Roman Miles and Milestones
Remember the famous quote, "All roads lead to Rome?" The Aurelia is the first of the major consular roads, followed by the Cassia, then the Flaminia, the Salaria, the Nomentana, the Tibertina, and the Appia.

The Appia, known then as The Appian Way, went from Rome to Puglia. The Aurelia went from Rome to France. The Cassia from Rome to Tuscany, The Flaminia from Rome to Rimini and the Salaria from Rome to the Adriatic Sea (in Le Marche).

The first network of this type of roads was set up by the Romans more than two thousand years ago to manage their provinces and to hinder the ability of the provinces to organize any resistance against their Empire. But a little more Roman trivia: The Roman Empire, in case you don't remember your history, lasted from 753 B C to the downfall of Rome, while Nero played his violin, in 476 A D. The Empire was founded by Romulus, the first of the seven Kings of Rome in 753BC, but the last king was named Tarquin the Proud (Tarquinus Superbus), who was deposed in 510BC when the Roman Republic was established.

Just a little more:
Every mile on every road was marked with a milestone to tell the distance to the center of this network: Rome. The markers still exist. But they are not what we would call miles.

Here's the difference, according to

Throughout history many units of length named mile have been used, with widely differing definitions, originating with the Roman mile of approximately 1479 meters. A Roman mile consisted of 1000 "double steps", or two strides by a Roman soldier. The Latin term for each such double stride is a passus having a length of 5 Roman feet or approximately 4.83 English feet. The word mile itself has been derived from the words mille passus (plural milia passuum), a thousand paces.

Along the roads built by the Romans throughout Europe, it was common to erect a stone every mile to announce the distance to Rome, the so-called milestones. The noun milliarium (plural milliaria), designating a milestone, was also used as a figurative alternative for mile.

The name statute mile goes back to Queen Elizabeth I of England who redefined the mile from 5000 feet to 8 furlongs (5280 feet) by statute in 1593.

The history and secrets of Italian accents unravelled
A houseguest just left here to attend the fifth or sixth in a series of Italian language schools. Perugia, Arezzo, Lucca, Siena, Firenze...She has attended many of them. So I asked her what accent she wants to adapt, after all these experiences.

"Tuscan, of course! Specifically the accent from Florence."

"What about the Roman accent?" I said proudly, while Sofi stared up at her with her long Roman nose...

Her view is that Tuscany is IT.

So I went to the internet to find some history on the accents, and here's one person's take on all of it....

"As any foreigner who lives in Italy and learns the language well soon discovers, Italian is not uniform: Accents change dramatically from place to place, as do expressions and ways of saying things. This state of affairs is historic in origin; up until the 1850s Italy was a patchwork of states, principalities, and areas under foreign control (the Veneto, for example, was Austrian). Most of the people were poor and few traveled; therefore local dialects, many of which should be recognized as distinct languages, were the rule, and communicating with someone who was from elsewhere could be extremely difficult -- even if elsewhere was just the other side of the mountain.

The few people who did travel or occupy positions of power did of course need to communicate, so they learned Tuscan of the sort spoken in Florence and Siena as well, selecting it to be the Peninsular language because it was what Dante used in writing the Divina Commedia. Therefore, Tuscan became Italian: The language spoken by everyone within Tuscany, and by aristocrats and officials elsewhere.

Little happened to change this picture following the unification of Italy in the early 1860s (Rome, the last piece of the puzzle, became Italian in 1872), despite the institution of universal elementary schooling. At least that's the conclusion one draws from the introduction to Cacciucco Pellegrino Artusi wrote in 1891: "Cacciucco! Let me say something about this word, which is probably not understood except in Tuscany and along the Tyrrhenian coast, as the word brodetto takes its place in the towns along the Adriatic.

In Florence, on the other hand, brodetto is an egg soup served at Easter, made by crumbling bread in broth and thickening the mixture with beaten eggs and lemon juice. The confusion between these and other similar-sounding words from province to province in Italy is so bad that it wouldn't take much to make a second Babel. Now that our country is unified, the unification of spoken Italian, which few promote and many hinder, perhaps because of misplaced pride, or perhaps because they are comfortable with their dialects, seems to me a logical next step." (From The Art of Eating Well, Kyle's translation of Artusi's book, published by Random House in 1996).

