Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Lucky number

André Vingt-Trois is archbishop of Paris, one of twenty-three archbishops in France. He is also now one of twenty-three new cardinals named by the Pope.

Wonder if he'd have known the answer to this:

Q. Pagliacci is one of my favorite operas, and I plan to see it at the Met this season. One thing about it confuses me, though: Tonio bangs his drum and invites the villagers to the show “a ventitre ore.” He even repeats this a few times, and on high notes, so I know it’s important. Now, I know that translates as “23 hours.” I also know that 23 hours means 11 P.M. Wasn’t that a little late for a clown show to begin? Shouldn’t the kids have been in bed by then?

A. If that’s the most perplexing question you have about Italian opera, you’re in pretty good shape. A show might well start at 11 P.M. in Madrid, but in rural Calabria? Before electricity? As it turns out, many places in Italy marked time the old-fashioned way until clocks were standardized in the 20th century. And by “old-fashioned,” I mean biblically old-fashioned, as in starting the clock at sunset. “Ventitre ore,” therefore, meant an hour before sunset – a perfectly respectable time for the kids to come to the show and witness a double murder

In French, kings and popes are identified by cardinal not ordinal numbers. Thus Pope John XXIII (John the Twenty-Third) - is Jean Vingt-Trois.

These cardinal numbers are not of course used for archbishops (or even for cardinals!), but this doesn't stop the International Herald Tribune - and many others - referring to the Archbishop of Paris as André XXIII, implying 22 predecessors of the same name.

According to this website, the most likely source of the new cardinal's curious surname is an ancestor's order of arrival at an orphanage:
Enfin, au début du XXe siècle, l'Assistance publique recommandait d'identifier les enfants en fonction de leur ordre d'arrivée à l'orphelinat, ce chiffre devenant leur nom de famille. C'est cette dernière hypothèse qui prévaut pour Mgr Vingt-trois, l'actuel archevêque de Paris
Numeric French surnames appear to go up to twenty-four.

Earlier post on surname patterns.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Big Lucy

Just as Italy is known as the bel paese (see previous post), France is sometimes referred to as the grande nation. At least by Germans it seems to be. Or rather it seems to Germans that it is referred to as such by the French but this is not actually so.

I get 18,000 plus google hits for "die grande nation" site:de and less than 1,000 for "la grande nation" site:fr.

The Germans tend to use the expression ironically, to mock the delusions of grandeur they attribute to the French.

The French however don't ever seem to refer to themselves as the grande nation and use the term if at all only in the specific historical context of the Napoleonic era.

I am not the first to notice this, I find:
In Frankreich ist die Formulierung "La Grande Nation" nahezu unbekannt. Der Franzose spricht von "la nation", von "la republique", von "la patrie" oder auch von "l"hexagon" - dem Sechseck. Wer "grande nation" ausschließlich auf deutschen Seiten googelt, findet 276 000 eindeutige Belege. Wer nur auf französischsprachigen Seiten sucht, bekommt bloß 175 000 - aber da ist dann auch "die große Nation der Algonkin- Indianer" dabei.
Apart from the fact that the French don't actually refer to France as the grande nation, there is I think another misconception at play here arising from the ambiguity of the word grand (or groß). From what I gather, the historical grande nation was grand as in big and inclusive rather than as in superior. The same sense as found in the expression grand marché for the EU concept of a single market transcending national frontiers (now more commonly referred to as the marché unique or marché intérieur).

In English, the distinction is usually clear because great is used for excellence and big for size. Except in certain set expressions and proper names e.g. Great Britain, where great means big (originally to distinguish Britain from Brittany, both being Britannia/Bretagne), but which a long line of British military successes led some to reinterpret as meaning superior.

Speaking of Great Britain and/or the United Kingdom, some of my British colleagues at the EU institutions get quite irritated by the common practice among continental Europeans (and others) of referring to GB or the UK as England, Angleterre etc. But lookee here:
The correct and careful use of such terms as "United Kingdom" in any context other than the strictly legal is a recent development, dating from about the 1930s, when modern Scottish nationalism became a live political issue. Anything written before that date, even by historians, is likely to use "England". Disraeli famously signed the 1878 Treaty of Berlin as "Prime Minister of England", to the dismay of his Foreign Office advisers. And A.J.P. Taylor, in the preface to his volume of the "Oxford History of England", published in 1965, had to point out that "when the Oxford History was launched a generation ago 'England' was still an all-embracing word. It meant indiscriminately England and Wales, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and even the British Empire." As a result of this, the usual term in most foreign languages has always been "England", and will probably continue to be so for some time yet
So the despised practice has quite a pedigree. Like saying Burma for Myanmar perhaps...

It is not always easy to know when grand is great and when it's just big. When Bernard Laporte, French rugby coach, says of his team, 'ce soir, nous avons été grands, comme le président de la République', then if you didn't know he was so cosy with the Pres (who's not the tallest) you might think he was being a little sarky.

English should be clearer but non-natives do sometimes get big and great confused. Luciano Pavarotti was renowned for bringing his art to a wider public than would ever frequent an opera house and many of these low-brows tended to be more impressed by his embonpoint than his high Cs. Thus he came to be jocularly known as Big Lucy (or even Fat Lucy). One or two in the Italian media mistook this big for grande in the sense of great (i.e. 'Big Lucy' = il grande Luciano) and when defending Pavarotti from his many detractors in his home country would cite this rather derogatory nickname as evidence of the high esteem in which he was held by the anglosassoni, who of course are arbiters of all things.

