Matteo Bortolotti (b. 1980, Bologna) is an author and scriptwriter who defines himself as “il primo personaggio cross-mediale italiano (the first cross-media Italian personality)” because you can read, watch, and listen to his mysteries. How? Bortolotti has created a “personaggio totale (total character),” a fictional mystery writer also named Matteo Bortolotti who operates outside of the books he’s featured in. This fictional Matteo Bortolotti has a blog called “Professione Mistero (Profession Mystery),” participates in social networks and is the protagonist of the prize-winning Il mistero della loggia perduta (The Mystery of the Lost Lodge) (Felici Editore, 2012). Why? In homage to Ellery Queen and, my favorite, Jessica Fletcher!
The fictional Matteo Bortolotti can be distinguished from the real Matteo Bortolotti in two ways. First, he always wears a Hawaiian shirt and a green apple–colored jacket (Love it!). And second, he serves as an unpaid “ghost-detective” for aging police chief Tindaro Abate, who learned that he has Alzheimer’s Disease and secretly asked Bortolotti to help him with his investigations so that he doesn’t have to resign from the Police Department just one year away from retirement.
In Il mistero della loggia perduta, Bortolotti must help Chief Abate solve the murder of Ubaldo “Duccio” Forzeschi, a butler who was a member of a Masonic Lodge. At the scene of the crime, Bortolotti and Abate find a treasure map to a lost Masonic Lodge, but they only have until noon the next day to locate the treasure and solve the mystery. Further complicating the case is the puzzling discovery that Forzeschi was killed not once but three times. Or was he?
As I’m sure you can tell from the above description, Il mistero della loggia perduta is an extremely fun read—not just in terms of the content but also the language. There is a little bit of everything in this book, from varieties of Italian to sound effects to the Great Pumpkin (Yes, Charlie Brown fans, you read that right!).
Regional Italian is real Italian and therefore the best Italian of all. Fortunately, Bortolotti incorporates some really colorful regionalisms into his text, two of which come from Bologna and Sicily, respectively. (Incidentally, I can’t read “minchia” without thinking of Salvo Montalbano.)
indormentato (an Italianization of the Romagnolo dialect verb indurminter; Ital. addormentato; Eng. fell asleep)
Sta vedere che Manlio si è indormentato ancora una volta…
I’ll bet that Manlio has fallen asleep again…
minchia (a Sicilian dialect term that has entered into the Italian spoken in Sicily and the South; Ital. cazzo; Eng. dick, but frequently used to mean fuck)
Matt! Che minchia di giornata!
Matt! What a fucking day!
STANDARD ITALIAN He also emphasizes certain features of standard Italian in his writing, including the subjunctive mood and diminutives. Btw, he’s very attached to the subjunctive but hates diminutives (personally, I think they’re cute).
dormiva vs. dormisse (Eng. he was sleeping in the indicative and the subjunctive moods, respectively)
Sovrintendente Rimbaldi: “… Probabile che il Forzeschi dormiva, e il cuore non ha retto.”
Bortolotti: “Probabile che il Forzeschi dormisse!” insorge Matteo, continuando a esaminare la vittima. “Il congiuntivo non l’hanno ancora ammazzato…”
Superintendent Rimbaldi: “It’s likely that Forzeschi was sleeping, and his heart couldn’t handle it.”
Bortolotti: “It’s likely that Forzeschi was sleeping!” Matteo protests, continuing to examine the victim. “They still haven’t killed the subjunctive…”
puoi vs. possa (Eng. you can in the indicative and the subjunctive moods, respectively)
Ispettore Miglietta: “Sembra un meccanismo a incastro, se sbagli non è detto che poi puoi riprovare…”
Bortolotti: “Non è detto che poi possa riprovare!” lo scrittore ringhia in faccia a Miglietta. “Ho altre cose a cui pensare, oltre ai vostri congiuntivi!”
Inspector Miglietta: “It seems like a joint mechanism; if you make a mistake, there’s no guarantee you can try again…” Bortolotti: “There’s no guarantee you can try again!” the writer growls in Miglietta’s face. “I have others things to think about, besides your subjunctives!”
scrittorino (Ital. scrittore + –ino; Eng. writer + little, meaning little writer in a disparaging sense)
Vuoi trovare la Loggia dei Morti e sfidare la leggenda, scrittorino?
You want to find the Lodge of the Dead and challenge the legend, little writer?
poliziottini (Ital. poliziotti + –ino; Eng. policemen + little, meaning little policemen in a disparaging sense)
I comici si sono messi a fare politica, i giornalisti si sono messi a fare i comici, i politici fanno i romanzieri… e ora i romanzieri si mettono a fare i poliziottini…
Comedians have started doing politics, journalists have started becoming comedians, the police are becoming novelists… and now the novelists are starting to become little policemen…
Italian has a lot of verbs that have been created from English terms, and Bortolotti includes two of the more hilarious examples in his text.
craccato (past participle of the Ital. craccare; from the Eng. to crack)
Hai craccato il telefono dei tipi poco raccomandabili che mi stanno inseguendo?
