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Dialect Proverbs
…But Love is Hope L’acqua vave a la pinnenza
L’amore, a lla speranza

[Water it flows down a slope
Love it chases after hope]
(Salento, but widespread in Southern Italy)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

In the series of proverbs that we have reviewed in this feature there has been a strong flavor of disenchantment, resignation to a gloomy end, and hopeless social repression. The most loyal readers will remember the principal themes that have composed, when viewed together, this overall picture, which looks so dismal:

- human relations warped by the totalizing and unquestioned dominion of a ruling hegemony, as represented by priests, lawyers, bosses, landowners, doctors and usurers;

- the despotic power, recognized and incontrovertible, of a figure that dominates the others: the boss (his underlings even have to respect the boss’s dog…),

- the absence of an inspiring moral imperative, leaving a space filled by a tragic cynicism (“whoever feeds me I will call Dad”) and by precepts informed by suspicion, selfishness and the cult of ‘stuff’ (“beware of your neighbors, look after your own”, “bring something with you and eat with me”), by the lack of any solidarity (“trouble and pain, everyone weeps for their own”);

- the overall picture, therefore, is of inhuman attitudes: negative stereotypes of anyone different, especially of women – diabolic creatures – and of marriage; the resignation is not just on the existential level (“poor me –s aid the snail – everyone who walks by treads on me”) but in the tribulations of everyday life (“think of your health: if you get in a rage you’ll fall ill”);

- the eternal condemnation to hard work, which is impossible to wriggle out of (“for whoever wants to work, America is here, America is there”);

- real lives dominated by absolute poverty: frugal meals – cheese with worms and radishes – given only the meagre and apparent consolation of the inebriating property of wine (to which this nobly consolatory function deserves the label saying ‘blood of Christ’).

The positive aspects are few: only children are exempt, creatures close to God and the angels (“When my baby was born / the Pope in Rome sang the Mass”), while the religion of work is appreciated as a suitable pursuit for men and careful application of the rules of domestic economy is expected of women (“she saves on flour even when the larder is full”).

Apart from these exceptions, there is a dearth of proverbs inspired by hope, by plans for the future or a chance of change. However, we want to look, in the mass of proverbs, for a different, positive note: a light at the end of the tunnel. Deep down, the world of proverbs is a complex reality that reflects the myriad facets of the real world: and in the complexity there is a little gleam of hope.

L’acqua vave a la pinnenza / L’amore, a lla speranza”. It’s inevitable that water flows down a slope; in the same way, due to an inexorable law of physics, love chases after hope. There we have it: hope. Pulled along by love. Maybe these are the engines of a possible change, the dim lights that we were waiting to see. The water that always flows in the same river but that is never the same is the symbol of life continuing but that is – or can be – always different: everything flows, “everything comes and everything goes; nothing remains the same”. And love is like water: it flows and it flows in a precise direction, but unlike water has a final aim: hope.

Translated into the terms of daily life: the lover contains the great impulse of hope, and never gives up, not even if water is thrown all over him in buckets by his disdainful beloved from the balcony, as the inexorable law of the ruling gradient requires her to do. Love-hope is stronger than the force of gravity. It is invisible but formidable anti-matter capable of transforming, radically and positively, the desperate world of proverbs.

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