05 January 2016


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 137

The above may be the only image of we have of the North Wind (La Borea) and the West Wind (Il Favonio) together! If we wanted to be playful, we could say that it was witnessing the birth of Venus, goddess of love, in the company of il Favonio that gave la Borea the idea that kicks off today's fiaba from Italo Calvino!

-Don Favonio, vuoi essere il mio spose?-

I'm probably reading too much into a story that has more in common with one of Aesop's fables than the Grimm Brothers' Maerchen, but I do wonder what kind of a myth we'd have if Don Favonio had been amenable to Donna Borea's proposal. What kind of marriage would two winds have? That is, what kind of children would they bring into the world? We know that the north wind brings cold and snow, while the west wind (*Enbrethiliel hastily looks it up*) brings the warmth of spring back. I suppose they could have at least one "good" child who combines what is best in both of them and one "bad" child who combines the worst. But that is a story I'm not equipped to take further!

The south wind and the east wind aren't characters in this fiaba, but they have their own associations: the former brings storms and gales, while the latter brings gentler rains. I feel a little embarrassed now that I've never been sensitive to the four directions. It's a kind of poverty to feel that all winds are the same--though in some fairness to me, I don't know if the observations of those who live around the Mediterranean would be relevant to weather phenomenon in Southeast Asia.

Anyway, Don Favonio doesn't really care to be married to Donna Borea--not because of anything personal about her, but because he is "molto attaccato ai quattrini."

La Borea, indispettita, si mise a soffiare con tutte le sue forze . . .

Just when you were thinking, dear Bat, that no one could top Taylor Swift's response to heartbreak by a jerk!

So what is your favourite folk explanation for bad weather? I don't recall a Filipino story for awful typhoons--which is odd, considering how many we get a year and how devastating they can be--but I do remember learning, as a child, that when the sun is shining and it is raining at the same time, a witch is getting married. These days, I suppose the most popular folk legend is global warming. If you move in certain circles, you'll also hear a lot about "playing the HAARP." And despite what we know about meteorology today, the personification of weather retains its appeal: in Rick Riordan's Greek-mythology-inspired Percy Jackson series, the demigod protagonists know that a series of terrible tornadoes across the Midwest are just fallout from a new war between the gods and the titans.

But perhaps the closest popular story to La borea e il favonio is William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, in which the marital discord between the king and queen of the faeries is causing havoc in nature.

-. . . in un giorno sei stato capace di mandare in fumo tutta la mia doti!-

I love the twist in the ending! Don Favonio thinks he has shown Donna Borea up, only for her to turn the tables on him completely. It's not that she is too poor to be a desirable bride; it's that he is so prodigal in his management of wealth that he doesn't make a desirable groom!

But is there a more objective way to measure this? A standard by which we can say one is more correct than the other? Or is this just about two potential spouses realising in time that their strengths and values will not be a very good fit?

Language Learning Notes

When I come across an unfamiliar word in an Italian text that I can't figure out through context, I do one of two things. If I feel that I've been neglecting my L2, I look the new word up in a Deutsch-Italiensich dictionary. (Sometimes I end up looking the Deutsch word in a German-English dictionary, too, but that is starting to happen less and less often.) When I'm being a proper L3 student, I apply Khatzumoto's advice to use Google Images as a dictionary.

It took me a whole set of pictures to figure out what "attaccato ai quatrini" meant because the search results for "attaccato" alone were a tad violent . . .

Don Favonio was hardly pouncing upon his money and gnawing at it . . . or was he? Recalling that "attaccato" is a past participle, I looked up the verb "attaccare" next. And then everything made a lot more sense.

Apparently, the English words "attack" and "attach" have the same root! A root that didn't split off into two branches when it was developing in Italy. Isn't language fascinating, folks? =D

PS -- In German, "attaccare" has split into two different words as well, but they don't look much like each other. There's "angreifen" for the violent meaning and "anbringen" for the more creative meaning. And if you're a fellow Deutschlerner(in) and want some nice mnemonics to connect the two, well, first note that the "Greif" in "angreifen" comes from the same root as the English word "grip" (and indeed, things that are attached to each other are in some sense gripping each other) . . . and then that that the trennbar/breakable verb "anbringen" sounds a lot like "bring it on" (and when you "angreifen" someone, you're definitely "bringing it on," aren't you?). This may make no sense--in which case, welcome to my mind, folks! But you know, what? You'll probably totally remember these words when you need them later--in which case, you're welcome, full stop. Bitte!

Totally Optional Discussion Questions for La borea e il favonio:

1. So what is your favourite folk explanation for bad weather?
2. Are there any elements in nature that you suspect are squabbling on some level?
3. Think fast: someone you are interested in asks you what "dowry" you would bring to a marriage--and he/she is obviously being whimsical rather than attaccato/attaccata ai quattrini. What do you say?
4. If you are reading along in Italian, do you have any language learning tips to share?

At the end of the previous meaning, I picked this really short fiaba in the hope that I'd be able to get the discussion post on it up a lot faster . . . but as you can see, things didn't really work out that way! Perhaps I'll get luckier going the counter-intuitive route and picking another long tale. How about the charmingly titled Ari-ari, ciuco mio, butta danari or Ari-ari, Donkey, Donkey, Money, Money! (I can see the translation issues from over here! =P) Read it in Italiano or in English, as you please. (Enter the English title into the Google Books search box and the whole thing should pop up for you. If it doesn't, let me know and I'll personally find a way for you to read it!)

Image Sources: a) Detail from The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, b) Surfista attaccato di una squalo, c) Attaccato da un cane dell'esercito, c) Leopardo all'attacco in un villaggio indiano, d) Come attaccare correttamente i bottoni, e) Come attaccare una piastrella al muro, f) Come attaccare corretamente il bambino al seno?


Belfry Bat said...

wait, what?... I know Madame Swift does get mentioned here often enough, but ... I really don't remember the last time, or who said what.

3) Oh, my excellent singing voice, of course.

Enbrethiliel said...


Just teasing about you and that bullet you dodged when she went for John Mayer instead of you. ;-) I'm sure you have a classier musical example of a Donna Borea!

My dowry would probably be my library. "Look at all the books I can discuss with you and the stories I can read to our children!" There may be a better answer, but that's the one off the top of my head.

Belfry Bat said...

I wonder the English translator didn't angle for "up in smoke", which I think the Italian has.

Brandon said...

Not much to say about this one. I did notice that Donna Borea's name is Greek in origin (hence the male Greek North Wind, Boreas) and Don Favonio's is Latin (hence the Roman West Wind, Favonius). Perhaps any relationship between them was doomed due to cultural differences!

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- You mean "mandare in fumo"? I wish we could ask him why he went with "squandered"!

Brandon -- That's a cute point! And it's interesting to think of cultural differences among characters whom we'd assume are from the same "country"! But now that you've brought up the idea, why shouldn't bad weather, which we get year after year, be a sign of endless fighting in nature?