Saturday, July 27, 2013

From St. Anselm to Burgonya

St. Anselm (1033-1109), usually referred to as “of Canterbury” would be considered to have been Italian by birth, having been born in Aosta, in Northern Italy. He was, however, a Lombard; the Lombards were a Germanic tribe that held portions of Italy at the time. His family held fiefdoms in the Burgundian territories which are French and Italian today but were Burgundian then. And St. Anselm ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury which is in England. On the way there he was first prior and then abbot of the monastery of Bec, in Lower Normandy.

The twins are visiting from France, Henry and Malcolm. The subject of St. Anselm came up because their sister, Stella, had to write an essay on a text by St. Anselm. Malcolm then asked: Where was St. Anselm born? That sort of question in our day wants to have a country as its answer. And the straight if deceptive answer in this context is that he was born in Burgundy. And Burgundy is in France, now, isn’t it? But, well, nationalism, more or less based on language, was not yet a reality then. Burgundy had strange extensions southward from north-eastern France where it has shrunk today. And Anselm probably spoke Italian in childhood although his stock was German.

The boys were just a little baffled by the name “Burgundy” when I brought it back from Google. We had to translate that back into French: Bourgogne. Ah! The eyes lit up. That region they knew. And, having fetched the World Atlas, we confirmed it. There was that word, in the right place. We fell to talking about wine—which the boys associate with Burgundy. And so do we. But in the wake of that discussion—a night’s sleep later, actually—suddenly the Hungarian word burgonya was on my mind. This puzzled me briefly.

My father always used that word. It means potato. But in Hungary we have two words for it. The other word is krumpli—and it is by far the more commonly used word. I wrote yesterday about expensive and low-cost phrases. Well, in Hungarian, burgonya is the expensive word for potato. More formal, more dressed up—which my father also always was. My brief puzzlement ended as soon as I realized that the French  pronunciation of Bourgogne would be rendered in Hungarian as Burgony. And with an A added, it means: “from Burgundy.”

Yes, yes. Burgundy is a very active agricultural area—even if its fame is welded to vineyards. And the potato, even in these latter days, is that region’s largest vegetable crop.

The potato is still with us—thank the Lord for certain kinds of permanence. But can you imagine an Italian, who went wandering in early youth in France, becoming an abbot there, ending in the United Kingdom as the Archbishop of Canterbury?

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