Category Archives: Translation … sometimes it is a beautiful thing….

Who Am I to Judge You Degenerates? – Leonardo Tondelli

For all those falling over themselves to kiss Pope Francis’s … ring, here’s an Italian writer’s comment on the “clemency” of Papa Francesco. From the pages of the Italian newspaper, L’Unità.


Francis and his carry on

1 August 2013

There’s no rule that says you have to play the cynic all the time, even if that’s the sort of thing that works so well in blogs. If everybody loves Pope Francis, he must be doing something right. In fact, being likable is hardly a minor virtue, especially when you’re the head of an enterprise whose mission statement is universal. If the poverty theme is working out for everyone, if it gets the public’s attention better than the war against relativism that Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, got bogged down in, then hats off to a guy who knew how to gauge the winds of change.

Meanwhile, of course, the Church is still an ultra-rich and ultra-secretive organization, but we all just need a little patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s not as though Pope Francis can tidy up the entire Vatican in a few months.

And in the meantime, the Pope talks – what else is he supposed to do? – and he hardly needs more than a “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” to be able to cash in on the support of irreproachable intellectuals and lay people alike. Is that really all it takes to get a metaphysical pessimist philosopher and academic like Massimo Cacciari to fawn over you? A nice, friendly smile and an “I’ll carry my own luggage, thanks”?

A Pope beloved by the people is hardly a novelty. We had one for more than twenty years, and we know that achieving international superstar status doesn’t necessarily make you more progressive. Not even close. John Paul II organized rallies and concerts all over the place, and yet on the questions of contraception or divorce or any other topic, he didn’t shift a single millimeter.

There’s no question that there’s a great – an enormous – desire in the air for a revolutionary Pope and for revolution in general. That a lot of lay people are willing to give a new pontiff the benefit of the doubt is no surprise; especially in a time of overall crisis, hope is a rare commodity. That there are some gay men and women out there who want to believe in the possibility of change is also more than understandable. No one says gay people have all got to be secular militants.

But when even intellectuals and scholars fall for this stuff, well, that’s just sad. Because what good are they, when all is said and done, if they fail to provide counterpoint, if they don’t dismantle the rhetoric that transforms every trivial word and gesture into some sort of epiphany?

A Pope who proves he’s capable of beating around the central concept in such a way as to turn a condemnation of homosexuality into a kind word for the gays is not entirely a shock. He’s a bishop, a priest, and a communications professional; we can admire the technical skill involved, just like when soccer fans applaud a player on the opposing team who dribbles the ball with unusual daring.

But how it possible that not one single journalist, Vatican expert, or philosopher, faced with Pope Francis’s rhetorical question, “Who am I to judge?” failed to respond in the only sensible way possible?

Who are you to judge? You’re the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the one of whom the Bible says “whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). You’ve got the emblem of the Vatican with the keys to Paradise at your back, which means that it’s your job, you and the organization over which you preside, to establish who gets to go there and who doesn’t and, it logically follows, who is going to hell and who isn’t.

And since one of your predecessors made sure the Catechism of the Catholic Church was modified to read that homosexual relations are a “grave depravity” and that “tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (Section 2357) … well, dear Pope Francis, this is no time for the old duck-and-shuffle. If you aren’t going to judge them, who is?

I know. Technically, that judgment belongs to Christ himself. You’re more like a lawyer than a judge anyway. But it’s worth remembering that the fallback position of your defensive line is the requirement that all gay Catholics in the entire world remain celibate (“Homosexual persons are called to chastity,” Section 2359). That’s how it’s been, and absolutely nothing has changed.

Ratzinger could have told us exactly the same thing. But if the German Pope had said so, with the very same words, doubtless the newspaper headlines would have been entirely different. That’s the way the economy of popularity works, as we are all now aware.

Perhaps instead each of us, in his or her own way, could undertake at least some small act of opposition. Not for the pleasure of being one of those people who feel they have to play the cynic all the time but because, otherwise, what good are we?


Leonardo Tondelli was born in Modena. For more than ten years, he has written one of Italy’s most long-winded blogs (

English translation by ProvenWrite.


Dialogue: An Ordinary Italian Talks to “Made in Italy”

I’ve been saying it for years. “Made in Italy” is a scam, a lie, and a fraud.

