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Dialect Proverbs
…And so the idler’s week goes by Lunedì mblé mblé
martedì pure acchessì
merculedì spaccaseméne
giuvedì se face la cucéine
venardì l’angunéie
sabbete la glorie
e ddumèneche u sgranatorie

[Monday slowly / Tuesday likewise / Wednesday breaks up the week / Thursday is cooking day / Friday is agony / Saturday glory / and on Sunday grub’s up]
(Cerignola)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

It isn’t exactly a proverb, but it comes into the category of ‘folk wisdom’ that includes riddles, funny verses, nice jokes, and ferocious satire which are used and handed down with the same purpose as proverbs, to teach, to warn, to alert.

The theme in this case is ‘work’ and it is treated with the satire of a good-for-nothing for whom none of the seven days of the week seems the right one to get any work done. The satire of this time-waster doesn’t only spring from a moral norm. Working, in the poor part of the rural society in past centuries, was necessary for survival; there were no salaries, no welfare state, no national health system, or insurance. Money was very rare; bartering regulated the majority of transactions, and to be able to do that you had to have some goods to offer. In a rural society the goods are the crops of the fields, and the only way to censure a good harvest (with the help of the Lord) was to whip up all the able-bodied members of the family, including the old and the very young the pregnant women, and – as far as possible – the sick. Work, or – as they say most tellingly in the southern dialects, “faticare” (to toil). With no exceptions, and no excuses. To survive.

The idler, however, makes a bit of an effort on Mondays and Tuesdays, but from Wednesday on he takes a rest; because now we’re almost halfway through the week, because it’s time to cook, because you have to respect the precepts and the obligations of the catholic calendar. In the name of a superior ethic; the gastro-religious one.

A similar rhyme is to be heard around Taranto: here we are in an urban setting, there is some money circulating, but the ethic is the same; this time in a pseudo-religious key: Lunedìe è ssande Prencipie / martedìe è ssande Avviande / merculedìe è ssande Metà / sciuvedìe è ssande Scurrùchele / venerdìe è ssande Penzande / sabete è ssande Paiande / dumèneche è ssande Scialòne. The imaginary saints are: San Principio (the beginning of the week), Sant’Avvio, San Metà, San Scorrimento (time flies towards the end of the week), San Pensante (with the thought of the wages to come), San Pagante (known in the north as San Paganini) and San Scialone (you spend your pay).

Similar rhymes, playing with the theme of the seven days are not to be found only in Puglia of course, but all over Italy: sometimes in rhyming or alternate couplets, others – like in the two cases we mentioned – don’t depend on the rhyme but the rhythm; they always answer to a logic of the gradual introduction of the content. In Cerignola actions connected to the position of the day in the week are followed by actions connected to the dictates of the liturgical calendar, to conclude in the most earthly of pleasures: that of an enormous feast. In Taranto every day is matched up with a saint, and the names of the saints in the first half of the week indicate the position of the day in the week (like in Cerignola), for the second half there is the parabola of the wait to be paid, receiving your wages and spending the money. A clever interweaving of rhythm, rhyme, themes and sub-themes regarding both everyday life and the traditional religious calendar, created by means of a careful use of mnemonics, mixing and blending the sacred and the profane, hunger and morals, duty and pleasure.

An entertainment in an ethical sauce, created to provoke a smile but at the same time to remind and hand down the obligation to respect the harsh laws of survival and co-habitation. That is, to regulate social life.

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