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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Furbo & Brutta Figura

We've just got back from a 3-night camping trip on our land to catch up with some work and I forgot to bring my camera, so no photos today. Summer has finally arrived with a vengeance and daytime temperatures have made work in anything but the early morning and late afternoon impossible. Currently my outside thermometer shows 35C in the shade!

So passing these hot lunchtime hours I thought I'll introduce you to 2 terms essential to understand the Italian mentality and I found occasion to use both in the last couple of days: furbo and brutta figura. The first is a desirable quality in Italians whilst the latter is to be avoided at all cost!

The word furbo, usually accompanied by an index finger tapped onto the side of the nose means cunning without the negative nuances it may have in English.
Cunning: artful, sly, deceptive, shrewd, astute, cute, on the ball and, indeed, arch. A word for for any praise and every prejudice. Cunning ... is a cunning word.
(quote from Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

In Italy everyone is furbo. Any old way to get around paying your taxes or dodge cumbersome laws, rules and regulations. Who needs them anyway. When we got our beagle puppy (or Beagol as the Italians insist on pronouncing the breed) everyone said: "Sono furbi!", meaning they are cunning dogs, which have a way of finding their own thing and are therefore difficult to train.

While we were staying on our land we found a perfect example of his cunningness. There is no physical barrier between our plot and the neighbours except the narrow path down, which serves as access to both our properties. The neighbour, who is not the most sociable person and mainly talks to himself, comes to his plot every single day of the year, come rain or shine, if for nothing else to put some food out for the local stay cat population. So on more than one occasion he had to chase Eddie out of his land, so he wouldn't steal the cat food. On many other occasions I had to drag him out of there by the scruff of his neck while telling him off in a stern voice.

By now he knows exactly it's a no-go area. Every time he as much as moves in the direction of the cat food terrace he gets a stern word from either of us, which usually does the trick. So what does Eddie do? He either waits until both of us have turned our back before sneeking up there, or, even more furbo, innocently wanders off in the opposite direction, whistling obliviously, just to find a longer, but for us undetectable route to the same goal. Only after not seeing him for a while and us wondering where he'd got to, we'd start looking for him and invariably finding him... at the neighbour's cat feeding station.

The neighbour has even resorted to putting the food on top of some old rabbit cages out of small dog's reach. But Eddie just found a way of going to the terrace above and then kamikaziing down on top of the cages. That's furbo!

As for la brutta figura, that's what all Italians try and avoid and of course I'm owning up to one now. It literally means ugly figure but can best be translated as loosing face in front of your peers. No Italian likes to admit they are wrong about anything and they are all experts on everything. So a really bad brutta figura is when you trip up in your actual field of expertise!

For example if you would serve me as a wine expert and nasty Vin de Plonk and I would declare it to be a top notch claret, that would be a brutta figura. But my more recent brutta figura has come from another chosen expert field, that of wild food gathering. As my regular followers know I talk about it a lot and even do a regular feature of it.

Now in recent months amongst fellow garden bloggers, amaranth has been a bit of a buzz word. The ancient food of the Incas, which has been cultivated in ancient times because of it's nutrtious values both of the leaves and the seeds. I first heard of it from Kate in Australia I think. Then I heard my mate Mr.H and others mentioning it. Finally I got some seeds from GetSoiled all the way from sunny Florida.

I sowed the seeds and nothing happened, zilch, zero, niente. I thought, well that's it then, it might grow in Tasmania, Idaho and Florida, but it clearly doesn't like Italy. Shame, because I also read that it makes some good companion planting, helping to break up heavy soil, which I've got!

It started dawning on me when Ayak posted some photos of some weeds she found in her garden and Mr H commented that one of them could be pigweed, a variety of amaranth. Now erm... whilst weeding around my sweetcorn I discovered something very much like it. In fact I remember it going to flower in previous years and another look around internet land pretty much confirmed it: I've got at least 2 different varieties of amaranth growing wild on my land!

Whilst still camping on the land I actually added some to a potato, leek, courgette and bean bake I made on the BBQ and we've survived the experiment! (Nothing goes over the taste test: if it doesn't make you very ill, it's edible!).

Now unfortunately, as I said above I didn't have my camera with me, but will post some pics soon.


Kate said...

hahahahaha plonk! That's me laughing my head off!
But you are still way better than me.... much more furbo or is it furba for females? I only know about 2 wild, edible things here and have an awful lot to learn.
Buono appetito!

Mr. H. said...

I loved the puppy story, he sounds like a very smart little fellow. Ours is always trying to steal cat food too.

Congrats on finding some amaranth. Big monoculture farmers that use chemicals to fight off weeds have a different name for pigweed. They refer to it as Super Weed because it has, over time, developed a strong resistence to all their chemicals and is now taking over many farmers feilds.

Thanks for the language lesson, I enjoyed it.

chaiselongue said...

I'm glad you didn't get washed off your plot by the rain like last time! As for the amaranth bruta figura - at least it has a happy side, that you've got it growing wild already.

Ayak said...

I really enjoyed this post...and your explanation of furbo and la brutta figura...so interesting.

Eddie's a clever chap isn't he? I bet you're really glad you got him...

Heiko said...

These two terms are essential to understanding the Italian psyche. I wish Eddie would start using his intelligence and stop weeing idoors! And thanks everybody for not making me feel too bad.

Stefaneener said...

The thing about wine reminds me of a study I read where wine experts really couldn't tell the difference -- so everyone thinks they are more furbo than they are.

Clever Eddie.