For something like a decade, the phrase has been popping up with increasing desperation in the Italian texts I am asked to translate, but always as a noun. In other words, it’s not “made in Italy style” or “made in Italy craftsmanship.” It’s “The whole world loves the Made in Italy” or “the Made in Italy is why consumers in every nation are clamoring for Italian products.” (Well, actually, they aren’t. Unless you count corrupt Russian politicians or Venezuelan oil dons, for whom anything with a little Swarovski on it is a joy forever.)

I object, of course, to the ungrammatical use of an adjective as a noun. But the real reason for my categorical refusal to shift that phrase over verbatim into an English translation is a question of principle.

For the record, what “the Made in Italy” usually becomes is something along the lines of “Italian design excellence” or “the high-quality leather goods for which Italy is famous.” Or words to that effect.

Because, it’s worth saying again, “Made in Italy” is a scam, a lie, and a fraud.

Let’s take furniture, for example. “Made in Italy” is meant to conjure up an image of a tiny workshop, redolent of varnish and sawdust, located on a difficult-to-find Florence backstreet where a wizened artisan (and artigianale is largely a scam, too, but we’ll save that for another post) works painstakingly with hand tools to create one-of-a-kind cabinets and chairs. As he works, he’ll tell you how he learned his craft from his grandfather, who learned it from his. And that’s why that little sideboard is going to cost you ten thousand euros.

Here’s the reality: There are probably more Lowland Gorillas left in Rwanda than there are charming little “artisinal” (ugh) workshops in Italy. If they do exist, the guys working there are making a set of 50-foot dining tables for the Sultan of Brunei and are not interested in how charmed you are by some silly-ass spice rack. No, you may not take a picture.

Instead, enormous makeshift factories have grown up in the most depressing semi-rural areas of the country where non-Italians (many of them illegal or paid, in full or in part, under the table in order to bypass labor laws and avoid taxes) unpack container-loads of non-Italian raw and semi-processed materials from China and other parts of the so-called developing world and assemble them. Often, these places are little more than sweatshops. Competition in the industry is fierce and, not infrequently, fiercely unfair.

Italian law allows a product to be called “Made in Italy” even if all the parts and materials come from Luzon and if only the most minimal part of its assembly takes place on Italian soil. No Italian need be involved and, in fact, mostly they aren’t — except possibly as the factory owners who reap the profits. Small Italian family businesses have been forced into bankruptcy — or else they’ve had to comply with the new “market logic,” fire their Italian workers, stop using local materials, and pay employees “in nero” (that is, illegally).

And yet the product description will speak of “centuries of tradition” and “techniques passed down from generation to generation.” And the price will still be exorbitant. And “Made in Italy” will be stamped all over it.

The same goes for clothing and most every other tangible product sold in Italy. Food and wine have their own, stricter regulations, but that doesn’t actually stop consumer scams in those areas as well.

In fact, even Guy Trebay, the New York Times’ fashion and culture vulture, seems to have had enough. In a recent article on Milan’s indispensable (not to say relentless) Fashion Week, Trebay editorialized, “what does ‘Made in Italy’ mean, anyway, when so many Italian goods are manufactured in Eastern Europe and sent back across the border to have a label sewn on?”

What indeed.

Italian authorities largely ignore all this because they are fully aware that many Italian industries would simply grind to a halt if they a) were fully legal and b) exclusively used Italian workers and Italian materials. They couldn’t compete, and that would be the end of it.

And that’s globalization in a nutshell, at least the “made in Italy” version. Beppe Grillo’s January 9, 2013 blog took up the issue in his “Platonic Dialog”: “Dialogo tra un Italiano Qualunque e il Made in Italy

Grillo’s original article was made in Italy; the translation was not.


Platonic Conversation by Felice Casorati (1925)

Platonic Conversation by Felice Casorati (1925)

Ordinary Italian: “Excuse me, I see you’ve got the Italian flag draped across your chest, but who are you? A colonialist? A patriot? Are you the mayor? Or maybe you’re some distant cousin of Totò Cutugno’s?”

Made in Italy: “Don’t you recognize me? You must be blind as a genuine certified-Italian imported bat. I’m Made in Italy!”

Ordinary Italian: “You look kind of Asian to me. Are you really an Italian citizen?”

Made in Italy: “I’ve been Italian for generations. I’m a native product. See? It says so right here on the package. There’s a little red, white, and green Italian flag. There’s even the ‘Made in Italy’ trademark, which has made Italy famous the world over.”

