Archive for February, 2013


Mother Tongue turns to Thoughts of Food

February 24, 2013

The language we learn to speak as children is part of our identity and shapes our first thoughts and how we relate to the world around us.

In my case, it was Italian – or more precisely a north-eastern regional dialect from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I spoke only a few words of English before starting school in Sydney’s inner-west and remember my mother farewelling me on my first day and crying – in Italian.  Our home was TV-free until then, so – as an only child – I had limited opportunities to learn English.

One of my strongest Italian language memories was successfully landing the job of Kitchen Hand for my mother. Child labour laws didn’t apply to four-year-olds who made semolina dumplings and cut home-made pasta into long fettuccine strips. So I learnt to cook using Italian – not English – instructions.

and now for the taste test

and now for the taste test

Later, when I learnt more of the general Italian, I naturally picked up on various food idioms, some so florid they could be the basis of a four-course meal:

Pre-dinner drink

Non si puo avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca  – You can’t have the wine cask full and your wife drunk
(You can’t have your cake and eat it too)


È buono come un pezzo di pane – He’s as good as a piece of bread
(He’s a good person)


Beccare con le mani in pasta – To catch with hands in the pasta
(To catch red-handed)

Main Course  (choice of two)

Chi dorme non piglia pesci – He who sleeps does not catch fish
(The early bird gets the worm),  OR

Ridi che la mamma ha fatto gli gnocchi – Ironic expression which means keep on laughing (even if you think there’s nothing funny to laugh at)

Last Thursday was INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY, a UNESCO initiative observed annually on 21st February promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Linguistic analysts predict up to 50 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages may be in danger of disappearing by the end of this century. Australian Indigenous languages top the threatened list with only 20 of the original 250 still widely spoken. Once lost, they will be gone forever.

I sometimes wonder whether the regional dialect I speak with my mother and her friends will survive. When I cook Italian dishes I occasionally hear my mother’s voice in my head, speaking in dialect, saying something like “these potatoes are so watery they might ruin the gnocchi”.

These exchanges about food resonate so strongly with me and if I hadn’t learnt Italian, I’d be so disappointed that I’d be … hitting the sauce. In English.

See also Aidan Wilson’s International Mother Language piece in Crikey (Fully sic)


It’s all about The Cup of Cino

February 9, 2013

It’s never too early to plan for your dotage.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered my disparate collection of ceramic coffee cups in anticipation of the day I breathe a sigh of relief at not having to compete with younger, louder café patrons and just entertain my friends and their Zimmer frames at home.

This frenzied stocktake was brought on by a guest blog post I contributed last week to the Italian Language Blog where I reminisced about my family’s in-house afternoon coffee catchups.

I also tut-tuted at the increasing use of the disposable cup – sometimes seen in the popular ‘bucket size’, rushing down the street with a human sucking from its plastic lid. That can’t be pleasant, surely, and not only diminishes the coffee drinking experience but also contributes to ever-increasing landfill. (In Australia alone, 500 million disposable cups are thrown away every year – each one taking up to 50 years to biodegrade.)

If I save only ONE person from ever drinking good coffee from a paper cup again my job here is done. Would you really drink a good wine from a plastic tumbler? No. You’d take Danny Kaye’s advice and admit that “the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” (The Court Jester, 1955).


Read fullLanguage of Coffee’ post:

Related posts about coffee:

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