Sicilian Trogs, I: Preface

Speaking a different language forces the traveler to wonder how in the world foreigners manage to distort English—and vice versa.  In Italy a bar is a place to get coffee and a pastry, have a light lunch, drink a glass of wine, but it is not for serious drinkers and does not  exclude children.  In America, on the other hand, a cafeteria is not a place to drink coffee with, perhaps, a pastry, but a place where the customers stand in lines to take dishes of food that might preserve the body but does nothing for the soul, unless you are doing an act of contrition.

In Italy, I am always more aware of English, because when Italians—or any non-native speakers—try out their English, they are confused by the gabble of dead metaphors and pop cultural allusions that make American English often unintelligible to Americans outside one’s own particular niche.  Today I started thinking of our unfortunate habit of inventing nonsensical portmanteau words—“bromance” comes to mind—which generally betray the user’s ignorance of his own language and its roots.  A friend of mine in college came up with the word “suffeasible” as an efficient way of combing the qualities of sufficiency with feasibility.  Knowing of my interest in language, he tried out his invention.  My response was quick:

“It doesn’t mean anything.  It only expresses a feeling you have, but, because you don’t understand either word, you can only contribute to the decay of a language that has already slipped into incoherence.”

This morning, ruminating on this now pointless subject, I wondered if, on the analogy of blog—from web (understood as the word wide web) log (derived from log book, from log—the piece of wood used for measuring nautical distances), a travel log might be called simply a trog, with the inevitable hint that the author is an antediluvian cave-dweller.  So with apologies to Reg Presley, Ronnie Bond, Pete Staples, and all the other members, past and present, of “The Troggs,” I hereby launch my Sicilian Trog.

Days One and Two

Forced to think of the Troggs, I recall a 1960’s comedy routine in which a Bobby Kennedy imitator  (billed as Senator Bobby) “recited “Wild Thing.”

“You make, uh, everything groovy.  Uh, press ahead, wild thing.”

Going through security at O’Hare and waiting endlessly for flights that never take off, I think inevitably of the world the Kennedys—and their long line of disciples—Johnson, the Bushes, the Clintons, the Obamas—have made with their self-important busy bodying that turns both slaves (us) and masters (them) into lying hypocrites.  Rush Limbaugh practically bites his ankles in rage if someone suggests we do not have the best health care in the world or even hints that these USofA are anything but a city on a hill.  In general, I like cities on hills—Siena, Rome, Agrigento—but geographical elevation does not translate a people onto a moral pinnacle or convert a nation into the predestined ruler of the human race.

Twenty-five hours, that is what it took for United Airlines to get us from Chicago to Rome.  Yes, there were delays due to the snowstorm that hit the Midwest at the end of November, and the plane that was taking us to Montreal failed to arrive on time, but, once we were rerouted through Munich (Monaco in Italian), it should have left on time, but for something wrong with the emergency slide.  United kept on saying it would be a delay of perhaps 45 minutes, but when the captain—clearly out of place as an honest man in Sodom—used the ominous phrase “at the earliest,” I knew we were doomed.  United and American always try to soothe their customer with reassurances.  I am a simpler man and hate even these kinds of lies like the gates of Hell.

Our original flight was scheduled to depart at 2, and by 6, without lunch, we were beginning to get hungry and in need of spiritual refreshment.  There was a good wine bar across from our gate, but, inevitably, it was slammed by our fellow-sufferers at the C Gates.  Ditto the Berghof’s airport outlet, where it is possible to drink decent beer and get an excellent sandwich.  Despite my general dislike of sushi, we found a sushi bar hiding behind a Starbucks at C1 and drank a bottle of overpriced wine with our tempura shrimp roll, smoked eel roll, and seaweed salad.  I felt like the POWs in the film King Rat, when they feast in ecstasy on roast dog.

I know it is a terrible cliché, but when asked about the trip by our children, I could not help quoting the Abbé de Sieyès’ response, when asked how he had survived the Revolution he had done so much to bring on, “J’ai survecu.”  We got to our hotel in Rome too late to do anything but fall into bed and spent the next day poking into favorite places. 

More To Come


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I have inserted the “not” which corrects the sentence about children in Italian bars: They are definitely not excluded, though most bars are places for grown-ups to chat rather than unregulated playgrounds.

    I invite additions to two points I made. The first is the misuse of English words in foreign languages and the misuse of foreign words in English. In Italy, for example, they have stores a bit more respectable than Victoria’s Secret, known as “Sexy Shops.”

  2. James E. Easton says:

    Italians are still wondering why Bill Clinton was having problems with baby boys when James Carville was handling the President’s “Bimbo” eruptions.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Let me contribute “affluenza,” which is an actual Italian word meaning literally a flowing into, that is an influx or a turnout at the polls or concourse of people.