Ordinary Italian: “No, you’re fresh off a cargo ship! You’re an illegal product!”

Made in Italy: “I was conceived in Italy by an Italian designer and raised in Shanghai with pure-blood Italian money. And now that I’m all grown up, I’ve come back home. I’m a regular Prodigal Son, and this is how you treat me….”

Ordinary Italian: “Wait a minute. I recognize you now. You’re that product I used to see on TV commercials when I was a kid, the ones that showed Italian factories and smiling Italian workers.”

Made in Italy: (Proudly.) “Yes, that’s me!” And it’s the strength of that tradition that’ll make you buy me.”

Ordinary Italian: “But what about the workers? What about the factories? Where are they now? Did you move them all to China?”

Made in Italy: “No, unfortunately those workers had to be fired. The factory did reopen, but in Shanghai. You know how things are these days – labor costs, all those environmental regulations, taxes, the bureaucracy, the unions…. Over there, a product can have another life entirely.”

Ordinary Italian: “You know, you’ve nearly convinced me to buy you. You’ve got to be more economical – at least half off the regular price.”

Made in Italy: “No, prices haven’t changed. Who do you think you’re dealing with here? I’m a quality product!”

Ordinary Italian: “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but what was the point of moving kit and caboodle overseas if you weren’t going to lower your prices?”

Made in Italy: “The price is the same but profits are on the increase. That’s the law of Italian capital: It goes wherever there are fewer protections for workers and labor is cheaper. But look, I like you. If you take me home right now, I’ll give you a 5% discount.”

Ordinary Italian: “Forget about it! You take off that “Made in Italy” sign right now, you interloper you! You’re just the bastard child of renegade capitalists and all the others who got us into this mess. The only thing you manufacture is unemployment! The next time I see you around these parts, I’m going to slap a 50% import duty on you, that’s what I’m going to do!”

A Vienna Pub Celebrates the Italian Mafia: “Grilled Falcone and Barbecued Impastato”

VIENNA – Italy: mafia and mandolins. Old stereotypes never die, so the Don Panino Pub in Vienna, Austria ( decided to name its sandwiches after Italy’s Cosa Nostra crime bosses and their opponents.

For more than a few people, Don Panino’s menu is in bad taste, and they’re turning up their noses at sandwiches with names like The Don Corleone, The Don Falcone, and even The Don Peppino (Impastato).

The “Mafia Sandwiches” are joined by anti-mafia fare as well, including The Don Buscetta à la paprika and the Don Falcone with garlic, pesto, and greens.

It’s not just the name of the sandwiches that has incited heated comment, but the descriptions that accompany them. Falcone, for example, is described this way: “He earned his title as the mafia’s number-one enemy in Palermo; unfortunately, he ended up grilled like a hot dog.” [Giovanni Falcone was an Italian prosecuting magistrate who spent most of his career combating the power of the Sicilian mafia. On 23 May 1992, Falcone, his wife, and three police officers, were assassinated by the mafia when a half-ton of explosives hidden under a culvert were detonated as Falcone’s car drove over them. The explosion was so powerful that it registered on local earthquake monitors. Tommaso Buscetta was a mafioso who turned informant in the mid-1980s. He was instrumental in the anti-mafia work of Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, another judge assassinated by the mafia in 1992, and is also credited with hundreds of convictions of organized crime figures in the U.S. ~ Tr. note.]

don paninoDon Panino’s defines Peppino Impastato as the “Big-mouthed Sicilian who ended up cooked like a barbecued chicken when a bomb went off.” [Giuseppe “Peppino” Impastato was a political activist and radio journalist who openly opposed the Palermo mafia. He was killed in a May 1978 bombing when his unconscious body was placed over a charge of TNT, stretched out on a train track near his home, and blown up. ~ Tr. note.]

Italian citizens living in Vienna seem to be angriest about Don Panino’s menu. They’ve launched a call for a boycott of the restaurant on the site ( and have asked the Italian embassy in Vienna to take immediate action, with the hope that the restaurant will at least change the name of its sandwiches.

[Don Panino’s Vienna menu doesn’t just serve offensively named sandwiches. It also features “Mafia Pasta,” including one dish described as “Little Italy’s Greaseball Style.” ~ Tr. note.]


