An Italian legend, so I’ve learned, says that Rome has a secret name.“Roma” is a mere alias used for public discourse … as well, on a side note, “Amor” spelt backwards, interestingly (which explains a lot of interesting things I’ve seen in the public areas so far that ought not be public usually). Romulus shrouded its real identity in mystery so that its enemies, not knowing its name, would be unable to bring curses upon it … or something to that effect. Consequently, it is a great sacrilege to speak the real name of Rome, though no one knows what it is, except the Pontifex Maximus.
I’ve embarked on the quest to find that name. The Pontifex Maximus, even though he’s the Pope right now, should really have someone on the side who knows the name too, just in case. Also, I am dying to know. Accusations may come in condemnation of my efforts, but I argue that my mission does not profane the Eternal City, for it is obvious that I will fail in a futile and spectacularly pathetic and humorous attempt. Further, it would be neat to know and perhaps lend the key to understanding this strange place known as Rome.
Rome has been an Empire, a City-State, a Religious Center, the Symbol of an ideal existence. It’s a kind of amorphous, ethereal beast that no one can figure out, but one that has conquered the world.
I can’t figure out the Italian people either. I’m partially Italian, but that probably just makes things worse. At first, I was repelled by their apparent and blatantly obvious lack of sanity. It can be foremost recognized on their streets by the way they operate cars. They seem to want to kill people when they get angry, but they always just come short of it. It is an emotionally hot culture but not violent in the least. They scream at each other but never throw punches. Italy’s appearance is operatic, dramatic, theatrical but not real. The true reality is hidden somewhere else.
This mysterious beauty I’ve witnessed all throughout Rome, from its Roman temples to its Italian tongue. The Pantheon and the Basilicas make one ask the question how on earth could such a thing be built.Modern architects are baffled. They are beautiful and mysterious.Italian language shares the same. It has a strategic use of vowels and consonants that brings forth the maximum amount of pleasure to the listener (and this certainly contributes to the interesting things that happen in public areas, as mentioned above). There are mysteries sown into their speech as well. Most of it makes sense, but some things are quite weird.
“Prego” is an Italian word that wears a veil of secrecy. Italians say it all the time, but no one knows what the heck it means. Americans have heard it from the Pasta Sauce. According to our textbook, it means “to pray” or “to beg” or “you’re welcome,” but that’s mere tomfoolery. It doesn’t mean anything, and it also means everything, or something in between those two. Italians speak it with a fearsome liberality amongst their turbulent fast-talking seas of nonsense. Linguists can try their best to unsheathe its meaning, but this, I fear, is a futile gesture. It shall remain a lexical mystery in the land of grapes and olives … and love.
I, however, may have found its English clone a few days ago, and I believe it’s “Dude.”
The word “Dude” is surely the most versatile word in the English language. “Dude” can be shaped into various masterpieces of expression by the mere inflection of one’s voice. One can adopt it for interjectional shock: “Dude!”; or while nodding unconsciously to another’s incoherence, “Dude”; or for a strange interrogative, “Dude?”Or for manifesting a content, relaxing sigh, “Duuude.” The religious sister who is teaching us the Italian language has attested to the ambiguity of “Prego.” And thus, I think it can be said, Prego is Dude.
At breakfast, this word came in handy. Upon reaching the cereals, I failed to infuse a pitcher of milk into a bowl of granola, and delivered the dairy onto the nice table cloth instead. Embarrassed by this lactose misdemeanor, I glanced nervously around and found the Italian-speaking nun standing right next to me, as well as an opportunity to redeem myself with a keen use of Italian linguistics. “Prego!” I said to the spillage, pointing to it condemningly, as I looked to the nun for her professorial approval. She shook her head despairingly and said that even with the forgiving, ecumenical use of that word, somehow I still had managed to use it badly. She recommended, “Ecco” instead, which means, “Here it is!” Under holy obedience, I contemplated these things in my heart and paid no attention to when I tried to pour the milk again, and poured it onto the table for a second time. “Prego!” I said again and wondered why I was so stupid.
Nonetheless, I acted rightly. To cloak one’s stupidity, one must publicize it. It is counter-intuitive and deceptive. The best way to hide something is to make it obvious. This, I think, is what Romulus has done with the name of his city. He has hidden it in the Italian language. He has disguised it as something that looks like itself. I have fancied that Rome’s name might be “Prego.”