June 12, 2017

Italy and the return to Italian

E and I were talking about it, and it's agreed.  My Spanish, is, finally, after 3 months of immersion, miraculously, better than my Italian.

Classic salcicia e friarelli pizza.  (And a saltimbocca sandwich in the background).
But...  A little bit of Italian goes a long way in Italy.  Like way more than quite a bit of Spanish in Spain or French in France.

Plastercasts of people buried alive by the ash of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii.
Also, every day we were in Italy, my Italian got much better.  E told me about a week in that he was happy to see that service people stopped cringing when I insisted on struggling through in Italian when clearly their English is much better than my butchering of their language (conveniently, my face-blindness extends to a lack of awareness of people's frustration with my insisting on speaking a language I think I should be able to communicate in). 

I was unprepared for how large the Pompeii ruins are.  It's an entire city.
(That's been under constant excavation for more time than the US has been a country!)
And, somehow, along the way, I happily unlocked stuff that was 15 years deep in the recesses.  About halfway through our visit, a server counted the number of pieces of uneaten pasta on E's plate and motioned that he was not doing his job.  We all laughed and I said, "Vergogna?"  And then, certain I must have gotten it wrong, I proceeded to try about 12 different Spanishized/Fracophied/Latin-based modifications until the server stopped me and said, "Si. Vergogna. Shame!"  It's always very bizarre when your brain re-activates a long dead pathway.  I knew "Che pecatto" but for some reason at that moment, my neurons grabbed another word, one I had no recollection of actually knowing, but somehow did.

Running in Italy did not happen much, but aggressive hiking on sketchy trails to historically fascinating
sites was a regular activity.  (View from the hike to Tiberius Ruins on Capri.)
In the 15 years since I was last in this country, Italy has become much more English-speaking.  If you are a tourist, it's now hard to even do anything in Italian if you speak English unless you are in a non-touristy place, which, since so much of the economy of Italy runs on tourism, is kind of hard to find...

Sea Urchin Spaghetti -- Amazing
After 11 days of minimal Italian study and using it every day in the country, E commented at dinner, "It's probably true that your Spanish is better than your Italian right now.  But you are just so much more comfortable in this language.  Watching you talk to people in Italy after a week is like watching you talk in France.  You just expect that things they say will make sense to you and that they will obviously understand what you are saying. You visibly try much harder in Spanish."

Lemon ricotta, cream, basil, preserved lemon ravioli 
(Very traditional Amalfi meal -- no new world ingredients)
And there it is.  Despite years away, Italy and Italian is like a homeland to me.  I may love France and French, now, but I worked so, so very hard for it, whereas I definitely didn't do the same level of effort for Italian.  In fact, I think I probably have also done more total work on Spanish than Italian, and definitely much more recently, and yet, I'm just more comfortable in Italian (and they, in fairness, tend to be more comfortable in English as well).

2 kinds of tartare and 2 kinds of carpaccio with a side of beef sushi
(Appetizer before arguably the best beef meal of the year in Reggio Calabria)
I mean, I get their jokes.  That's really what it comes down to.  They are close enough to my people that I understand what they think is funny even if I don't totally understand all of the words.  And they see me laughing.  And they reach out, physically, because they are a loving, demonstrative, joyful, and full-of-life people that I'm so very happy to visit yet again. 

On the trail of the Gods hike in Amalfi
Also, it doesn't hurt that E looks like half of the men in Napoli and 1/4 of the men in Sicilia.  We've seen so many people who've reminded us of his uncle Vinnie (no joke) and his grandma on this trip.  And I have dark hair, and I may or may not come from people of this region (or its many invaders), but they often assume that it is true.  They are so accepting and loving and feeding you too much food (today at the airport the food service guy refused to take money for bread and breadsticks when I returned to buy them after realizing we hadn't bought enough).

The average Naples intersection -- we hadn't seen traffic on this level since Vietnam.
After 20 days of Italian chaos and joy, we left for Malta.  Despite the inefficiency and unpredictability, I was so thrilled and happy to be listening to and singing the song of Italy, enjoying its gorgeous countryside, talking with its people and eating its delicious food at every turn. It has been wonderful to return after 15+ years of absence.  And, I can only hope to return much sooner next time.


Arvay said...




bt said...

@Arvay -- you don't even know! I was served warm ricotta fresh out of the vats at an agriturismo. It was life changing. I asked for seconds and the workers smiled at my correctness against all the other tourists who were polite. Pics will have to come later.

Cat said...

I haven't been to Italy since 2008 where Italian was crucial for having fun (I was in the same region as you here). I'm intrigued to see how much it's changed linguistically when we go back. I'll be sad if it's much more English oriented. Boo.

bt said...

@Cat -- I'd only spent 1 weekend in Napoli in the early 2000s and had never been to Amalfi, Calabria, or Sicily, so I can't totally comment on how the region itself has changed. But compared to all of my previous visits, I was shocked at just how much English there was. Historically, the Italian felt necessary on my travels in Italy. Now it got us friendly happy service and several bills that were mysteriously missing some of the wine we consumed, but occasionally it got us into that awkward situation where the service person is insisting on speaking their version of English and I was insisting on speaking my version of Italian. So, in our experience, it is now useful (and certainly came in handy a few times), but is not required.