When the Words Fall Out

I’ve posted short pieces previously about not being a native speaker in my adopted country and that the Italian language can at times lead to hilarious circumstances or great confusion. I’m happy when Italian’s praise me on my command of their language, and do find it easier now after several years to hold more than basic conversations. Partly this is due to my working in an office where 75% of the staff don’t speak English, (apart from the few, less than glamorous English words I have taught the boys). I’m equally proud when English people comment on my language skills; however sometimes I do feel like a fraud as I’m not as accomplished as they perceive me to be. But every day brings new vocabulary and a better understanding of those pesky irregular verbs. Only last week in the office I needed a pair of scissors and Nicoletta was on hand to tell me they are called, forbici

Then there’s those pesky words that trip up foreigners, words like, pesce (fish) and pesca (peach), the amount of times I heard an English person in a restaurant ask what’s on the peach menu is innumerable. Recently I fell victim to these tricky nouns: I was offered a coffee and biscotti by a lovely couple whose house I was showing to clients, I accepted the coffee but told them I’d already had breakfast so would pass on the biscuits. The man then asked me what I’d had for breakfast, and I replied that I have the same thing everyday, an egg. However as the Italian for egg is, uova and grape is uva and my pronunciation was lacking that morning, he assumed by grape I meant I have wine for breakfast, which he and his wife found most amusing.

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The most frustrating part of learning a second language is those days when the words fall out. Some mornings it’s as if I’ve woken up and parts of my stored Italian lexicon have fallen out of my ears during the night. For example this week I had a morning when I couldn’t recall the Italian for the word, who and yesterday I’d misplaced the word for, lost.

Another moment was when out one evening in L’Aquila we stopped to get some take away food and I asked for some salad, however as we were in polite company I didn’t want onions and despite foraging through the deepest recesses of my brain the word just would not come, so I ended up with onions, and onion breath all evening.

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There’s also those other moments when the words fall out, usually after too many glasses of wine the night before or a plethora of Peroni. I’m certain that under the influence my language skills are still adequate (although this could be disputed) but the next day I seem to have left great reams of words and whole sentences on the pillow.

This said, I have come to the conclusion that on the whole people are very forgiving of foreigners who mangle their language. I’ve found all of the Italian’s I have come into contact with very helpful and polite and I’m sure this can be said of most people regardless of their country. Unlike years ago in France when I went to buy a loaf of bread. The French shop keeper huffed and puffed before pedantically telling me my pronunciation was wrong. Needless to say I didn’t buy her bread.

No doubt as I continue on my journey with the Italian language there’ll be many more moments where the words fall out or my flat Northern vowels scramble what is in essence a beautifully lyrical language.

Driving Barefoot

I’m lucky. Yes, really lucky. I haven’t won a lottery or found a pot of gold under a rainbow. I haven’t received some prestigious award or managed to fix myself up with a date with Tiziano Ferro: more’s the pity. So why am I lucky?

I was driving to the small fruit and veg shop that I prefer to use, as most of the produce is local, the sun was shining and the iPod was playing, Duchess, by the Stranglers, the drag of cool air through the open window kept the afternoon heat at bay as the countryside passed in a blur. Unlike other shops that close at 13.00 for an extended lunch, this one stays open all day. I’m greeted with a cheery “Salve’” from the assistant at the counter cutting open a watermelon. I mooch around, filling my basket with fresh produce, when she says, “Melone?” She’s offering me a slice of red melon, which is a refreshing on such a warm afternoon. We chat and she picks some celery, carrots and onion and drops them into a carrier bag. “Soffrito, per te, gratis.”  Soffrito is the Italian version of a mirepoix, or the holy trinity. The assistant enquires how the house restoration is going and after relieving me of €4,00 she packs the sofrito ingredients into my carrier bag and wishes me a good afternoon. (Where else can you get free produce as a thank you for your custom?)

I’m driving home with Kate Bush singing, Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak, recorded live at the Hammersmith from her only live tour which took place in 1979, (2 April – 13 May.) Contadini are out working their land, the buzz of strimmers and the chugging of tractors drift into the car as i drive past. The landscape at this time of year is a mix of green and ochre, as dried grass is rolled up for feed during the winter, and regimented sweet corn reaches for the sky.

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I’m passing a field where two workers sleep in the shade of their trailer, a half empty bottle of wine nestles in the undergrowth at the side of one of the men, when I realise that my life here is so different than it was in the UK. For instance, I don’t buy everything I need in a huge faceless supermarket, I get served with petrol by the pump attendant, rather than having to fill, queue and pay and on days like this I drive barefoot.

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I’m lucky, because I can work from home and to live comfortably here I only have to produce half of what I’d need to write in England: This said I have more work piling up on my desk than I’ve ever had before.

I’m lucky, because I live in a beautiful part of Italy and have some wonderful friends out here and so far being here has eclipsed my expectations.

I’m lucky, because I can drive a mere eighteen minutes in one direction and can be swimming in the sea and twenty-five minutes in another direction and I can be in the mountains.

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I know I’m fortunate to have this lifestyle at just 51, but its not because of luck, it’s the result of hard work and sacrifice over the years and holding on to the dream.

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