ITALIAN VOICES

elleci

'Magari'

A window on a language and customs in Italy
by Linda Falcone   (issue no. 53/2007 / April 5, 2007)

My colleagues and I were having a meeting and I might as well have been talking to myself. A curly white wig and a gavel to pound out ‘order in the court’ would have been the only way to get everyone listening to the right thing at the same time. In reality, though, the issue was quite simple. The Florentine is on the verge of becoming a toddler and its parents were discussing what to do about the terrible two’s. In other words, we were trying to plan a party.

 

‘Plan’ is a very big word, of course. Throwing a shindig in Italy, they tell me, is more complicated than it is anywhere else in the world. If the authorities actually grant their permission, you need a stamp on everything but the toilet paper. For real fun and live entertainment, you’ve got to pay a series of obscure ‘party taxes’ in favour of commercial associations whose initials stand for B.O.T.H.E.R. And in Florence, if you want more than a half of slice of prosciutto per person, you have to be ready to really shell out the shillings. Luckily for all of us, there is a bright side—and our bright side was sitting to my left. His name is Marco Badiani. 

 

Marco keeps the accounts and deals with decimals, but the man has a trait I truly appreciate: he falls in love with ideas quickly and courts them with an enthusiasm that is rare in any country.  And he’ll always let you describe dreams in full—before he bugs you with why they won’t work. As our ‘magari

man’ he knows how to savour the apple before even planting the seed.

 

Magari is a word that’s so worthy, it doesn’t need an article to illustrate its greatness. It’s one of those expressions that could just stand alone in the middle of a page, like a mysterious piece of modern art. Gallery-goers could very easily gaze at this lovely little word and wonder what the artist meant by putting magari smack in the center of her canvas. Wistful as ‘if only’ and exclamatory as ‘don’t I wish!’, magari stretches the mind to make more room for fantasizing. It would be a great word to paint.

 

Slightly reminiscent of the word ‘magic’, it’s a banner to unborn potential and the comfort food of those whose bread has yet to bake. But beware. Magari is versatile to the point of being reversible, and it can cover the entire spectrum of future possibility. For highly probable scenarios like ‘do you  want to come over for dinner tonight?’, magari is ‘yes, I’d love to’. For daring propositions, that have ‘impossible’ written on them in red, magari means ‘nice idea—but no way’.

If you plan on living in Italy long, you’d best get used to this ambiguity. The Italian language often leaves room for interpretation, and words sway with the mood as if conversation were a sudden summer breeze.        

 

But speaking of changing winds, this multi-purpose word can also mean ‘maybe’ and serve as a worthy substitute of ‘perhaps’.  Magari, ci vediamo dopo means you’ll meet on the street later in the day, destiny willing. Or possibly a year will pass before your paths cross again. Magari is always slow to tighten the gap between what could be and how the day will really end up looking. In that sense, magari truly mirrors the country that created it.

 

‘What I’d like is to have a swing band’, I told the troupe as the meeting progressed.

 

Magari!’ Marco answered, instantly impressed. ‘Find me two  coins to pile on top of each other and I’ll find you a dance floor’.

 

‘Forget the dance floor’, Giovanni interrupted. Marco gets to dream; Giovanni’s in charge of waking us up. ‘We’ll be lucky to find a willing restaurant. Besides, we can’t get a band—the only way to avoid the music tax is to have someone perform a capella’.

 

‘We can always have you sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”’, Marco suggested.

 

Giovanni grinned. ‘Best idea I’ve heard all day’. The song is part of his eight-in-the-morning repertoire and it’s high time he goes public with it. ‘Magari, I do need to expand my fan base’.    

I smiled. My two friends are different as day and night, but when they laugh together, there is no end to their mischief.  So maybe the party will actually happen. Magari, Marco will find us a dance floor. Magari, il Giova will really sing a cappella. Or maybe we’ll just pay the party tax and go with the band. And magari, we’ll see you there. Destiny willing, we’ll see you all there.

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