Passionately involved in politics for more than half a century, Mario Quattrucci (b. Velletri, 1936) writes “storie tinte di giallo e rosso (stories tinged with yellow and red)” (the color yellow is associated with mystery novels in Italy and red is indicative of his membership in the Italian Communist Party). In 2010, Robin Edizioni published Quattrucci’s ninth and final “story” featuring Inspector Gigi Marè, the author’s alter ego, with the intentionally Gaddian title Fattacci brutti a via del Boschetto: L’ultima inchiesta di Marè (Ugly Misdeeds on Boschetto Street: Marè’s Last Investigation).
The novel recounts the “fatti e fattacci (literally, ‘facts and nasty facts’)” that shock the inhabitants of Rione Monti, Rome’s oldest and now most elegant and vibrant neighborhood, in the period between Christmas and the New Year. First, a young man is stabbed and thrown from the wall on Via degli Annibaldi, and then Peppe Dell’Arco, a famous artist and er majorengo (Ital. il primo; Eng. the most distinguished member) of the Rione, is found shot in the head in his studio-gallery, a necklace ripped from his neck and his beloved childhood Pinocchio toy overturned on his body. When the official police investigation fails to produce a killer, Inspector Marè, a lifelong friend of the artist, recruits his giornalist niece Flavia Pasti and private investigator Marq Antoni to help him uncover who, in the words of Dell’Arco, had betrayed him in the days leading up to his death. The array of suspects spans the Italian peninsula: from the artist’s closest friends and business associates in Rome, to the Mafia and Camorra in the South, and even to the governing elite in the North.
This diverse cast of characters speaks a range of Italian varieties and dialects including Napolitano (Neapolitan), Siciliano (Siciliano), Veneto (Venetan) and, of course, Romanesco, which is the dialect of Rome. Interestingly, Quattrucci takes great pains to show that Romanesco, like so many of the characters in the text, has been corrupted, in part to reflect his contention that this dialect has evolved so dramatically that it can no longer be considered Romanesco, and particularly that of Roman poets Giuseppe Giocchino Belli (1791-1863) and Mauro Marè (1935-1993). Instead, Quattrucci contends that contemporary Romans and Italians of all classes speak Romanese, a modern form of the dialect that arose in Italy owing to the influence of the language spoken by Roman actors such as Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Gigi Magni and Vittorio Gassman in Italian TV shows and films of the 1950’s.
To set the Romanesco apart from the Romanese in the text, Quattrucci calls attention to Romanesco words and phrases in footnotes. The following are a few of the more compelling terms for historical and humorous reasons:
maganzese (Ital. traditore; Eng. traitor): This word derives from the Italian name for the German town of Mainz, i.e., “Maganza,” which was the hometown of the knight Gano (Ganleon) who betrayed Charlemagne’s army to the Muslims, leading to the Battle of Ronceveaux Pass. Owing to Ganleon’s traitorous act, which is famously documented in the chanson de geste “La chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland),” Dante’s Inferno, The Canterbury Tales, and in Italian Renaissance epic poem romances, there is a legend which asserts that all people who derive from Mainz are dishonest.
raccapezzare li stracci (Ital. raccogliere gli stracci; Eng. to gather rags): The verb “raccapezzare” is associated with the stracciaroli (Ital. stracciaioli; Eng. rag sellers), who pick through refuse to salvage rags, and means “to gather something together, with effort, by searching for it piece by piece.” This phrase is used figuratively to mean “scoprire qualcosa (Eng. to find out or discover something).”
mammozio (Ital. bamboccione; Eng. adult male who acts like a child): This noun comes from the Latin adjective “mammosus,” which means “large-breasted.” The Italian equivalent, “bamboccione,” is the augmentative of “bambino (baby),” so it means “big baby,” both literally and figuratively. Given the intended Latin meaning, however, the best English translation of this term when it’s used to refer to a man acting childishly would be “big boob.”
