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Letter from Rome: January 17, 2020

Parla come mangi: It’s something I’ve been tempted to say to Churchmen of late, especially high Churchmen.

(Image: Blackcat | commons.wikimedia.org)

Parla come mangi. In “correct” Italian, the “g” is soft. In the Roman dialect, it becomes a y-sound, so the word is pronounced: MAN-yee. Literally translated, it says, “Talk as you eat.” That “as” indicates similitude, by the way: If a Roman tells you to “talk as you eat” he isn’t telling you to speak with your mouth full. He is telling you to speak simply: frankly and forthrightly, directly and without adornment.

Rome is a city peopled with inveterate rhetors, born and bred. Roman cuisine, on the other hand, is simple: a “poor” cuisine, the principal dishes of which are made from a few powerfully flavorful ingredients that can be brought together in various combinations without much fuss.

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans are not doctrinaire when it comes to their typical dishes or to cooking in general. They just don’t like to be sold a bill of goods. If a Roman orders amatriciana — hearty pasta served with fried cheek bacon, tomato cooked in the rendered bacon fat, and hard goat cheese, grated — he wants that dish.

If it comes with pancetta — belly bacon — he will notice, and he will not be happy.

Feel free to use whatever you have to hand, if you’re just doing a spaghettata among friends — tomato paste or pulp, for example, or pancetta if there’s no guanciale — only, tell them, or let them see, or better: both. If you’re out, ask the waiter how the kitchen does its ‘matriciana (Romans eat the initial vowel). There are standard variations: a little extra lard to help cook and reduce the tomato (some folks use olive oil, though I personally recommend against it); peperoncino flakes or black pepper; a dollop of red wine or a drop of brandy. Feel free to ask for them or to ask for them to be left out.

Expect — and demand — a straight answer.

Parla come mangi. Like many characteristic expressions in the Roman idiom, this one admits of a range of application and intensity. It could be a simple invitation to “cut to the chase” or it could be expressive of something between flustered impatience with and consternated indifference to ancillary detail à la “keep it simple”.

Sometimes, however, it is a warning: “Quit giving me the run-around.”

That last English expression actually exists in Italian: Non mi prendere in giro, which — of course it does — also has shades of meaning. “Quit pulling my leg,” is one. “Don’t toy with me,” is another.

It’s funny. The first time I heard the expression — or rather, the first time someone used the expression with me — I misheard it. To the untrained, unpracticed ear, Parla come mangi! sounds like, Parla con le mani! — which is Italian for, “Talk with your hands!” — and while I was fairly certain my interlocutor did not intend me to sign him my side of the conversation, I was otherwise at a loss for what he meant. A learned companion, solicitous of my well-being, overheard and interceded.

The really interesting thing about the Roman forma mentis, is that it can countenance a great deal of run-around, rigamarole, and something very like what the Irish call “Malarkey”. They delight in it, in fact. In fact, they expect it.

Sometimes.

When, however, there is serious business afoot, work to be done, or matter touching the general weal to be settled, Romans will not suffer verbal gamesmanship gladly.

Parla come mangi: It’s something I’ve been tempted to say to Churchmen of late, especially high Churchmen. I’ve been at table with high Churchmen, though, and the problem with telling them to talk as they eat, is that too many of them already do.


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About Christopher R. Altieri 127 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is Rome Bureau Chief for The Catholic Herald. He spent more than a dozen years on the news desk at Vatican Radio. He holds the PhD from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and is the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

4 Comments

  1. “That is because the Church is a visible society and his heresy must be externalized and made public and notorious.”

    It is important to note that Jorge Bergoglio’s heresy was external and made public and notorious, when as a cardinal, he stated in his book, In Heaven And On Earth, on page 117, in regards to same-sex sexual relationships, and thus same-sex sexual acts, demonstrating that he does not hold, keep, or teach The Catholic Faith, and he continues to act accordingly:

    “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”- Jorge Bergoglio, denying The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, while denying sin done in private is sin.
    “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
    1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125“

  2. I do not read that quote the way you do. If we can’t agree on the words that the pope expresses, maybe we’re both wrong. We should be careful how we criticize. When we’re not sure, let us pray and be faithful to what we know is true.

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  1. Letter from Rome, April 1, 2020: As Easter approaches, the Mother of Sorrows listens – Catholic World Report
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