A Harvest of Italian Words

Sep 21, 2021


In Italy every season— la primavera (spring), l’estate (summer), l’autunno (autumn), l’inverno (winter) — has a different feel and focus. L’autunno is when farmers reap what they have sown.

The harvest (il raccolto or la messe) has already passed for many fruits, including plums (susine), peaches (pesche), and berries (frutti di bosco). Now is the time to fare la raccolta (get in the harvest) for other crops, such as  le biondi messi (the golden corn) and l’uva (the grapes).

Italian towns celebrate the harvest in different ways, including festivals (le sagre). A traditional wheat festival (festa del grano) features a parade of wheat wagons (una sfilata dei carri di grano), agricultural tools (attrezzi agricoli), and works made by “straw artists” (artisti della paglia) in the form of braids (trecce), laces (laccetti), and other confections that look like woven fabrics (trame intessute).

In Italy’s wine regions,  everyone keeps an eye on the weather during la vendemmia (the grape harvest). If there’s a threat of damaging rain, grape pickers (vendemmiatori) may have to work by the light of the harvest moon (luna della vendemmia or luna di Settembre) to gather grapes (cogliere l‘uva) before the skies open. At a cantina, bunches of grapes (grappoli d’uva) are sorted, washed, stemmed, and crushed to prepare for la pigiatura dell’uva (the grape pressing). Then everyone waits, hoping that this will turn out to be una buona annata (a vintage year).

In Italy the novello (new) wine is uncorked and enjoyed during the equivalent of Indian summer in the United States — l’estate di San Martino, the summer of St. Martin, whose onomastico or saint’s day is celebrated on November 11. As a traditional saying puts it, “Per San Martino, cadono le foglie e si spilla il vino.” (For St. Martin, the leaves fall, and the wine is tapped.)

You can harvest more than grains (cereali) and vegetables (verdura) in the Italian language.  The verb raccogliere can translate as pick, gather, collect, and pluck as well as reap. For instance, one may raccogliere francoboli (stamps) or allori (honors).  Una raccolta di libri rari refers to a collection of rare books.   A haphazard gathering of odds and ends is a raccogliticcio. By tying hair up into a ponytail, you create capelli raccolti. The person doing the collecting may be a raccoglitore (masculine) or a raccoglitrice (feminine).

As a reflexive verb, raccogliersi means to concentrate, collect one’s thoughts, or pull oneself together. We could all use some moments during the day for il raccoglimento (meditation, contemplation, concentration). There is much to be said for the benefits of living raccoltamente (attentively) and being raccolto in se stesso (composed within one’s self).

However, at times we may need to do more: gather our strength (raccogliere le forze), rally others (chiamare a raccolta), and take up a challenge (raccogliere una sfida). But it never pays to stir up trouble without just cause. Remember: Chi semina vento raccoglie tempesta (who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind).

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language; LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the WorldMONA LISA: A Life Discovered; and A” Is for Amore, which you can download for free at diannehales.com.




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