Friday, June 19, 2009

Italian proverbs- al contadino non far sapere

This is one of the few proverbs I actively dislike.

Al contadino non far sapere quanto e' buono il formaggio con le pere. Don't let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears.

Well, at least it rhymes (in Italian). But besides this pleasing feature, it is obscure even to Italians. The most likely interpretation is that if the farmer knew how good his stuff was he'd be reluctant to part with it, or would raise the price. But it seems to me that the farmer would be the first to know about the quality of his products. And in fact an alternate school of thought maintains that this is an injunction not to lecture people on things they know better than you do.

So a book was actually written just about this one proverb, by food historian Massimo Montanari. He maintains that as pears were food for the nobility and cheese for the poor, the upper classes wished to keep the peasants from combining the two as a sort of symbolic class difference.

Does this make any sense to you? Not to me. The mystery persists. Its only possible use may be as a conversation starter with Italians, perhaps during the cheese/pear course, just to see them wrack their brains.

(The picture shows a still life with pears but no cheese by Giorgio Morandi, who was obviously in on the conspiracy to keep Italian farmers in the dark about this pairing)