T.S. Eliot called it the cruelest month (il mese più crudele). Yet this is also the romantic month that inspired classic songs and movies like Enchanted April, April in Paris and April Love. And as the cheerful childhood rhyme reminds us, April showers bring May flowers. April has long been of my favorite months to visit Italy. Since that’s not possible this year, I’ve been savoring April in Italian.
Legend credits Italians with inventing April Fool’s Day. Back in 1564, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar that changed the beginning of the new year from April 1 to January 1. Some people who didn’t believe or wouldn’t accept the change kept celebrating New Year’s on the first of April. Others tried to show how silly these original April fools were by sending them on pointless errands or tricking them into thinking something false was true.
Somehow the fool came to take the form of a fish. On April 1, children would try to fasten a paper cutout of a little fish (pesciolino) to the back of a schoolmate. “Have you seen it?” they’d chant. “Who?” the unwitting child would ask. “Il pesce d’aprile!” (the fish—or fool—of April) they replied.
According to an old proverb, Aprile e Maggio son la chiave di tutto l’anno (April and May are the keys to the whole year). We have plenty of reasons to welcome both as they bring the fields back to life. Aprile fa il fiore e maggio si ha il colore (April brings the flower and May the color.) More specifically, Aprile carciofaio, maggio ciliegiaio. (In April, artichoke. In May, cherries.)
Even April rains can be welcome. Here are some reasons:
*Aprile piovoso, maggio ventoso, anno fruttuoso — Rainy April, windy May, fruitful year.
*L’acqua d’aprile, il bue ingrassa, il porco uccide, e la pecora se ne ride — The water of April, the ox grows fat, the pig dies, and the sheep laughs.
*Quando tuona d’Aprile buon segno per il barile — When it thunders in April, it’s a good sign for the barrel (of wine).
Yet there’s reason to be wary this month. Why? Aprile suol esser cattivo da principio o al fine. (April tends to be naughty/wicked from beginning to end). Another old saying cautions: Aprile e conti per lo più son traditori (April and calculations/counting are mostly traitors—and you shouldn’t trust them.) Just consider the unpredictable weather:
*Fidarsi alla buona stagione d’aprile, è come fare i conti innanzi l’oste — Putting faith in April’s weather is like counting your chickens before they hatch.
*April, apriletto, un dì freddo un dì caldetto — April, dear April, one day you’re cold, the next you’re warm.
*Aprile aprilone, non mi farai por giù il pelliccione -– April, oh April, you don’t let me put my heavy coat away.
*Aprile una goccia o un fontanile — In April, it’s either just few drops (of rain) or a downpour.
For anyone swept away in an April romance, another Italian proverb may give reason for pause: Gli uomini sono aprile quando fanno all’amore, dicembre quando hanno sposato. (Men are like April when they flirt/court; like December once they are married.)
Dianne Hales is the author of LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World; LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language; and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. You can download her most recent book, “A” Is for Amore, for free at diannehales.com.