. The Very Best Business by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791-1863) translated from Romanesco by Joseph S. Salemi First I was a gardener (a disaster), Then a bookseller. I made even less. So did I change my business plan? Oh yes— I turned and became an upper-crust whoremaster. In this, I tell you, I make out quite well— I don’t simply earn; I rake it in. A third of the Sacred College comes to sin— They want the merchandise I have to sell. I serve Monsignors, and high-ranking Abbots; The married and the widowed and the single. And everyone’s as pleased as rutting rabbits. I’m fair. When clients leave, their purses jingle. My guys are rich and titled, with clean habits, My ladies cute and svelte, to make you tingle. . . Original Romanesco La Ppiú Mmejj’ Arte Da principio fascevo l’ortolano: Male. Me messe a ffà er libbraro: peggio. Risòrze allora de mutà mmaneggio, E mme diede ar mestiere der ruffiano. In questo, te confesso da cristiano, Nun zolo sce guadaggno, ma ssaccheggio: E un terzo ar meno der Zagro-Colleggio Vonno la marcanzía da le mi’ mano. Io sservo Monziggnori, io Padr’ Abbati, Io maritate, io vedove, io zitelle… E ll’ho ttutti oggnisempre contentati. Perch’io sò onesto e nun tiro a la pelle, L’ommini mii sò rricchi e intitolati, E le mi’ donne pulitucce e bbelle. —Vol. 2, poem 1306 . A Brief Note The ruffiano or sexual procurer was always a feature of Roman life, and in this particular instance Belli imagines one who is successful and happy in the higher end of the trade. His clientele includes members of the College of Cardinals as well as other clerics, but he also provides services to women who want anonymous sexual satisfaction, whether they are married, widowed, or old maids. There is an ambiguity in the sonnet’s penultimate line, where the speaker says that “his men” are rich and titled. This could mean that the male prostitutes whom he provides for female customers are high-class persons, or that high-class males make up his clientele. The same holds for the last line, where the speaker refers to “my women” as being very clean and beautiful. This may mean the girls who work for him, or the ladies who patronize his establishment. In either case, the pimp is proud of the persons whom he deals with. This kind of slightly sarcastic ambiguity is typical of Belli. . Some Vocabulary Items libbraro: standard Italian libraio. ruffiano: a procurer for sexual encounters, a pandar or a pimp. da cristiano: as a Christian, in the general sense of “in all honesty.” Zagro-Colleggio: the College of Cardinals. Monziggnori… Padr’ Abbati: monsignors and father abbots, clergymen of high rank. maritate, vedove, zitelle: these nouns are all in the feminine, so they must be read as “wives, widows, and spinsters.” oggnisempre: standard Italian ognora. nun tiro a la pelle: I don’t pull at the skin, in the general sense of “I don’t overcharge them.” . . Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.