As with the Romanesco, Quattrucci calls attention the Romanese in the text, typically by pointing it out in the narration. The following excerpt is one of the more interesting from a linguistic standpoint because the author combines Romanesco, Romanese and Roman youth jargon:
Insomma — per usare adesso eloquio romanese più recente commisto a più antico e nobile e belliano dire — ner vedesse vicino quer pezzo de paciocca j’attizò na somma, se sentì a rota, e come fosse schizzato de nutella, j’aveva spiattellato: “Ezia, sei una grande gnocca, anzi un trancio de sesso, e io pe’ questo, se pur ‘io t’aristurbo, ciò na gran voja de ‘nzuppà l’agnello…”. Ma no…! Ma cosa scrivi…? Questa è vulgata di gergo di neo-romano giovanese trucida e blasfema, roba da giuvenotti strafatti di cacca e flashati di molto…
(In other words — to now use more recent Romanese speech mixed with older and nobler and more Bellian talk — upon seeing that nice piece of plump ass so near to him, he got massively aroused, he felt like he was in withdrawal, and as if he were hopped up on Nutella, he had blurted out: “Ezia, you’re a big tasty treat, a slice of sex pie, and so I, if I’m not bothering you or anything, I’d really like to hide the snake….” No…! What are you writing…? This is the coarse and profane vernacular of neo-Romanese youth jargon, the stuff of young people strung out on crap and very whacked out…)
Of course, not all of the Roman language in the text is strictly identified as either Romanesco or Romanese. The following phrases are evocative of Rome both in terms of language and content:
li gattucci hanno operto li occhi (Ital. i gattucci hanno aperto gli occhi; Eng. the kittens have opened their eyes, i.e., you’re not fooling anyone)
— Lello — dissi: — guarda che li gattucci è già da un pezzo che hann’operto l’occhi: è inutile che fai il finto tonto: se sai qualcosa dilla e metti in pace con te stesso.
(— Lello — I said: — look, you haven’t been fooling anyone for some time now: it’s pointless for you to play dumb: if you know something, say it and make peace with yourself.)
andare all’arberi pizzuti (Ital. andare agli alberi pizzuti; Eng. to go to the pointed trees, i.e., the cypress trees common in Roman cemeteries)
Chi nun more s’arivede: e che aspettavi pe venì, che me n’annassi all’arberi pizzuti?
(Long time no see: and what were you waiting for to come, for me to go to the pointed trees?)
pigliare un tantino de cicoria (Ital. prendere un tantino di cicoria; Eng. to take a bit of chicory, i.e., to swallow a bitter pill)
Be’, come si dice a Roma, aveva pigliato un tantino de cicoria.
(Well, as we say in Rome, she had swallowed a bitter pill.)
THE FLAVOR OF ROME
Also of interest is the non-dialectal language pertaining to contemporary Roman culture. The following Italian words and phrases — with borrowings from French and English — are a few of the more appealing examples from the novel:
stare una mousse (Eng. to be a mousse, i.e., to be just peachy)
Ezia, dunque, in quel bel Santo Stefano di Roma, per dirla invece con quelli di un altro romanese ambiente, stava ‘na mousse.
(Ezia, then, on that beautiful Saint Stefano holiday in Rome, to say it instead like those of another Romanese environment, was just peachy.)
bella (Eng. literally beautiful but used as a greeting meaning hello or hi)
— Bella, Giò — lo salutò. E a me rivolto: — Giovancarlo è un amico.
(— Hello, Joe — he greeted him. And turned to me: — John Charles is a friend.)
sciottino (Eng. derived from the English word shot with the Italian diminutive –ino (little), a popular drink in Roman pubs and bars consisting of lemon granita and vodka)
— Io prendo uno sciottino — disse, — e tu?
(— I’ll take a sciottino — he said — and you?)
A PARTICULARLY ROMAN IMAGE
Although Quattrucci incorporates a tremendous amount of the history, politics and culture of Rome into the novel, one of my favorite passages involves a simple reference to Rome’s cats and the women who care for them:
Così come sto […] …più solo di un gatto del Colosseo… il quale peraltro non è solo pe gnente, cià un arem de gatte e una combriccola de gatti, nonché gattare che je portano er cenone.
(So, I’m […] …more alone than a Colosseum cat… which, moreover, is not at all alone, he has a harem of female cats and a band of male cats, not to mention cat ladies who bring him Christmas Eve dinner.)
Note: If you’d like to learn more about Romanesco, check out the “Introduzione al dialetto Romanesco (Introduction to the Romanesco Dialect).” This introduction provides a brief but concise summary of the main morphosyntactic features of Romanesco. There is also information about the modern dialect, which is, of course, what Quattrucci calls “Romanese.”
In Translation: Unfortunately, Mario Quattrucci’s mysteries are not available in translation. In all honesty, it would be difficult for the translator to capture the wide array of dialects, varieties and forms of Italian that appear in Quattrucci’s texts. Maybe this is why no one, as of yet, has taken on this daunting translation challenge.
On Facebook: Mario Quattrucci has a Facebook page, but he’s not a frequest poster. When he does write posts, however, these tend to be more reflective of his passion for politics than of his career as a mystery novelist (not that the two aren’t related).