From: See also The website that is the purveyor of this offensive nonsense is owned by Jitse Groen, who is Dutch and just happens to be on Twitter @jitsegroen and on Facebook at You can drop him a friendly line – or just go sign the petition at

A Holiday Tale for Naughty Children: A Hog-Manay Tradition

What a delight, at holiday time, to discover others who are just as cynical about the whole affair as you are. It’s positively uplifting. I thought, this year, that I’d have to root all alone for The Grinch, as I usually do, but instead I was most pleased to come across this holiday yarn by the endlessly funny and wonderfully sardonic writer and translator, Giuseppe Iacobaci. The original, “Fiaba natalizia per bimbi cattivi,” appears on his blogsite, LiberIdea–The Blog that Boasts of Numerous Imitations (Generally Better Than the Original). With his kind permission, I offer this (liberal) translation, dedicated to all who look up in wonder at the sparkling lights of a Christmas tree and say to themselves, “What a freakin’ waste of money.”


A Holiday Tale for Naughty Children
by Giuseppe Iacobaci
English translation by ProvenWrite

Once upon a time there was a pig, a big, fat, stinky hog named Castonzio. The foul-smelling porker lived on a squalid and dilapidated farm in Kansas, the McKenna Farm, and he reeked of eau de sewer—which is exactly what you’d expect of someone who spends his days wallowing in muck and his own excrement.

Every year at New Year’s, the McKenna family prepared a succulent feast in strict observance of the best Italian holiday traditions: French-fried veal, potatoes-au-tuna, trotter (a lovely big pig’s leg all stuffed with mincemeat and spices), lentil quiche, and a nice twice-boiled cake.

Castonzio the Pig was fed up to here with all this holiday business and with everyone’s having to be at his absolute best: to tell the truth, he’d have much preferred it if he had tasted absolutely dreadful, indigestible even. Indeed, he had already decided he would stop by Old Man Jones’ emporium to pick up some turpentine which he would then inject under his skin on New Year’s Eve, poisoning the lot of them: the two older McKennas and those little bastards, Zeb and Bratt, their children.

Ever since the two of them were little, Zeb and Bratt had had themselves a grand old time pulling Castonzio around by the tail or using him for target practice—pelting him with potatoes and flower bulbs and splitting their sides with laughter as the poor, chubby, smelly, terrorized piglet ran from one end of the sty to the other, trying to get away.

Or else maybe he would reverse the current on the saw they used each year for pig-limb removal and electrocute them all.

Every holiday season, Castonzio the Pig had the same baleful thoughts, but with that wheelchair contraption he was in—nothing more than a fruit crate with some second-hand wheels stuck on—there was little he could do. The whole world was marked “not handicapped accessible,” starting with the pigpen that had kept him confined for as long as he could remember.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but he just wasn’t crazy about the holidays.

So it happened that on a night full of silent stars as tiny as the heads of pins, the scrofulous and fetid pig never noticed as a light slowly began to take solid shape nor even when that light transformed itself suddenly into a figure of distinctly porcine features.

“Wake up,” the resplendent, hoggish apparition said to him.

It was The Great Porker, the guardian witch of pigs everywhere. Legend had it that she appeared only once a year during the holidays to grant the wishes of the pig who had been the unluckiest SOB in the whole wide world.

“Wake up,” she said again. “I’ve come to grant your every wish.”

Still not believing what was happening, and certain he must be asleep, the noisome swine rubbed his eyes.

“Can you hurry it up?” the witch remonstrated. “I’ve got my broom double-parked.”

The Great Porker was constantly pissed off about something. Her position as Granter of Wishes, even though it kept her busy only one day a year, was a job that she nonetheless found significantly constricting. In the first place, she didn’t feel she was cut out to be a fairy, and then there was the matter of her title, on account of which she was often asked to perform services that fell quite outside the requirements of her contract and which she, of course, categorically refused to provide. She was furious that a female pig should be called a “sow,” a name that made everyone think immediately of “slut,” or that “Great Porker” conveyed unduly prurient connotations, and she spent her three hundred and sixty-four days off each year gathering signatures on a petition to delete such terms from the dictionary.

The malodorous hog couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Listen, kiddo,” said The Great Porker irritably. “According to my contract, I’m required to wait up to five minutes and thirty seconds to hear your wishes, at which point I’m authorized to leave. Let’s get this over with, shall we? Tell me what you want.”

