Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Topini Pussywillow

Dear Art Lover,
     Just when I thought I could not be more in love with my Tuscan home, yesterday I discovered a new delight!  My landlord and I were taking a walk down our street and ended up running into a couple we know at the end of the road who were splitting wood with a band saw attached to a tractor.  (I hope to photograph this for you since I had never seen this configuration before!)

     As I was speaking about something, I turned around and my jaw dropped.  Pussywillow was right behind me!  This plant is a large part of my earliest memories of being a child in Germany.  My mother used to use the branches to make an egg tree for Easter.  And yes, we colored the hollow or wooden eggs ourselves.  I also continued this tradition when I lived in Texas [found the plant in Iowa].  Pussywillow holds a special place in my heart.  I adore it.  I did not know that pussywillow existed in Italia and now… here it is!  I think my friends were amused by my reaction, but it was love, really.  I was invited to take some home, so I did; just two sprigs, you know, not wanting to destroy this treasure.

     When I got home, I wrote to some of my nature-loving friends in Vellano, a village a couple of hills away.  I wanted to know what they call pussywillow in Italian.  Well, the willow family in general is called Salici.  However, there are about 300 varieties of willow, so I wanted something more specific.  Locally, the natives call this plant “topini,” which means “little mice.” You can see that easily enough, right?
Pussywillow or Topini branches Tuscany Italy willow Salici
Pussywillow or Topini branches Tuscany Italy

Gregory and his new friend Two dogs running to find topini
Gregory (front) has a new friend.  Gregory hunts real topini.
     But here is how my mind worked as the American wife and I were doing the translating for the guys… I kept this one to myself until now since I have a tendency to make a bit of naughty jokes when perhaps I would be wise to … not.

      Some time ago, while my friend Kumiko and I were having lunch one day with a group of five Italian men (all artists/colleagues), the guys found it funny to educate us on some Italian ways.  They told us a couple of the words Italian men use to “catcall” women.  In all of Italia, but especially Roma, when men see a “do-able” woman, they call after her, “Fica” or “che fica.”  Italians (even the men) consider this word quite vulgar.  It translates to the first half of the name of my beloved plant, mentioned above. 

     Then one of the guys said, “Well, the Romans would use that word, but here in Toscana, we would say, “Topa.” So I asked the speaker if this is what he calls his wife and got a good chuckle when he immediately said, “Nope!” [as in he would not dare!]  He explained that this word is considered less vulgar, though.  The other funny point I should add here is that generally, in Italia, people do not trust those who come from further south than they do.  So, someone from Milano may not trust a Florentine, whereas both of those may not trust a Roman… and all of them will not trust someone from Napoli, and Sicilians?  “Forget about it!”  So, it makes sense that a Tuscan would consider a Roman also more vulgar.

     Topa” is a female mouse, but the slang refers to female anatomy, apparently with a “cuter” visual than “fica.”  [Oh, I tend to confuse “figa” (which means “cool”) and “fica” and try to remember that the “c” stands for the “C” word in English, which I personally do not want to hear.  You might imagine the mess one can cause when showing appreciation for something really cool!]

    So, after we had our fun with this, I asked the guys what Kumiko and I should say if we were typical Italian women and saw some hottie men walking down the street.  For a moment, the guys looked dumbfounded.  I guess that is the double standard rearing its ugly head.  Then one of them offered, “Bello?” not sounding convinced.  Bello” just means “beautiful” or “handsome,” so, we agreed that this is not the same sort of “compliment” on the flip side of things. I changed tactics, “Ok, so if a woman wanted to make it clear to a man that she was really into him, what would she say or do?”  I was amused when the man sitting to my right said, “If you want him to know that you are interested, you need to stick your tongue inside his mouth.”

    Hmm… subtle.  So, why am I relating these silly stories about “mice” to you?
Buona San Valentino!  Or Happy Valentine’s Day.

Oh, and as a side note:  The Italians call lots of little similar shapes “topini,” so here is a link to a recipe and how-to video to make:  Topini alla fiorentina.  Relax:  It is only a type of pasta!

     If you like, please have a look at some of my paintings and sculpture online here:

Peace and thank you for following this journey with me,


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Pussywillow or Topini branches Tuscany Italy willow Salici
Pussywillow or Topini branches Tuscany Italy - willow Salici

Pussywillow or Topini branches with pinecones and charcoal for drawing
Pussywillow or Topini branches
Narcissus or Paperwhites Flowers for February in Tuscany Italy
Narcissus - just to throw you off ;-)


Jo Castillo said...

Fun post! Happy Valentine’s Day a bit late! Hugs.

Kelly Borsheim said...

:-) I have been told that I am a bit naughty... but also I was told that men love to teach foreign women the naughty stuff first. haha.