Monday, January 18, 2016

Rome Journal X: A Glass of Water

photograph of Roman glass of water by Hallie Cohen
Languages are literally interpretable, but in some ways they’re not. Certainly vernacular is a mountain to climb when it comes to communicating double entendres and subtleties of meaning. That's why, for instance, when a play is translated, say a play by Chekhov, there will be a literal rendering and then one by another playwright whose talents are conscripted for their understanding of the language of theater. True translation is a little like the kind of deencryption that Alan Turing practiced during the second world war. All this is said to point out that language is really a way of being. You can say “I want a glass of water” in English and it means the same as “voglio un bicchiere di acqua” in Italian, but there's an enormous difference between the subtext and history communicated by the English and Italian and there is a world of difference between asking for a glass of water in Milan, Bologna, Rome or Palermo. Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and Alberto Lattuada’s Mafioso (1962) are both masterpieces of Italian cinema which describe migrations from south to north, from Sicily to Milan. But the real change relates to the unconscious neural substrates of language.  In this regard, the disintegration of the Parondi family in Rocco and His Brothers is a little like the fall of the Tower of Babel. Once held together by strong family ties, the brothers are now living in their separate worlds. Rome is not just a city, but a way of being that’s expressed by the way in which language is iterated and one of the best ways to really see Rome is to listen as you travel back and forth between antiquity and the present. And luxuriate in that “bicchiere di aqua” you ask for in Rome. It’s going to not only sound but taste different from the one that will be brought to you when you get to Milan.

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