Author Archives: Valentina Scarlata

La bella lavanderina

Main piece:

“La bella lavanderina che lava i fazzoletti

Per i poveretti della città.

Fai un salto, fanne un altro,

Fai la giravolta, falla un’altra volta.

Guarda in su, guarda in giù

Dai un bacio a chi vuoi tu”

The beautiful washerwoman who washes the handkerchiefs for the needy of the city. Jump, jump another time, do the twirl, do it again. Look up, look down, give a kiss to whoever you want. 

[the transliteration comprehends the translation as well, as there is not a deeper meaning that goes beyond the words themselves]


S.C.: This was a nursery rhyme that I learnt when I was very young and that I sang both at home and at school to..well, first of all to understand that there were people more needy than me that could and should be helped and, also to transform a topic, which for a child can be quite unknown, into something happier and more easily approachable. Children would associate a serious issue to a form of gameplay, to a moment of carefreeness.

V.S.: Where did you learn it?

S.C.: I think my mum thought me it, but then I used to sing it with my friends at school..a bit everywhere…everyone knew it. To be happy and do something together, this rhyme was always performed 


I myself knew this rhyme since really young, and we were in the informants’s house when she mentioned and performed this.  


As my informant pointed out, this is a piece taken from what would be defined as children’s folklore and which has been passed down from generation to generation; as a matter of fact, my grandmother used to do it, and so does my cousin’s son who is now three. Despite the first impression the lyrics or the performance could give, this practice done’t involve a particular gender, but it is, instead, carried out both by male and female kids. This is not particularly unexpected, as the majority of gender-based games and plays usually start to be performed when infants are 6 or 7 years old, while this little kinesthetic song is typically learnt and ‘enacted’ some years before. I use the term kinesthetic as this nursery rhyme is most of the times performed with a dance, which basically consist in following and doing what the lyrics of the song tells. So when it says jump, children jump; when it says do the twirl, children do it, and so on until the end of the song, in which each child chooses who to give the kiss. In this way, another interesting aspect is brought to light, which is the young approach of children to the world of adults. Even if indirect and unconscious, the kiss represents a turning point, a means for approaching the other sex since a really young age. 

However, this isn’t the only grown-up thematic children are put in contact with: as my informant highlighted, indeed, children are also introduced -in a joyous and playful manner- to more serious and relevant topics, like poverty, altruism and philanthropy. 


Main piece:

L.S.: Il Vecchione is a representative figure made of wood which at the end of the year, is burned, metaphorically representing the destruction of the old and of the bad things which happened during the year, so to begin the new year with novelty, curiosity and…and some sort of positivity. 


My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. She members going to Bologna’s main square, every year of her adolescence to witness this ritualistic performance with the whole city’s community gathered there.


The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room and taking about traditions which have been carried out, throughout time, in the city of Bologna. 


Since antiquity, many were the ritualistic traditions related to the time cycle, and, in particular, New Year’s Eve has alway represented the liminal day par excellence, it being the relatively short period of time between the end of the old year and the advent of the new. 

The tradition of burning a pile of wood, in this case portrayed with human features and appearances, is common to quite a lot of cultures and it plays the role of keystone in the natural and social cycle of seasons. As a matter of fact, as my informant pointed out, il Vecchione, which in Italian translates into ‘the super-old’, is lighted up on fire in the attempt of destroying what is old, past and to-be-forgotten -eliminating also all the bad and negative events the year which is ending has brought with it-, so that from its ashes a new, glorious and successful year -and consequently man- can rise and flourish. A type of ritualistic passage is committed, that is, the passage between one cycle of time and the next one is, through the burning, fulfilled and completed. 

I Dentoni

Main piece:

L.S.: It was something I was told when I was 15, 16 years old. My mum used to tell me not to put my legs and feet inside the water when I had my periods or, otherwise, my teeth would get super long. I remember I told this also to a friend of mine, who was a bit older than me and [smiles] she laughed at me.

V.S.: But was this considered ‘common knowledge’?

L.S.: I think so. I do not exactly know the origin, but my mother always told me this and…well, I guess my mother was told the same thing when she was my age. 

Background: (why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does if mean to them? Etc.)

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. This belief remembers her of her mother, and she told me of having said it to her daughter and grand-daughter as well, despite her lack of belief in the truthfulness of it.

Context: (the context of the performance)

The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room.


I believe this folk-belief to be really interesting as it directly concerns two fundamental aspects of womanhood. Firstly, until not many years ago, it was common understanding that going for a swim or dive into a pool of water would be unhealthy for women during their menstruations. Many were the presumptions concerning this hypothesis and many were the plausible reasons given, for the majority related to the fact that it would cause some sort of deficiency or simply be bad for their health. The true reason why women were advised against bathing -at least publicly- during their periods, is, instead, attributable to the possible embarrassment this would provoke towards other people in the surrounding area, who would witness the natural leakage of blood the immersion would commonly provoke. 

Secondly, this belief brings to light a second and more interesting aspect related to women’s menstruations, which is the one of transformation and fear of change. As a matter of fact, the appearance of this monstrous dental extension (Dentoni, which in Italian means high teeth) in the case of contact with water represents one of the many forms of fear both towards growth and also towards the social expectations that from it derive -just like Bloody Mary does. 
The conventional pattern of transformation can also be interpreted as a rite of passage from the society of children to the society of adults. 