The Fascists did make a concerted attempt to impose Italian throughout the country during their rule (1922-43), and television and radio have spread its use much more effectively since then, but dialects are not dead. Far from it; in many parts of the country, north, middle, and south, you can be talking with someone in Italian, while everyone else in the room is speaking the local dialect, and the person you're talking with will shift into the dialect to say something to one of the other people in the room (who will reply in dialect, but talk to you in Italian).

It can be a little disconcerting, but one gets used to it, and now command of Italian serves as a rough indicator of how well educated a person is; the better the education the better the Italian (including the use of subjunctives and conditionals, which can be quite approximate among those who haven't had much schooling), and those who have university degrees often try to mask their regional accents. This outside of Tuscany; in Tuscany they'll have the grammar down, but the intensity of the accent decreases with increasing education.

Since education is directly correlated with professional status, which in turn correlates fairly well with social status, a person's command of Italian also gives a rough idea of his or her social status -- neither a Primario (the doctor in charge of a hospital ward) nor an intellectual is going to want to sound like the guy who lugs meat in the city's central market.

Of course in Tuscany, which is where Kyle lives, there are expressions and words that don't exist in official Italian; for example, if you arrive late to a meeting, saying you did like Mr. Nardi (ho fatto come il Nardi), in Florence people will mentally finish the rhyme -- ho cominciato presto e ho finito tardi, started out early and ended up late -- and nod. Elsewhere you might simply get a blank stare.

The same thing can happen with persimmons: In the town of Murlo, south of Siena, they're called pomi, in Rome they're called cachi (both cs hard) and in Florence they're called diospri. I recently saw a tree laden with fruit at Conte Pierlavise di Serego Alighieri's home in the Veneto, and said, "I like your diospri." He looked blank, followed my gaze, and said, "Oh. You mean Cachi. Never heard anyone call them diospri before."

Thanks to Kyle M. Phillips, III of for this bit of trivia history.

Cachi, love it or hate it.
While researching accents, I came upon information about our beloved cachi (pronounced cakki), or Persimmon, also on the internet.

Though they originated in the Orient, Italy has lots of persimmon trees, both in people's yards and in the gardens of estates. Their popularity is actually not that surprising. The trees are quite pretty, and the fruit, bright golden-orange orbs, adds a pleasing splash of color during late autumn, when most things look rather drab.

The fruits themselves are quite firm until they ripen, at which point they become voluptuously soft, and almost gelatinous in texture. There are many varieties of persimmon that ripen over the autumn months, from September through December. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two groups: Non-astringent and astringent. Non-astringent persimmons are sweet both before and after they ripen. Astringent persimmons instead contain alum, and are woody-tongued astringent tannic until they ripen, at which point the tannicity fades: The sweetness of the fruit comes forth, and one suddenly understands why they were associated with the Gods (diosperi).

Thanks for this, Kyle
See our Food section for a recipe of steamed pudding using our beloved cachi.

Bella Ciao
On February 15, 2004, the Global Day of Protest, some 2 million marchers from all over Italy flocked the streets of Rome to say NO to a war against Iraq.

No matter where you were in the procession, Italian marchers belted out the words of their national protest song, Bella Ciao. They are part of the 80% of Italians who are against the war, and are singing it loud and clear. The animated demonstration, so far the biggest in the international peace movement, was not just a spontaneous expression but comes from a long tradition of social protest.

The origins of Bella Ciao date to a 17th century popular ballad from Piemonte in Northern Italy. It first became a song of struggle by the Piemontese Mondine, women rice field workers who supported the partisans during WWII. Then it took on the point of view of the partisan resistance. It has now become a symbol of Italian resistance that has gained international fame.

Italians have been protesting against the war since last fall, in concert with Bella Ciao. In an anti-war march in Rome last October, a solo street musician armed with an accordion led the crowd through the streets of the historic center. She is part of the Women in Black, an international peace network, and only one of various performers who take popular music to the streets during social protests.

The song is quite a beautiful melody, and once someone starts to sing it, others join in whether they know the person singing it or not.

Here is one English translation, followed by another, not literal translation, followed by the original in Italian.

