For over twenty years I butchered the Italian language. Maybe I haven’t become fluent in Italian, but I have progressed, and not just in learning the language. Because I have learned to speak even a small amount of Italian I have learned patience, perseverance, and to be a kinder person. My life has changed in many ways, most notably how I live my daily life, what I put into my mouth, and how I care for, my body. I think too, that my notions of love and family have changed. And, I have developed friendships with people from another culture, which have greatly enriched my life.
Take Giulio Taddeucci for example. Donald and I had gotten to know Giulio because Barack Obama was running for President. Giulio, each time an American came into the pasticceria, had asked for whom, Obama or John McCain, he or she planned to vote. I had been taken by Giulio’s fascination with our election – Italians appeared as knowledgeable about our politics as most Americans. I returned every other day or so to check on the results. In a landslide, Obama had won the unscientific poll by almost 60 percentage points. While at first our conversations with Giulio focused on the U.S. election they eventually shifted to food.
“Vi piace il pesce?” Guilio asked.
“Certo,” I replied.
“Venite a casa nostra stasera per la cena.”
“Volentieri,” I said. We were happy to accept an invitation to dinner.
Over the years Donald and I enjoyed many meals with Giulio and his wife Manuela. At one particular dinner at the Taddeucci’s I sensed that our friendship was deepening, perhaps because Donald and I were better able to speak and even understand italiano. As we were enjoying a homemade mirtillo (blueberry) digestivo, Giulio said, “I have something special to show you.”
Within minutes he returned with a large diary (diario) and said, “I have gone fishing two to three nights a week for over forty years, which was when I began making these diaries. I have dozens of them.” Inside the diary, page after page was filled with pictures of fish, mostly branzino and orata that Giulio had caught in the sea off Viareggio, about 20 minutes outside Lucca. In addition to the pictures, each page contained tiny notations: dates, bodies of water in which the fish had been caught, numbers of fish caught and their sizes. The notes were so precise, so beautifully organized; it would have been easy to mistake this fisherman for an architect or a calligrapher. Occasionally there was a picture of his son Marino when he was a little boy and had gone fishing with his dad. There were numerous pictures of Gino, his beloved dog, a white and reddish English Springer Spaniel. The pictures of Gino were actually pictures of seven different dogs, all but the last now deceased, all of them had been white and red English Springer Spaniels and all of them had been named Gino.
Giulio was composed in a way I had never seen as he walked Donald and me through his diario. I looked into the face of this man, so intent, so at home in a world I barely knew. I could picture him standing at the edge of the sea, his rod cast into the waters, with Gino by his side, waiting, under the rising sun, for a fish to bite. I wanted to hug him; instead I just smiled hoping he could see how touched I was to be privy to a world that meant so much to him. It was a night I will never forget, one that occurred, I was sure, because I had learned Italian. I thought to myself, after these years I now speak Italian like an adulto.
Perhaps I was a bit too hasty to make that pronouncement as the next morning at Pasticceria Buralli I announced to Keti, Romina, the two women who run the pasticceria, as well as a dozen or so customers, “Last night Donald and I had one of the most heartwarming evenings we have spent in a long while.” As all eyes cast themselves upon me, I added, “Giulio Taddeucci spent an entire evening showing his amazing collection of diarrea. It was incredibly moving.”
As I waited for some sort of response, the question popped into my head: Did I just use the word diarrea? Oh, no…o mio Dio… I did, didn’t I? I just told everyone that Guilio Taddeucci, a respected, well-known gentleman, had spent the night showing Donald and me his amazing collection of DIARRHEA. Perchè? Why couldn’t I have remembered diario, as in diary? How was I to tell Giulio what I had done? Oh, mio Dio.
Clearly, I am no longer the middle aged man with a tin ear, who so many years ago spoke only a handful of Italian words?” No, I am now a man in his late 70s, a man who still refers to himself as the pope, one who still asks for fish when he wants a peach, and one who, despite knowing around 2000 Italian words, blabs on and on about his friend’s diarrhea. Yes, without question, I am still butchering the beautiful language.
And, I couldn’t be happier.
Now that you have learned about my progress learning la lingua, over the next three weeks you will have the opportunity to TEST YOUR ITALIANO! In the meantime, stai bene amici.