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Easy For You to Say

November 2012:

The direction of my dreams was Italy, that much I knew. To live the life I imagined in Italy, though, it was becoming painfully clear that I needed to learn the language. I had spent a month in Florence, done a little traveling, and knew my way around town. But, an adult woman using charades to get a vegetarian panini at the deli was becoming increasingly embarrassing.

I wanted to do better. I wanted to integrate more. I needed to go to school.

This conjured up terror, cold sweats and a certain amount of regret that I hadn’t paid more attention in Madame McMeen’s seventh grade French class. I know French isn’t Italian, but I knew nothing about a foreign language. Nada, zip, niente.

I wish I could say that I researched all the language schools in Florence (there are many), averaged the reviews with the cost, and carefully selected the Istituto Italiano. However, that would be a big fat lie. I chose the one closest to my new digs, where the classroom windows looked out to the Duomo, and where I knew the corner barrista (so I could get a quick cappuccino during my ten minute break).

Instituto ItalianoIstituto Italiano. Sounded very impressive, and a little daunting. As I walked up the many stairs on the first day of class, I wondered if I would set some sort of Istituto record.

Would I be the oldest student that ever attended? Would I be the one and only person that could not learn by their “immersion method”? Would they speak of me years later, and not in a good way? And, of course, would the cool kids let me sit at their table?

Those questions took about five minutes to answer. As Segnora Bernadetta introduced herself, passed out the course books and welcomed us to our new school, I checked out my classmates.

Things were becoming clear. I was the oldest…by far. I even had some years on the teacher.

There was only one long table, so all the kids sat there, cool or not. Turned out “Immersion Italian” was easy to tune out. I had to force myself to watch Segnora Bernadetta’s lips move and to stay awake. I may not have understood a word she was saying, but I knew I was drowning in a sea of Italiano.

Life lessons about age:

#1. It really does bring more wisdom. Like how to quickly synthesize a situation and come up with an alternative plan.

#2. It creates confidence. The kind needed to run with the new plan.

Combining life lesson one and two together, I beelined it to the office at the first break. I explained that I needed some additional assistance, and I was willing to pay for it! I wasn’t swayed by the patronizing smile and reassurance that all new students felt overwhelmed on the first day. I held my ground, shaky as it was, and repeated my need.

Lessons on Italian Culture:

#1. Decisions are never made immediately, or by the person you first speak to. Everything must be run by a supervisor, director, or the man behind the curtain.

#2. Italians cannot form a line. Anywhere. Ever.

I was told that their decision would be emailed to me later that day. Still new to Culture Lesson #1 (see above), that seemed odd. But, sure enough, later that night they emailed. The Istituto had found someone willing to take on the challenge!

Baraba and LisaEach day for the next four weeks, I met with Segnora Barbara, aka The Miracle Worker. (The lovely Barbara is pictured there with me.) She was direct, firm and kind. We started at the absolute beginning, and, like any great teacher, she slowly laid a foundation of basics, Italian style.

If you are familiar with Italian, you know that it’s sung as much as spoken. It flows up and down like a song, and vowels are drawn out and emphasized, the consonants ignored. That meant when Segnora Barbara said, “Brava, Leeeeeeeza!”, my name had three syllables, and I beamed like a five year old.

I would hear Barbara’s voice singing in my head all afternoon as I hiked to Piazza Michaelangelo, or higher, to San  Miniato. I would hear her coaching me as I did an hour or two of homework each evening. She would whisper to me as I drifted off, exhausted, to sleep.

I have heard that you are considered fluent in a language when you dream in that language. I don’t dream in Italian. But I do dream of Italy. My night visions are full of the vivid color and texture of my new homeland no matter where I sleep. Like a lover, she calls to me with a familiar scent, or sound, and I am transported again to her. But only when the bells of the Campanile wake me, do I know I am truly home. And I start to smile, before my eyes ever open.

As for my Italian, almost a year later….niente male! (Not bad!)

This article is part of a summer series by Lisa Condie. The first article in this series can be found here: The Decision.

Lisa’s next article about Italy can be found here: Under MY Tuscan Sun

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