Did you crack the telephone of the ne’er do wells that are following me?
bluffato (past participle of the Ital. bluffare; from the Eng. to bluff)
Il signor Forzeschi con voi ha bluffato.
Mr. Forzeschi bluffed you.
SOCIAL NETWORK TERMS
Another noticeable feature of Bortolotti’s writing are references to social media. I’m particularly fond of the Facebook reference.
sms (Abbreviation for the Eng. Short Message Service, which is used to mean text in Italy)
Quando sai qualcosa della banca mandami un sms.
When you know something from the bank send me a text.
mi piace (Eng. Like on Facebook)
Penso che Dio ci cliccherebbe un mi piace, se ci riuscissimo…
I think that God would click a Like, if we succeeded…
Univerbation, the process of making a single word out of a phrase, is one of the coolest things I’ve seen Italian authors do. I was very happy to see it in Il mistero della loggia perduta.
chissenefrega (Ital. chi se ne frega; Eng. who gives a damn, written as whogivesadamn)
“Chissenefrega dell’insonnia, bortolò! Hanno ammazzato uno, non vedi?” Rambaldi scuote la testa emettendo un suolo simile a quello di un frullatore che gira a vuoto.
“Whogivesadamn about insomnia, Bortolò? They killed someone, don’t you see?” Rambaldi shakes his head emitting a sound similar to that of a blender that is turning when it’s empty.
cristodellamadonna (Ital. cristo della madonna; literally, Christ of the Madonna, but used to mean something like a holy commotion)
Lo sai che in via Ugo Bossi è successo un cristodellamadonna?
Do you know that on Via Ugo Bossi a holycommotion happened?
If you’ve ever wondered what an Italian cat says, then Bortolotti is your man. It’s also interesting to see how Italians say “Ta-da!”
miao (Eng. meow)
Miao. Lo scrittore sente miagolare nella testa.
Meow. The writer hears meowing in his head.
ta dan (Eng. ta-da or ta-dah)
“Ta dan!” esclama mostrandolo e facendo un piccolo inchino, tenendo l’altra mano dietro la schiena come fosse un autore che saluta la sua platea.
“Ta da!” he exclaims showing him and taking a small bow, keeping his other hand behind his back as though he were an author who was saluting his audience.
BEST CULTURAL REFERENCES
Any writer who cites Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is all right by me. But Charlie Brown too? All in the same book? I’m a lifelong fan.
Apriti Sesamo (Eng. Open Sesame)
“Non sono mica Alì Baba! Cosa dovrei fare?” chiede indispettito. “Dire Abracadabra? Apriti Sesamo? Non funziona!”
“It’s not like I’m Ali Baba! What should I do?” he asks annoyed. “Say Abracadabra? Open Sesame? It doesn’t work!”
Grande Cocomero (Eng. literally, Great Watermelon, but used to mean the Great Pumpkin)
“Grande Cocomero!” sbotta lo scrittore rompendo il silenzio. “Fai finta di niente, lavora! Mi stanno seguendo, devo nascondermi…”
“Great Pumpkin!” the writer bursts out, breaking the silence. “Pretend like nothing’s happening, work! They’re following me, I have to hide…”
Concluding Remarks: There are so many great linguistic features in this book that I just can’t capture them all in a single post. But if I had to pick my favorite language-related thing about Il mistero della loggia perduta, it would be this: Within the span of three pages, Bortolotti uses the English words thug, zombie and cowboy, and earlier in the book he works in clown, gargoyle and hipster. I mean, that’s impressive for any book, much less one that is written in Italian. Oh, Bortolotti hates zombies too (and I couldn’t agree more).
On the Internet: Bortolotti is all over the Internet and social media. I absolutely implore you to visit his website, which is truly a blast—particularly the “booktrailer” for Il mistero della loggia perduta. And you won’t want to miss his Facebook page for Matteo Bortolotti (Giacca Verde). You’ve gotta admire his style.
On Film: Il mistero della loggia perduta hasn’t been made into a movie—at least not yet. But Bortolotti has co-written a soon-to-be-released film called AmeriQua (AmeriHere) about a college kid (Bobbie Kennedy III) who has been cut off by his rich parents and then gets robbed on his first day in Italy. It looks like a total riot, and it’s in English, and it has Alec Baldwin. Did I mention that he’s also written TV screenplays for famous Italian mystery writer Carlo Lucarelli? Really, people, is there nothing Bortolotti and his total character can’t do?
Other Books: Interestingly, Bortolotti has written other books besides Il mistero della loggia perduta, but they’re hard to identify because he often uses a pen name. Typically, he uses a woman’s name, but he asks that you not judge him for it (Seriously, though, Matteo. Laura del Fiore [Laura of the Flower]?). Check out the “Belle Storie” section of his website for a complete bibliography of his works in the names that he wrote them.
Note: Stay tuned for my upcoming interview with Bortolotti. This should be good.