Oh Bella Ciao

“Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao!
Una mattina mi son svegliato
e ho trovato l’invasor.

O partigiano portami via,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
o partigiano portami via
che mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e se io muoio da partigiano
tu mi devi seppellir

Seppellire lassù in montagna,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
seppellire lassù in montagna
sotto l’ombra di un bel fior.

E le genti che passeranno,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e le genti che passeranno
mi diranno «che bel fior.»

Questo è il fiore del partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
questo è il fiore del partigiano
morto per la libertà”


One morning I awakened,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.

Oh partisan carry me away,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.

And if I die as a partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.

Bury me up in the mountain,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and all those who shall pass
will tell me “what a beautiful flower.”

This is the flower of the partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
this is the flower of the partisan
who died for freedom


L.S: “This was sang by the partisans during the…the time of victory. When American troops arrived and the German occupation ended, partisans and soldiers and…a bit everyone actually sang this song. It represented liberation.”

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. Because of the time and location of her birth, she fully experienced the years of the Second World War, her town and own house being occupied both by German and American troops. This song recalls to her memory that chaotic and intense age, and especially evokes the sensation of freedom, relief and liberation felt when the end of the conflict was announced. Still today, when she is about to turn 90, she perfectly remembers the lyrics of the song, which remains in the collective imaginary as the emblem of resistance and liberty.


My informant and I were having a tea in her living-room and when I asked her if she knew some folk-songs she immediately started to sing it.


This song is a popular Italian hymn to freedom and liberty, known by everyone for its correlation to partisans and World War 2’s cease-fire. However, not many people know that its musicality, its rhythmic organization of verses, and part of its lyrics were taken by more ancient folk-music of the peninsula. The most glaring similarity can be noticed in a song which carries the same title and which was sang by Mondine, rice weeders, who would perform it as work-song during the long hours spent in paddies. 

This song, because of its evolution and its significance, perfectly reflects the definitions of folklore, that is “artistic communication in small groups” and “multiplicity and variation”. While the latter seems quite self-explanatory -especially considering the previously-mentioned past influences and  the various versions existent-, the first one presents itself as more interesting to analyze. In fact, Bella Ciao was transformed, throughout time, from a form of expression between members of a specific and relatively small community, that is rice weeders, into a chant performed by a wider group of people, joined by the same purpose: fighting for the liberation of their country. Later on, it was translated into an actual nationalistic hymn, in which, for a reason or another, the vast majority of Italians recognized a sense of identity. This last affirmation is further confirmed by a more recent factor, which is due to the mash-ups and remixes done after its usage in the famous tv series Money Heist. As a matter of fact, after its utilization in the television drama, the folk-song began to be played in major clubs, discos and musical events worldwide, being continuously remixed and modified depending on the DJ’s tastes and the audience’s ‘satisfaction index’. 

A question now naturally arises: considering the original meaning, isn’t its usage in a Spanish series a sort of cultural appropriation, or better, distortion?  


Main piece:


Transliteration in Italian: omarello, omino, ometto

Transliteration in English: little man

Translation: old man who is retired 

M.P.: This is a typical Bolognese expression, which indicates those old men who are like retired and spend their time looking at construction sites. In the common imaginary they are portrayed in their typical pose, with crossed hands behind their backs.

[gets up laughing and mimics the physical pose]

And yes, this word actually entered the slang of the city because it is sometimes used also as a…a sort of joking insult. Like if someone…I don’t know…If someone acts like an old man, or stops in front of building sites, or repeatedly walks with his hand crossed behind his back, friends will make fun of him saying things like “Do not act like an ummarell”. 


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and who is now getting her master degree in archaeology and Egyptology at the city’s university, and who got her bachelor degree in anthropology and oriental studies 2 years ago always at Bologna’s Alma Mater Studiorum. She does’t recall the exact place and time in which she learnt this word, and neither she remember the first source from which she heard this term, she just knows it is a fundamental part of her “folk-culture”, as she herself defined it.


I myself use a lot this word and my informant mentioned this piece while we were chatting at a restaurant in the city center of Bologna.


Something I have always found quite intriguing is the great amount of dialects present in the Italian peninsula. Every region has its own peculiar and proper dialectal speech, and while in some places, especially small towns, they are still spoken -particularly by the older generations-, in bigger cities, dialects have been transformed into slang and adapted to the official language, that is, Italian. In fact, every main city of every Italian region -there are 20 regions in Italy- has words that are typical to that city -or the surrounding area- only. In the majority of cases, these words are not used or even understood by people who do not belong to that community. 

Furthermore, these words tend to evolve from generation to generation, so it happens that only peer groups understand what is being said or meant through that term. 

In these ways, they can be said to perfectly reflect folklore’s definition of “multiplicity and variation”.

Ummarell, precisely, is one of these folk-terms as, deriving from the Emilian dialect, it’s used by people inside the colloquial lingo to represent not only the old retired men who stop at every building site they encounter -as the original meaning implies-, but also all those people who act in this way. 

It becomes an informal way of making fun of a person who act as an old man, or that has the same behavior of old retired man. In this way, a sort of generational division is created, as the youth makes fun of peers pejoratively associating it with the elderly. 

Additionally, it is also used to indicate those who are nosy and who, not having much to do in their spare-time, do useless stuff like watching construction sites and giving unrequested advices to the ones who are working.