Scarpetta

I’ve learned a wonderful word in Italian during our trip. The word is scarpetta, which is literally translated as “little shoe,” but the common usage of the word has nothing to do with footwear. Instead, it refers to the act of breaking bread into small pieces, like a little shoe, and using them to mop up the sumptuous leftover sauce from a dish of pasta.

We’ve eaten a lot of excellent pasta on this trip, and I’m a strong believer in getting every last morsel of flavor from a fine dish—so I’ve heard scarpetta used a lot over the past few days. It’s sounds much more elegant than “mopping up,”don’t you think?

I’ve tried without much success to remember the Italian I’ve heard. Scarpetta is one word I’m pretty sure I’ll remember.

Allora

I’ve been hearing a lot of Italian and Sicilian over the past few days. They are lovely languages to listen to, even if I don’t understand much: rhythmic, fast-paced, and almost lyrical. It’s like listening to a song where you don’t know what is being sung, but you really like the melody. If you like Louie, Louie by the Kingmen, for example, who cares if the words are so slurred and garbled you don’t understand any of them?

One word you hear frequently in Italy and Sicily is “allora.” It often appears at the beginning of sentences, such as when a guy sitting at a table next to us the other day began his apparent order by saying “allora” and then launching into the selections for his table. It seems to be sprinkled liberally into many Italian statements. What does it mean? The Capo dei Capi and the Swiss Shutterbug translate it as meaning “so” or “then,” and it also can mean “well.” It’s a kind of Italian gap filler that gets the tongue going while the brain is still considering exactly what to say.

Imagine how much more pleasant listening to the English language would be if we all were in the habit of saying “allora” instead of “uh” when we were a bit stuck on what to say next!