Our trip to Italy last week confirmed two things. We are still passionately in love with Italy. And we really need to learn Italian.
I have been taking classes on Tuesday nights at the Italian Athletic Club (yes, that’s its real name) in San Francisco’s North Beach. I log on to Rosetta Stone when I have time, which seems to be almost never. And right now there are orange stickies all over the house with the Italian names for things on them, so when I need a refrigerator, I will know to ask for un frigorifero.
But it is going slowly. I feel like I am starting to understand a few more words and phrases, but when I open my mouth to say something, nothing comes out. It is really frustrating.
Fortunately, there are a few words I feel I have down cold. Seven, to be exact. And as I was able to use them last week, I felt pretty darn good about myself. Here they are:
1. La macchina: Literally, the machine, this also translates to the car. Obviously, this is a very important word when you are traveling around looking at homes in the Italian countryside.
2. Mio marito: Another very important word, this is the person who was kind enough to drive la macchina all over creation, also known as my husband.
3. Cattivo: This is an excellent word. Google translates it as naughty, and in class we learned it as a word to describe terrible weather, or something evil.
I had the good fortune to use all three in an exchange with the little old lady who lives across the street from where we were staying. We had had a bit of a hard time getting out of our driveway and onto the wet, narrow road one morning and found ourselves sliding down her grassy hill towards her barn. No farm animals were harmed, but we flattened some grass and dislodged a large stone before gunning it back up the hill and onto the road. The next morning this tiny, weathered old woman approached me on my walk and I was foolish enough to say “Buongiorno,” which, incredibly, prompted her to begin speaking to me. Rapidly. I had no idea what she was saying but she was pointing to the tracks and the newly replaced rock and then muttered, “Cattivo.” I don’t know if she was referring to the trespasser or the weather, but I nodded and pointed to our car, “La macchina…mio marito.” ”Si si.” She smiled. “Mio marito…cattivo!” said I, throwing my husband under the proverbial bus. She seemed pleased with my confession and happily went on about her day, as did I.
4. Carta: I learned this word from Rosetta Stone. It means paper. And when you are working on plans for renovating a home, you go through a lot of it. We came equipped with a few tablets, but our sweet friends, The Beck’s, must have drawn up 3 or 4 floorplans a night, and my husband was going through almost as much. Plus, we were getting to the point where we needed graph paper and transparent tracing paper, to fine tune the plans. So we headed into town one morning in search of some transparent tracing paper. The task seemed fairly daunting. But I couldn’t believe it when I spotted the sign: Cartoleria. Yep, it was a stationary store, tucked away from the main square, filled with tracing paper, graph paper and any other kind of paper we might have wanted. I felt like I had won the lottery.
5. Quindi: So, quindici means fifteen, which is a word I felt pretty confident about. But every time we met with another architect or builder, they used the word quindi, over and over, at which point the person translating for us would stop, and not translate the word. I was getting pretty confused. I wondered if it was a slang word for fifteen, and wondered why everything we were talking about took fifteen days, or was fifteen meters, or cost fifteen dollars, and why no one was translating that for us. Turns out, it simply means so, or as Google says, then or therefore. I must have heard it quindici times a day. But now I know it.
6. Il tulipano: Really. This is the best way to learn a language. I will never forget that the word for that beautiful red flower blooming courageously in our yard is tulipano. And now, neither will you.
7. Tettoia. Actually, my husband learned this one before I did. He kept pointing to the overhang above our porch and the architect would nod, and say, tettoia. And they used tettoia when we pointed to the eaves out back, and they used tettoia when we pointed to the canopy by the bedroom and the shed out back. Quindi…..we know exactly where our tettoie are and what they look like. We just don’t really know what the word for all of that is in English.
As soon as someone who is learning another language turns to me and says, “Oh gee, I forget the English word for ….” , they lose me. It is as bad as coming home from a year in London with an English accent. And here I am, after only 7 words of Italian, getting obnoxious. But I am pretty proud of the 7 words I can use.
I think I may be getting ready to actually learn a verb.