Here is the late maestro, singing the part of Nemorino at the Met in 1981.
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah! Cielo, si può, si può morir......

Monday, October 08, 2007


Bel paese (dove il sì non suona)

As reported in a recent post, it appears the British are now the cooks of Europe so in terms of the old joke we must have died and gone to hell. Here in hell, it seems, Italian opera is not sung in Italian:
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the homegrown playwright Carlo Goldoni's birth, La Fenice opera house decided to throw a very lavish birthday celebration: it commissioned an opera ...

One controversy surrounding the new opera: the libretto, oddly, is in English, a choice that irritated some critics. "Here we are at the Fenice reliving Goldoni's theater with subtitles," sniffed one snide review in the daily Il Giornale
Here is that snide review:
Carlo Goldoni compie trecent'anni, e nella sua Venezia si rappresenta una nuova opera per lui. In inglese: il musicista Luca Mosca e il librettista Gian Luigi Melega ritengono che sia la lingua più musicale. Ostrega (non so come si dica in inglese). E così eccoci alla Fenice a rivivere il teatro di Goldoni con sopratitoli
So surtitles of course and not subtitles (sniff). What is striking though is the assertion by the composer and the librettist - Italians both - that English is the more musical language (as if that were the reason they had chosen it!), an idea even more repugnant to tradition than the idea that cooking is best done by the British.

The great Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations - Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte - were written and performed in Italian for what were presumably German-speaking audiences (in Vienna and Prague). And no sub-, sur- or inter-titles back then. I wonder if Da Ponte, who ended up spending the latter part of his life in 'Anglo-Saxon countries', was also impressed by the greater musicality of English and came to regret having written his masterpieces in Italian.

The IHT article continues:
"I know, I know, so what," said Melega, who said that English is more rhythmic than Italian and so more appropriate for Mosca's intricate music ... Today's lingua franca is English, noted Melega adding that he hoped his choice would "help the opera travel outside of Italy, to Anglo-Saxon countries."
Which makes you wonder why he didn't write the thing in Anglo-Saxon. In any case, opera audiences in English-speaking countries have never been allergic to foreign language productions (unlike anglophone cinema-goers, say) and the advent of surtitles has more or less put the kibosh on the cause of the vernacular. An Italian audience, on the other hand (and the opera in question was commissioned for such an audience - and may never have any other), is accustomed to hearing Italian opera in Italian and would therefore be far more likely to be alienated by an English text than an anglophone audience by an Italian one. And so it proved in the event, going by the Il Giornale reviewer at least.

On the subject of hell (and what is eaten there), mention should be made of Canto XXXIII of Dante's Inferno, and the grisly tale of Count Ugolino. It includes the famous line in which Italy is for the first time referred to as the bel paese:
Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
del bel paese là dove 'l sì suona,
poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti,
muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona,
e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce,
sì ch'elli annieghi in te ogni persona.
For which I have found the following translation:
Oh Pisa, shame of those who live in the beautiful land where «yes» is sì, since your neighbors are slow in punishing you, may (the isles of) Capraia and Gorgona move to bar the Arno at its mouth so that it drowns everyone within you.
It is also the first time, according to this page, that Romance languages were distinguished according to their words for 'yes':
Au Moyen Âge, Dante est le premier à avoir employé le terme de lingua d’oco. Il opposait l’appellation langue d’oc (occitan) à langue d'oïl (le français et ses dialectes) et à la langue de si (l’italien, sa langue maternelle). Il se basait sur la particule servant à l’affirmation : dans la première, oui se dit òc, mais oïl dans la seconde, et si dans les dialectes italiens. Les trois termes viennent du latin : hoc pour le premier, hoc ille pour le second et sic pour le troisième.
The same source notes that Dante includes a passage of original Occitan in Canto XXVI of the Purgatorio:
'Tan m' abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom' puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;

Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu' esper denan.

Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,
Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.

In Longfellow's translation:
So pleases me your courteous demand,
I cannot and I will not hide me from you.
I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;
Contrite I see the folly of the past,
And joyous see the hoped-for day before me.
Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!
The Ugolino story is also told (more musically no doubt) in The Monk's Tale, although Chaucer refers to Dante for a fuller account:

Of this tragedy it ought enough suffice
Whoso will hear it in a longer wise,
Reade the greate poet of ltale,
That Dante hight, for he can it devise
From point to point, not one word will he fail.

Monday, October 01, 2007


FT articles linkable

Good news in today's Financial Times:

Newspapers have until now chosen between offering their content free, or charging on a subscription or “pay-per-view” basis. But Ien Cheng, publisher of, said the site would pioneer a new approach from mid-October. Articles and data will be free to users up to a total of 30 views a month. They will then be asked to subscribe for access to more material.

The change would allow bloggers and news aggregators to link to material previously available only to subscribers, Mr Cheng said
This follows the recent move by the New York Times.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free

The rationale for the change being this:

Colby Atwood, president of Borrell Associates, a media research firm, said that there have always been reasons to question the pay model for news sites, and that doubts have grown along with Web traffic and online ad revenue.
“The business model for advertising revenue, versus subscriber revenue, is so much more attractive,” he said. “The hybrid model has some potential, but in the long run, the advertising side will dominate.”
In addition, he said, The Times has been especially effective at using information it collects about its online readers to aim ads specifically to them, increasing their value to advertisers

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