Commonly Referred to as Crawl Level!
Yes, I’m Speaking like a Baby.
I now spoke around 600 Italian words, which I used to form simple sentences in the present tense. It was, I thought, making an obvious difference in my ability to connect to the Lucchesi. And sure enough, around that time the locals began to ask me personal questions, which I took as a compliment.
One day a very attractive signora at the macelleria (butcher shop) said, “Buongiorno” and asked, “Le piace Lucca?” “Mi piace molto,” I said. Yes, I liked Lucca very much.
“Si, sono americano.”
“Da dove viene?”
“Abito a Sonoma” (At the time I lived in Sonoma).
“Dov’è?” she asked.
“Sonoma, è vicino a San Francisco.” At the mention of San Francisco, the woman beamed and said, as I would learn that most Lucchesi would say, “Ho un parente a San Francisco” (I have a relative in San Francisco).
“Chi?” I asked.
“Uno zio. Vive a North Beach da trent’anni.” I wondered if her uncle, having lived in North Beach for thirty years, knew any of the students from my Italian class in Sonoma. As we left the macellera I told Donald about the conversation I had had.
“That’s wonderful,” he said.
For some reason I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of love for him. It was like a wave of love ran through my body. I looked into his blue eyes and said, “Ti amo. I’m feeling a very strong wave of love.”
He smiled and said, “Ah, that’s just the dolce talking,” which was a variation of what he had often said whenever I spontaneously told him I loved him. In the U.S., it was usually “the sugar talking,” or sometimes just “the food.”
Donald grabbed my hand and said, “You know I love you too, don’t you?” “Si, lo so (Yes, I know it).”
We walked over to Renza’s verdure (vegetable) shop. When I said “Buongiorno” to the people gathered in her little shop, an older, well-dressed man turned to me and asked, “Inglese?” (English). “No, sono americano.”
“Da dove viene?” he asked.
“Sonoma, vicino a San Francisco.”
“Ah, San Francisco, mi piace molto,” he replied.
“Anche a me,” (Me too) said an elderly woman dressed entirely in black, a large religious cross hanging around her neck.
I liked how the Lucchesi easily joined in on conversation. It seemed to happen everywhere we went.
Le piace Lucca?” the man asked. “
Si, mi piace molto,” I replied.
The man then asked me if I had children. “Ha figli?”
It was a question that I had been hearing more and more often lately. Monica had recently asked it; so had Patrizia. I had always responded the same, “Si, sono il papa,” which is what I said to the gentleman, “Si, sono il papa,” adding, “ho una figlia (a daughter) e tre nipoti” (and three grandchildren).
Suddenly both the man and the elderly woman became completely engrossed with the box of bright red, ripe pomodori (tomatoes) sitting on the counter. The man abruptly turned to Renza and said, “Tre pomodori” and then brushed by me without saying ciao or arrivederci. The older woman quickly followed. Renza shook her head as if to say “Maleducati,” meaning how rude.
I thought it was strange that they didn’t say goodbye. After all, I was feeling rather proud of myself now that my Italian was good enough for the Lucchesi to ask me personal questions.
When we left Renza’s, our grocery bag filled with le verdure, Donald said, “Do you know what you said in there?”
“What…what do you mean?”
“When they asked, ‘do you have children?’” “I said, ‘Yes, I have a…’”
“No, no… in Italian.” “Oh, I said, ‘Si, ho una figlia.’”
“I said, ‘Sono il papa.’” “Well, I hate to tell you,” Donald said, “but il papa refers to the pope. You just announced to a room full of Lucchesi that you are the pope.”
“I did not!” But of course I had. With one slip of pronunciation, I had ascended to the papal throne. Just call me Pope Bob or, better yet, Pope Roberto. Why hadn’t I learned that the word papa, without the accent mark, is pronounced just like we do it in the States, but means pope, while the word papà, with the accent mark over the final A and pronounced with an emphasis on the last syllable, as is pa-PA, means father? Oh god.
If only it had been the time last time I referred to myself as the Pope, but of course it wasn’t. Just as I continually asked for fish whenever I wanted a peach I repeatedly referred to myself as un papa rather un papà. It occurred to me that I speak like a baby and the more often I speak in Italian the more mistakes I make. And then it struck me: I honestly didn’t care; I was having a ball.
Next week we’ll take a look at what some of my Italian friends call,“The Lingua di Bob.”
If you have friends or family members traveling to Italy, especially anyone heading to or near Lucca or anyone wanting to learn a bit of Italian, please let them know about my website, www.welovelucca.com. Grazie mille!