“I want a Red Bull,” said the big, fat, stupid piggy, who spent much too much time watching MTV.

And so it was that the McKenna family, once again that year, enjoyed a splendid supper of trotter for their holiday table.

Qualcuno era Comunista / One Guy Was a Communist: Giorgio Gaber

One guy was a Communist because he was born in Emilia-Romagna.

One guy was a Communist because his grandpa, his uncle, his dad … not his mom, though.

One guy was a Communist because Russia seemed like a promise, China seemed like a poem, and Communism seemed like a heaven on earth.

One guy was a Communist because he felt alone.

One guy was a Communist because he’d grown up much too Catholic.

One guy was a Communist because the movies demanded it, theater demanded it, painting demanded it, and so did literature: everything demanded it.

One guy was a Communist because they told him to.

One guy was a Communist because they didn’t tell him everything.

One guy was a Communist because before (long, long before) he’d been a Fascist.

One guy was a Communist because he understood Russia was moving slow and steady, but it was winning the race (!)

One guy was a Communist because Berlinguer was a great man.

One guy was a Communist because Andreotti wasn’t….

One guy was a Communist because he was rich, but he loved the people….

One guy was a Communist because he drank a lot of wine and got teary-eyed when he went to working-class rallies.

One guy was a Communist because he was so firmly atheist that he needed a different God.

One guy was a Communist because he was so fascinated by the working man that he wanted to be one, too.

One guy was a Communist because he couldn’t take another minute of being a working man.

One guy was a Communist because he needed a raise.

One guy was a Communist because … the revolution? Not today, no. Could be tomorrow. But the day after that, guaranteed!

One guy was a Communist because … “the bourgeoisie the proletariat the class struggle, shit!”

One guy was a Communist to piss off his father.

One guy was a Communist because the only TV channel he watched was RAI3.

One guy was a Communist because it was trendy, another guy as a question of principle, another one out of frustration.

One guy was a Communist because he wanted the state to take control of EVERYTHING!

One guy was a Communist because he didn’t know any government workers, civil servants, or their ilk….

One guy was a Communist because he had confused dialectical materialism with the Gospel According to Lenin.

One guy was a Communist because he was convinced the working class was behind him.

One guy was a Communist because he was a better Communist than anybody else.

One guy was a Communist because of the Great Communist Party.

One guy was a Communist in spite of the Great Communist Party.

One guy was a Communist because there wasn’t anything better.

One guy was a Communist because Italy had the worst Socialist Party in all of Europe!

One guy was a Communist because, when it comes to government, the only country in worse shape was Uganda….

One guy was a Communist because he’d had it with forty years of Christian Democrat governments made up of idiots and mobsters.

One guy was a Communist because Piazza Fontana, Brescia, the Bologna train station, the Italicus Massacre, the DC-9 crash over Ustica, and so on, and so on, and so on!

One guy was a Communist because if you were opposed, you were a Communist!

One guy was a Communist because he couldn’t tolerate that filthy thing they insisted on calling democracy!

One guy, one guy thought he was a Communist, and maybe he was something else entirely.

One guy was a Communist because he dreamed of a freedom that wasn’t like what they had in America.

One guy was a Communist because he believed he could be happy in life only if other people were, too.

One guy was a Communist because he needed a push toward something new, because he felt the need for a different sort of morality.

Because maybe it was just an aspiration, a flight of fancy, a dream. Maybe it was nothing more than an impulse, the wish you could change things, to live a different kind of life.

One guy was a Communist because, when that impulse took you over, each one of us became more than just himself: it was like being two people in one. On the one hand, every single day, there was your personal toil. On the other, the feeling that you belonged to a tribe that longed to take wing and fly off toward a different kind of life.

No, no regrets. At the time, maybe, a lot of people spread their wings without really being able to fly, like a flock of theoretical seagulls.

And what about now?

Now we still feel torn in two. On the one hand, we’re men and women well-integrated into society, obsequiously moving through the squalor of our daily survival. On the other hand, we’re that seagull, who doesn’t have any intention to fly anymore. Because, by now, the dream has withered.

A double torment in a single body.

– Giorgio Gaber & Sandro Luporini
(from “E pensare che c’era il pensiero” [Just Think What We Used To Think], 1995)