THE MIDDLE YEARS
In my quest to learn the language of Dante and Puccini I began each morning, when in Lucca, at Pasticceria Pasquinelli, where every day I ordered the same items, un cornetto vuoto e un caffè Americano. Pasquinelli has become my ‘home away from home.”
One day, desperately needing a bathroom I practically ran to the pasticceria.
Without even saying hello, I asked Monica, one of the owners, “Dové il gabinetto?”
Monica pointed towards the stairs and told me to turn right at the top. I found the facilities, and once back downstairs I thanked her, “Grazie Monica.“
She asked “Come Stai?”
“Sono molto eccitato,” I replied.
She simply stared at me.
Why such a strange reaction, I wondered?
Later, that evening at Da Francesco I once again ordered fagioli con panna. And once again, Sara, the owner smiled and said, “You mean fragole (strawberries), non fagioli (beans).” Ten years from now, will I still be ordering beans with whipped cream, I asked myself.
As Donald and I were leaving the restaurant, Sara said, “Enjoy your time in Lucca.”
“Oh, we will,” I replied. “We’re both very eccitato.”
Just as Monica had done, Sara looked at me as if I had spoken an alien tongue, whcih was becoming a common reaction to my use of the word eccitato. Puzzled by these reactions, I found a dictionary and looked up the word.
Eccitato:Excited; Thrilled; Enthusiastic; Elated.
What’s wrong with that, I wondered?”
Back in the U.S. I asked our Italian teacher, “Why do I receive such a strange reaction when I use the word eccitato?
“Give me an example of how you use it,” Dr. Valenza said.
“Sono eccitato essere qui” or I am excited to be here.
“That’s correct,” the professor replied.
Thank god, I said to myself, especially given the fact that after ten years, I have used the expression hundreds, if not thousands of times: I’m excited to be here, I’d say or I’m excited to see you or I am SO very excited, and so on.
After spending the summer in California we returned to Lucca and immediately went to Pasquinelli.
As we entered the pasticceria,I shouted, “Buongiorno; buongiorno!” I was overjoyed to see Monica and the rest of the staff. After a round of kisses, Monica asked, “How are you?”
I practically screamed out, “SONO MOLTO ECCITATO VI VEDO.”
Monica’s face went ashen. Ever so slowly she leaned across the counter and, using her forefinger to draw me in close, quietly said, “The Lucchesi use the word eccitato to express sexual excitement.”
“What?” “It means what?”
Oh, God, I’ve used the word eccitato thousands of times. O MIO DIO! OH MIO DIO!!!
The Lucchesi must think I have a constant woody.
Mortified, I returned home vowing to never speak again.
At Vedure di Renza, the little fruit and vegetable shop on via San Giorgio which Donald and I have frequented hundreds of times, I noticed a box of the most beautiful, plump, black figs.
I wondered if they were as delicious as they looked. So I turned to Renza, the kindly owner with whom I felt a real kinship and asked,“Come i suoi fiche sono oggi?”or “How are your figs today?”
I could tell by Renza’s horrified expression that I had, once again, stepped into a minefield.
As I later told Donald, “I now know the difference between figs and vaginas.
He scowled at me.
“Well at least I didn’t say anything about them being plump and black.”
“You have the mind of a fifteen year old,” he replied.
“Ah ha, I knew it,” I replied,
“You knew what?” Donald asked.
“I knew that I have made progress. I now speak Italian like a teenybopper!”
Next week the Quest continues. We’ll take a look at my efforts, after twenty years, to speak Italiano.
Until then, stai bene e parli italiano.