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Names and Nicknames in Italy

So I guess the Maresciallo is still with us. It’s two years since we were last here. He’s two years older, two years harder of hearing. He and his wife are watching television tonight. When Tizi and I stand at the door of our apartment in San Marino, right next to his door in the foyer, we hear the bombast of a loony Italian game show next door. 

He must be ninety-something.  For years when we pulled up to the front of our building in Serravalle in our rental car, Maresciallo and our friend Mario would be sitting on the cement bench having a chiacchiera, a chat, swapping small-town gossip and news. Mario is gone. A heart surgery went sideways during Covid time. Maresciallo is still with us. Those days, whatever the year, Maresciallo looked the same. Tall, his gray hair carefully cut, oiled, and combed, on his oval face a barely contained smart-ass look (Tizi finds him to be lecherous), and fashionably decked out in stylish comfort clothes, linen pants in warm weather, a fitted waist-length jacket, new shoes. He made getting old look effortless.

Through any evening we’re home, we’ll hear whatever they’re watching. It’s what old people do. They turn up the volume and turn up the heart. Maresciallo’s getting it loud and hot over there. Tomorrow or the next day I’ll see him outside or in the foyer. We’re on good terms. We’ll smile, exchange greetings; we’ll talk about the Covid, how his wife is (last I knew she had stopped walking), how mine is, and carry on with our day. With Mario we were friends.  We’re not friends with Maresciallo; we’re friendly. At least I am. 

Thinking we could be friends, I asked him once, meeting him in the foyer, “What’s your name?”

And he answered, “Maresciallo.” 

We left it at that. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know my name. I’m also pretty sure his mother didn’t name him “the Marshall.” Maybe she gave him a name he doesn’t like. 

Over here, as in most places, what you do is who you are. Here it becomes your title. Good evening, avvocato (lawyer). Nice to see you, maestro (teacher). How do you do, geometra? (And what do you do?). Up in the Serravalle castle there’s a captain. You don’t need to know his name. Capitano will do nicely. So it is with Maresciallo.

This town is also big on nicknames. The term is “soprannome,” sopra (on or over) and nome (name). A name on top of a name.  

There’s a hairdresser in town whose soprannome is “diavolo.” Devil. I haven’t met him, but his mother, whom I have met, says he’s a nice enough guy. She proudly refers to herself as the mother of the devil.  I’m not sure what his actual name is. 

Up at the bar we’re likely to run into a guy whose soprannome is eggplant. I’d like to ask him how that name came about, if it’s not being too personal.  I don’t know his actual name. He’s just “mlanzena.” 

A while back we went to a funeral for a Serravalle guy who’s given name was Sergio and whose soprannome was “Taio.” When I asked one of the Giulianelli twins what Taio means, he shrugged and said it just meant Sergio.

There is a fabled restaurant guy down in Rimini whose name is Lurido.  Can you imagine a mother naming her child Lurid? It must be a soprannome.

A bit of good luck. Last night we were walking down the Corso d’Augusto in Rimini. It’s a historic road, the beginning of the Via Flaminia, a couple blocks from the spot where Julius Caesar informed the legions that they had crossed the Rubicon and would march to Rome. Along that stretch of road today, restaurants, bars, the police station, the city museum, various fashionable shops. We were killing time before fulfilling a dinner reservation. Your eye wanders, taking it all in. Mine went to a pizza window that perfectly framed the interior, a couple cassoni on a shelf, behind that shelf two women making pizzas. 

I stepped up to take a picture, motioning to them if they wouldn’t mind arranging themselves for me. They moved into view and posed themselves. I mouthed the words “thank you” and received a quizzical look. I mouthed the word again, and again got the quizzical look.

“Would you like a piece of pizza?” one of them said. Which explained the look. Was I mute? Was I a weirdo? I didn’t realize the window was open. Hey, let’s talk.

We did talk. And in the course of this conversation, she pointed to the restaurant across the street, run by a disciple or nephew of the famous and elusive Lurido. 

We’ve been looking for Lurido, waiting for him for years. Tizi’s cousin says we ate at Lurido in 1978. For the past ten years, across from our favorite noon hour wine bar was Lurido’s restaurant, always closed. “Where is he?” we would ask Ricky as he poured us a Sangiovese. “When is he going to re-open?” Ricky would shrug and say, “Chi lo sa?” Who knows?

It’s our first full day back. Mario, sadly, unbearably, is gone; Maresciallo, still about. 

And we are on Lurido’s trail. On the board in front of the restaurant, the menu. Good things fresh from the sea, just a quarter mile away. In Italy they say eat fish in a month with the letter R. We’re here. It’s February.

Maybe today, a Lurid lunch.

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