing un disastro as we fell “giù!”
The words “su” e “giù” make me think of spiral staircases, especially those in old structures throughout Italy. When I was growing up a spiral staircase seemed very contemporary, having been created in the space age-inspired 1960s. It was an exotically stylish way to get from one shag-carpeted floor to the next in a hip bachelor pad. Can you tell I watched a lot of TV in my youth?
However, spiral staircases are ancient in concept. In many turrets and towers it is the quickest way to go up or down, while restricting the stairway to as little square footage as possible where space is tight. Pictured above is the view looking down through the center of a spiral staircase (a private not public staircase) in the Villa Medici, Rome. The view down reminds me of an ammonite fossil. Maybe this shape inspired ancient architects to design the first spiral staircases?
“Su e giù” also reminds me of Puck’s famous lines in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear’d in field and town:
Goblin, lead them up and down.
Whether a mischievous fairy or a 100-pound white Great Pyrenees has you going su e giù in hot pursuit, here are two of my favorite Italian spiral staircases that you may use for your escape!
Villa Medici, Rome
Palazzo Barberini, Rome
*My book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family is now available in paperback, as well as e-reader and hardcover editions.