Gabriella Genisi’s (b. Bari, 1965) writing is nothing short of sensational, and her character Inspector Lolita Lobosco is certainly no exception. Inspired by Andrea Camilleri’s mercurial Sicilian Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Lolita — Lolì or Lolli to her friends and colleagues — is a divorced 36 year-old Sophia Loren lookalike with a kind heart, a sharp tongue and a lustful nature (for men but mainly for food, especially fruit). The buxom and boisterous Lolì has appeared in two novels to date, La circonferenza delle arance (The Circumference of Oranges) (Sonzogno, 2010) and Giallo ciliegia (Cherry Mystery) (Sonzogno, 2011), both of which are aptly described as “noir pieno di colori (noir full of colors)” for the vibrant images they evoke of Southern Italy in the midst of mystery.
In Giallo ciliegia (Cherry Mystery), Inspector Lolita is in a dark mood despite the splendid summer sun and turquoise blue sea of her native Bari. Her on-again, off-again relationship with Stefano is definitely off again, and her male colleagues at the police station are bombarding her with sexist banter in light of her newly single status. To make things worse, Bari is rife with tension because the city’s beloved son, Antonio Cassano, has been unfairly excluded from the Italian national soccer team for the 2010 World Cup, and Lolì is being persistently followed by two women who seem reluctant to approach her. Relying on her feminine intuition, she tracks down the women, Gesuina and Ninetta, in Bari Vecchia (Old Bari) where she learns that Gesuina’s only son, Sabino Lavermicocca, has gone missing. Suspecting a fujtina (Ital. fuga d’amore; Eng. lovers’ flight), Lolita turns to Facebook to find the young man. The investigation into Sabino’s disappearance leads Lolita from Bari to Montenegro and Brazil, and the solution is far blacker than she could have ever imagined despite its curious connection to the color cherry red.
The language of Giallo ciliegia is as colorful as the story itself. Genisi has a fresh and playful linguistic style that highlights common features of everyday discourse. Generally speaking, her language is a complex artistic rendering of regional Italian as it is spoken in the Bari area. In addition to regionalisms and dialect terms, she incorporates (with hilarious effect) morphosyntactic and phonological representations of speech such as syntactic doubling (see below) and approximations of the Italian pronunciation of foreign or unfamiliar words. One of the most innovative and entertaining aspects of Genisi’s language is her use of univerbation to reflect the flair of local speech. Even her colloquialisms tend to be as vivid and unique as the character Lolita herself.
The regional Italian spoken in Bari belongs to the broader category of language spoken in the regions of Puglia and Basilicata. Most of the regionalisms in Giallo ciliegia, however, are specific to the people and cuisine and of Bari and the surrounding area.
topini (Ital. borseggiatori; Eng. purse snatchers, but literally little mice)
Uno di quelli della zona che qui a Bari vengono chiamati topini, e che se te ne trovi uno alle spalle, ti conviene stare accorto.
(One of those from the area that here in Bari are called little mice, and that if you find one at your back, you had better beware.)
sgagliozze di Bari Vecchia
scarcelle (Barese: scarcedd)
The dialetto barese (or dialètte barése) is spoken in Bari, central Puglia and parts of Basilicata. Giallo ciliegia contains a considerable amount of Barese. As indicated by some of the phrases in the text, when the dialect is used, it is often mixed with Italian.
frissola (Ital. padella; Eng. frying pan)
Mi avevi pure invitato a mangiare una pizza, e invece non solo ci ritroviamo a sudare in questa frissola, come dite voi baresi, ma stiamo appiccicati ai giapponesi.
(You’d even invited me to eat a pizza, and instead not only do we find ourselves sweating in this frying pan, as you Baresi say, but we’re stuck to the Japanese).
zagna (Ital. coatta; Eng. deviant)
Che roba è zagna? Mai sentito.
Ah già, tu sei settentrionale. Ogni tanto me lo scordo. Una coatta nostrana, diciamo.
(What is this zagna? Never heard it.
Oh, yeah, you’re a northerner. Every once in a while I forget. A local deviant, let’s say.)
àma dà le scàffe alle marànge fin’ a che non devèndene ròsse
(Ital. ama dare le schiaffe alle arance fino a che non diventano rosse; Eng. she loves to slap oranges until they become red, meaning that she loves to push her point to extremes)
Ma Lolita è un osso duro, e come si dice dalle parti mie, àma dà le scàffe alle marànge fin’ a che non devèndene ròsse.
(But Lolita is a tough one, and as we say in these parts, she loves to slap oranges until they turn red.)
One of the most surprising elements of Genisi’s language is the representation of syntactic doubling (Ital. raddoppiamento sintattico). This phenomenon occurs in standard Italian and in many dialects and can essentially be described as the lengthening of a word-initial consonant that follows a stressed vowel.
a’pparlare co’vvoi (Ital. a parlare con voi; Eng. to speak with you)
Madonnasanta, noi alla Questura, signorì? Nientemeno, e quando mai!? A’pparlare co’vvoi!?
