Learn Italian in Song: La Terra dei Cachi

The Land of Persimmons

By Elio e le Storie Tese, who also did Fossi Figo. This song was a huge hit when it first came out in 1996, with its punning, ironic references to topics such as Mani Pulite and various hospital scandals. (Pity not much has changed since… )

I don’t know if cachi (persimmons) has any special significance, unless it’s a pun on caca (poop).

Learn Italian in Song: Parco Sempione

Sempione Park

Another piece of dark humor from Elio e le Storie Tese, which also follows in the eco-aware tradition of Il Ragazzo della via Gluck – and, like that song, is inspired by Milan, environmentally one of the worst places to live in Italy.


Parco Sempione, verde e marrone dentro la mia città. Sempione Park, green and brown within my city.
Metto su il vibro, leggo un bel libro, cerco un po’ di relax. I put my cellphone on vibrate, read a good book, try to relax a bit.
All’improvviso, senza preavviso, si sente un pim, pam, pum: Suddenly, without warning, a “pim pam pum” is heard
Un fricchettone forse drogato suona e non smette più. A freak, maybe drugged out, plays and won’t stop.
Bonghi: questo fatto mi turba perché suona di merda, Bongos: this stoner disturbs me because he plays like shit
Non ha il senso del ritmo e non leggo più il libro. He has no sense of rhythm and I can’t read my book any more
Quasi quasi mi alzo, vado a chiedergli perché I’ll almost get up, go and ask him why
Ha deciso che, cazzo, He has decided, that, fuck,
Proprio oggi niente lo fermerà. Today nothing will stop him.
Piantala con ‘sti bonghi, non siamo mica in Africa. Stop it with these bongos, we’re hardly in Africa.
Porti i capelli lunghi ma devi fare pratica. You have long hair, but you need practice
Sei sempre fuori tempo, così mi uccidi l’Africa You’re always off tempo, that way you kill Africa for me
Che avrà pure tanti problemi Which may have lots of problems
Ma di sicuro non quello del ritmo. But certainly not that of rhythm.
Milanese dialect below; thanks to Alice Twain and QT for the translation help.
Dai barbun cerca de sunà mei C’mon, barbone, try to play better
Che sun dree a fa balaa i pee Anca si go vutant’ann Since I am dancing on my feet
Vu gio\’ in balera cun la mia miee Oeh che du bal I’m going down to the dance floor with my wife, Hey, che due balle
Te me scepet l’uregia Ti, i to sciavatt e i bonghi You break my ears

You, your slippers and the bongos

“Caro signore, sa che le dico? Questa è la libertà. “My dear sir, you know what I say to you? This is freedom.
Sono drogato, suono sbagliato anche se a lei non va. I’m drugged, I play wrong, even if you don’t like it
Non vado a tempo, lo so da tempo, non è una novità. I don’t follow the tempo, I’ve known that for a long time, it’s not news
Io me ne fotto; cucco di brutto grazie al mio pim, pum, pam” I don’t give a shit, I get a lot, thanks to my pim, pum, pam”
Bonghi: questa cosa mi turba e mi sento di merda. Bongos: this disturbs me and I feel like shit
Quasi quasi mi siedo ed ascolto un po’ meglio. I will almost sit down and listen a bit better.
Forse forse mi sbaglio, forse ho preso un abbaglio. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I was blinded.
Forse? Forse un bel cazzo. Maybe? Like hell.
Fai cagare, questa è la verità. You’re disgusting, this is the truth.
Ora ti sfondo i bonghi per vendicare l’Africa, Now I’m going to bust in your bongos to vindicate Africa
Quella che cucinava l’esploratore in pentola The one which cooked explorers in a pot
Ti vesti come un rasta ma questo, no, non basta: You dress like a Rasta but this, no, it’s not enough:
Sarai pure senza problemi, ma di sicuro ci hai quello del ritmo. You may not have problems, but you certainly have a problem with rhythm.
Te tiri ‘na pesciada in del cuu Va a ciapaa i ratt [Milanese again] I’m going to give you a kick in the ass, go catch rats.
Te podet vend domaa el to ciculatt You can only sell your chocolate
”Ecco spiegato cosa succede in tutte le città: “This explains what’s happening in all the cities:
Io suono i bonghi, tu me li sfondi. I play the bongos, you break them,
Di questo passo, dove si finirà?” At this rate, where will it end?”
Ecco perché qualcuno pensa che sia più pratico That’s why some think it’s more practical
Radere al suolo un bosco considerato inutile. To raze to the ground a forest considered useless
Roba di questo tipo non si è mai vista in Africa, Stuff like this has never been seen in Africa
Che avrà pure tanti problemi ma di sicuro non quello dei boschi. Which may have plenty of problems, but certainly no lack of forests.
Vorrei suonare i bonghi come se fossi in Africa, I’d like to play the bongos as if I was in Africa
Sotto la quercia nana in zona Porta Genova. Under the dwarf oak in the area of Porta Genova.
Sedicimila firme, niente cibo per Rocco Tanica 16,000 signatures, no food for Rocco Tanica [a member of the band]
Ma poi il bosco l’hanno rasato mentre la gente era via per il ponte But then they cut the forest down to the ground while people were away on holiday
Se ne sono battuti il cazzo, ora tirano su un palazzo. They didn’t give a shit, now they’re erecting a building
Han distrutto il bosco di Gioia questi grandissimi figli di Troia. They destroyed the forest of Gioia this huge sons of bitches
more by Elio e le Storie Tese: La Terra dei Cachi

