Valentine’s Day is behind us, for this year. But in Italy words of love are everywhere, every day and in every situation. It’s there in the plaintive teenage graffiti, the songs on the radio, the kisses on the street and, I’ve really noticed, in the way people address each other. “Amore! Come va?”
And why shouldn’t everyone be addressed as “love”, especially when life is beautiful in such a beautiful place? A parent to a child, a friend to another, a shop assistant to the customer – everyone can be called “amore”.
In Norway you’ll commonly hear the lovely phrase skatten min – my treasure (or more precisely, for these days, “my taxes”.) But it’s not really relevant to strangers. Where is the love that’s so strong and all-enveloping it’s used all the time?
And I mean, all the time:
“Ah my love, this cash register is closed”
“Oh my love did you not do your homework?”
“Sorry love, did I bump your car?”
An old Yorkshire greengrocer might ask “what’ll you have luv?” It’s affectionate and charming. But that’s not really love, it even needs to be spelled differently to be sure there’s no awkward reminder of the big word itself. This is no grand passion he’s echoing.
English has many words of affectionate greeting (any of which could be used to translate Amore) – darling, sweetheart, dear, baby – but they’re taking us far from the original sentiment.
In Ireland what do we say? Pet or dote. They’re both affectionate and, characteristically, a bit different (with the emphasis on the soft Irish t). But like so many expressions in that wet-and-windy/changeable country, they’re at one remove from straightforward language and simple expression of affection.
In Canada I hear “bud” used a lot (especially to kids dressed in any kind of sporting attire). I’ll admit it’s not my favourite word but it is clearly affectionate and certainly bandied about enough to cover the recipient with a sense of commonly-understood affection and kindness, with a certain jostling parental remove.
Here in Italy, as well as Amore, people might be called caro/cara, or Tesoro, something my kids get called by strangers and now (why not?) by me.
But I’m going with Amore. Simple, ancient, melodious, universal. It’s what it’s all about.
Read more about the street art of Florence in my 2017 blog post