(Holymother, us at Police Headquarters, miss? Are you kidding, and why would we ever do that? To speak with you!?)
eggesù / comm’avvoi (Ital. e gesù; Eng. and Jesus / Ital. come voi; Eng: like you)
Eggesù commissà, una femmina istruita comm’avvoi!
(And Jesus, Inspector, an educated woman like you!)
These are one of my favorite literary devices! Presumably, Genisi uses approximations in Giallo ciliegia both to underscore Italian pronunciation of foreignisms and Inspector Lolita’s lack of familiarity with social media. Because these terms are unfamiliar to Lolita, she hears them as they would be spelled in Italian. Too funny!
ciàtt’ (Ital. chat; Eng. chat or chatroom)
Perché tutte le notti quando mia madre e la bambina si addormentavano, io e mio fratello parlavamo nella ciàtt’
(Because every night when my mother and the baby fell asleep, my brother and I would talk in the chat).
Feisbùc / Badù (Eng. Facebook / Badoo [an Italian social media site])
Tenete presente Feisbùc, Badù, e quelle cose lì?
(You know Facebook, Badoo and those things?)
One of the most distinctive aspects of Genisi’s style is her creation of compound words, a phenomenon known as univerbation. These compounds not only reflect the rate of speech of the Bari area, but also a certain linguistic flamboyance.
nientepocodimenocché (Ital. niente poco di meno che; Eng. none other than)
Tra i primi contatti, messaggi di uomini in cerca di consolazione dopo il Mondiale perduto per sempre, ma poi a chiedere di chattare con me è nientepocodimenocché Sabino Cassano Lavermicocca.
(Among the first contacts, messages from men in search of consolation after the World Cup lost forever, but then to ask to chat with me is noneotherthan Sabino Cassano Lavermicocca.)
pannaeciliegia (Ital. panna e ciliegia; Eng. cream and cherry)
E così cammino fino al mare gustando con calma la pallina cremosa e facendo ben attenzione che le gocce fucsia di pannaeciliegia non mi macchino la divisa.
(And so I walk to the sea calmly tasting the creamy little ball and paying careful attention that the fuschia drops of creamandcherry don’t stain my uniform.
Colloquial speech is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Italian language because it’s so reflective of contemporary culture. In this respect, Giallo ciliegia is simply bursting with local flavor (you’ve gotta love the imagery of the oranges!).
tivubì (a neologism for tvb [Eng. ilu], which is chat language for Ital. ti voglio bene; Eng. I love you )
Che dici? Sì? Occhei, Lolì? Tivubì!!!
(What do you say? Yes? Okay, Lolì? Ayelyu!!!)
mi avete rotto le arance (Lolita’s version of Ital. mi avete rotto le palle; Eng. you busted my balls, but in this case, you busted my oranges)
Antò, che mi avete rotto le arance si è capito abbondantemente, ma almeno statti zitto, che state diventando la barzelletta della Questura, state!
(Tony, that you’ve busted my oranges is abundantly clear, but shut up at least, because you’re becoming the joke of Police Headquarters, you are!)
There is so much more going on linguistically in Giallo ciliegia than this one post could contain: slang, profanity, youth jargon, chat language, legalese (I could go on and on). So if you want to see authentic, rich and warm Italian language in context, then look no further than the Inspector Lolita Lobosco series. And while you’re reading, have fun collecting the many references to oranges and especially cherries in the text, not to mention Lolli’s amazing recipes in the back of the book!
Note: I love the fact that Lolita sometimes thinks in Sicilian, using terms that are strongly associated in the Italian psyche with Inspector Montalbano like minchia (Ital. cazzo; Eng. dick) and cabbasisi (Ital. palle; Eng. balls). After years of reading the Montalbano series, I do this too (and I’m American!). Hilariously, now that I’ve read Giallo ciliegia, I find myself mentally uttering Lolitaisms, specifically Ummadonnasanta (Ohholymother) and Gesucristosanto (Holyjesuschrist), whenever I deem appropriate. And of course I think them as one word.
In Translation: Genisi’s work has yet to be translated, which is a crying shame. With so much going on linguistically in the Inspector Lolì books, only a highly skilled translator like Stephen Sartorelli, who does the English translations of the Inspector Montalbano series, could do them justice.
On Facebook: Gabriella Genisi is very accessible to her fans via Facebook. In fact, I used Facebook to contact her about this post. I really like her page because in addition to chatting with readers (and other writers), she posts terrific quotes from her favorite authors, information about cultural events in and around Bari, pictures of her kids, and much more. So personable!
On Television: Inspector Lolita Lobosco is coming to Italian TV (RAI 1) in 2013. The word on the street is that there will be 6 to 8 movies featuring the lovely Lolita (portrayed by Italian actress Micaela Rammazzotti), which is great news because it means that we can look forward to more books! By the way, the third novel in the Inspector Lolì series, Uva Noir (Noir Grape) is coming out this month.
Personal Note: I’m forever beholden to Gabriella Genisi for graciously granting me an interview (coming soon). I’m in awe of her writing, and finding out that she is every bit as wonderful as her books was Iike the cherry on the cake (I know, I know. A cherry reference. I just couldn’t resist!).