Sunday, November 1, 2009

Of Grammar and Graffiti

Yesterday was the last day of my weeklong Italian language class. As usual during the mid-morning break, the various classes all convened at a caffe down the street. It’s one of the nice things about the school and the one at which I most excelled. At that point we were presented with certificates showing that we had completed the course. I now have a Certificate of Participation from the Madrelingua Scuola. Now aren’t you impressed ? I got up in the caffe and made a thank-you speech: "Thank you teachers and colleagues. You don’t win a Certificate of Participation all by yourself. I would like to thank the driver of Bus 13 for conveying me to school. Thank you to the chair and table in the classroom for enabling me to be comfortable once I showed up and last but not least, special shout-outs go to the laws of physics which provided me with the mass and surface area I needed to take up space in the room. ” Well, I didn’t actually make this speech but I wish I had. I mean a certificate for showing up ? How lame is that ? Unfortunately the word for "participation” in Italian looks pretty much like English except for a spare z and e. So this diploma, complete with my name in calligraphy, will be impressive to nobody.

This week I negotiated the vast waters of the intermediate level of Italian. These are the waters in which the majority of students tread once they get past the basics. There they struggle for quite some time as it is quite a long swim to reach the shores of Advanced level. Anyway, I studied the past and present congiuntivo, the subjunctive. There is very little to compare it to in English, but it is essentially used for sentences in which doubt is expressed. So, this week I learned about the many shades of doubt. There’s present tense doubt as in: “It seems to me that one of your earlobes is bigger than the other.” There’s past-tense doubt: “Yesterday when we dined at the trattoria it seemed to me that it would be a mistake to ask for ketchup with the veal.” The subjunctive is also used for hypothetical statements : “If people would manage to get their trash into the dumpsters it would not be so obvious that Friday is fish night.” And finally there is the subjunctive reserved for the impossible: “If the city of Bologna were to clean up its rampant graffitti, the perpetrators would see the error of their ways and never deface the buildings again.”

Which brings me to a painful subject. The graffiti in Bologna is everywhere and it is heartbreaking. We have been in a lot of cities during our stay, including Rome. Bologna has the worst graffiti problem we have seen anywhere. This isn't Street Art we're talking about, although I am sure I would hate that too. What we see around here is somebody who feels compelled to write his (or her, let’s be fair) initials on the wall of a gorgeous sixteenth century porticoed building. It isn't a lot of writing--just a couple initials--but just enough to bring about some instant ugliness. The poverty of expression is as depressing as the frequency. Here we have these buildings with lovingly carved capitals on the column and bas reliefs. Some of the facades and ceilings beneath the porticoes are painted with decorative motifs. Who can say how long something like this took the craftsmen whose names we’ll never know ? On my way to school I see a group of workmen restoring some massive columns, essentially sculpting the missing bits with plaster compounds. I see that it has taken them weeks—and that’s just to make repairs. It is mindboggling that somebody would damage the results with pathetic scrawls: a couple of initials, maybe bit of profanity. In some neighborhoods there is a six- foot wide band of graffiti, from the ground to a height convenient for the miscreants, which extends across five or six buildings in succession. If only they would just pee on the walls instead…but I suppose they’re doing that too.


german said...

QUALITY I really like this blog, now im not 1 for adding links in my replies but I feel this is a great exception, this reminds me of some similar stuff by graffiti artist “SER” at his a great graffiti artist form London and has many different styles. There are a few more good graffiti artists on the site called Graffiti Kings that graffiti bedrooms, night clubs & everything else “wink wink” lol.

Veectoria said...

I love "shout-outs to the laws of physics" !