Thanks to Nicole and others who explained vibro to me, pointing out that an Italian who sets his cellphone not to ring is truly planning to relax!


Learn Italian in Song: First Me, Second Me

This song is an interesting challenge. It was pointed out to me by Rocco Tanica, songwriter and keyboardist with Elio e le Storie Tese, as “a song we wrote to make a joke about Italians pretending to speak English (just like me) with a literal translation of the Italian words (example, quanti anni hai? = “how many years you have” instead of “how old are you”).”
I would like to writing and singing a song in english,
tongue that I’ve studied at the medium school. In Italian lingua is used for “tongue” both in the sense of the one in your mouth and one that you speak. Which is also true in English, but “tongue” for “language” is somewhat archaic these days. Medium = media, which is also used for middle school (scuola media).
I’d surely find the way to recreate the original sound
of the wonderful Beatles english.
I would pick up a girl and
– thank you to the original sound of the wonderful Beatles english –
I would conquer her, In Italian conquistare is used (also) in the context of a romantic conquest.
I would marry her and together we will farrow so many much childs. They were thinking of the Italian word sgravare (roughly: “de-pregnantize”), which is used for the act of giving birth but (at least in polite company) only when referring to animals. Farrow is the English word used for sows giving birth to piglets. And of course a classic mistake on the irregular plural of “child”.
So we would live until the late age (her), i.e., she will live to a tarda eta’ (“advanced age”), while the speaker, being immortal…
while I would never die just like Highlander;
but not like Sean Connery, better like Christopher Lambert:
young through the centuries but without cut the head.
So every night I dream my unrealizable, unreasonable,
unrecognizable, unjamestaylorable, unstatesmanlike dream come true.
This video only contains the second half of the song – sung by James Taylor! – but it very helpfully includes both the English and Italian lyrics.
SECOND ME (THE PEAK OF THE MOUNTAIN). Secondo me could literally be translated as “second me,” but it actually means “according to me”.
How you call you? How many years you have?
From where come? How stay? Come stai = “How are you?”
Not to be sad:
the life is a thing wonderful and I am here for make it wonderfuler.
Not see the my love for yourself? “The my love” because in Italian all nouns usually take an article (the, a, an). In Milan (at least), names are treated the same way, so you will hear people refer to la Paola or il Daniele.
For force, not is visible. For force = per forza, which would be better translated “perforce”
Not hear the sound of the my guitar?
Is play from me; is play for you, is play for we. A classic abuse of a preposition in suonato da me. Da would often be translated as “from” in English, but in this case it should be “by”. To be fair, prepositions are hard to get right; the usages are so different in every language.
Oui, je t’aime, je t’aime – yes -, must to be the my girl;
come on the my car that I bring you at make one tour. Another preposition confusion in vieni sulla mia macchina. In Italy you don’t ride in a car, you ride on it. Ti porto a fare un giro would be better translated as “I’ll take you for a ride”.
What think of the my car?
Is much beautiful, second me Molto can be translated as very, much, or many.

Learn Italian in Song: Fossi Figo

If I Were Hot

This piece of rude irony by Elio e le Storie Tese (Elio and the Tense Stories) is a good example of the use of the conditional tense in Italian, as well as covering some common Italian slang, and some use of English words in everyday Italian.The video features Gianni Morandi, for no apparent reason (except friendship with the band, I suppose). The subtitles are slogan-like statements about shampoo, beauty treatments, and the importance of diet and exercise in maintaining one’s looks. The final line is “It’s beautiful to be beautiful.”

The video is filmed, I think, in Milan’s Chinatown, except for the last scenes (jogging) in the Galleria and the Piazza del Duomo.