"Bella Ciao" , Translation by Antoinette Fawcett
I woke this morning and all seemed peaceful
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
I woke this morning and all seemed peaceful
But oppression still exists.

Oh freedom fighter, I want to fight too
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Oh freedom fighter, I want to fight too
Against their living death.

And if I die, a freedom fighter,
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And if I die, a freedom fighter,
Then you'll have to bury me.

Let my body rest in the mountains
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Let my body rest in the mountains
In the shadow of my flower.

And all the people who will pass by there
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And all the people who will pass by there
Will show that lovely flower.

This is the blossom of those that died here
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
This is the blossom of those that died here
For land and liberty.

"Bella Ciao", This second translation is not a direct translation, but seems to be gathering momentum.

The world is waking outside my window
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Drags my senses into the sunlight
For there are things that I must do

Wish me luck now, I have to leave you
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
With my friends now up to the city
We're going to shake the Gates of Hell

And I will tell them - we will tell them
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
That our sunlight is not for franchise
And wish the bastards drop down dead

Next time you see me I may be smiling
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
I'll be in prison or on the TV
I'll say, "the sunlight dragged me here!"

"Bella Ciao", Here is the original, in Italian

Una mattina mi son svegliata,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
una mattina mi son svegliata
ed ho trovato l'invasor.

Oh partigiano, portami via,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
oh partigiano, portami via
che mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
e se io muoio da partigiano
u mi devi seppellir.

Seppellire lassu in montagna,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
seppellire lassu in montagna
sotto l'ombra di un bel fior.

E tutti quelli che passeranno,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
e tutti quelli che passeranno
diranno guarda che bel fior.

E bello il fiore del partigiano,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao ciao ciao,
e bello il fiore del partigiano,
morto per la liberta!

Arranging a special Italian religious visit.
Many things have changed in Italy, but parishes still organize excursions, and though some are to lesser known shrines, others are to major attractions, for example Assisi, and they visit many things the average tourist won't see. If you plan to visit Italy, stop and visit your local parish priest and ask if he can help you arrange a particular visit, or an audience. One friend of mine's parish priest arranged for her to meet Pope John Paul II.

Using the "Roman Room" System to Improve Your Memory.
My memory has never been very good. That is why when I read David Hochman's article in the New York Times about The "Roman Room" technique, I became interested. The "Roman Room" technique is a very old method that you can use to remember a group of things when the order in which you remember them isn't important. Start by imagining a room you are familiar with. Then associate images that represent the information you want to remember with different objects in the room.

For example, if you are going shopping and three things you want to remember to buy are: a pair of socks, a can of spot remover, and some light bulbs. In this case, you might picture your bedroom in your head. While scanning the room, you "see" your sock drawer open (to remind you to buy the socks), a stain on a chair (for the spot remover), and your bedside lamp with a flashlight next to it (for the light bulbs). To recall the information, you simply take a mental tour around the room -- visualizing the known objects and their associated images.

This is one of the memory-improvement techniques you'll find at

They can still talk with their hands November 2nd is a HUGE national holiday. It is the Day of the Dead, and we'll show up with the other village folk at 3:30 pm at the Mugnano cemetery near Shelly's house. We asked our Italian teacher what the salutation is today..."auguri," "pace?" and her response was "silencio!" It is a day of silence. Can you imagine an italian being silent for more than 30 seconds unless they were eating.

How to drive like an Italian.

Remember that your car has a front, but no sides or back. Never turn your head. If you do, two things are sure:
1) this is a sign of weakness, and
2)Since no one in Italy turns their head, you will surely hit something because you will be distracted. Drive like you own the road. Act like you own the road. Then the road is surely yours!

Since every Italian driver looks only forward, everyone looks at the front of their car and the result is a kind of a dance, bobbing and weaving, all in a kind of harmony. Perhaps you should even sing while you drive.

Stop signs are used as an indication. Kind sir who is giving us our driving test on September 9 we hope you cannot read English. Italians sometimes slow down at stop signs. They even slow down and perhaps stop at red lights. If there is a curvy road ahead and drivers entering a space from two directions must share a traffic light (we are not kidding), there is at least a minute after the light turns red that you can continue to drive forward. We witnessed this before an overpass in Orte and also at traffic signals at the wall of the city of Perugia.

Buona fortuna.

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