Archive for January, 2018

How Andrea Bocelli Helped Me Fall Back In Love

I don’t know if any of you picked up the vibe in some of my posts, but I wasn’t progressing very well with my Italian. Not through lack of effort, not through lack of knowledge but due to fear and nerves. People would speak to me, the words would float into and around my face but the forcefield of nerves surrounding it wouldn’t let anything penetrate. I heard words I knew in rapid succession – “stata, subito, sotto, fu, neanche, comunque, finche, cinquanta…” – and I wouldn’t, for the life of me, be able to piece together any meaning from what I was hearing nor translate the words quickly enough to then formulate responses. Beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings, I had been struck dumb. I found I was just watching people’s faces silently, hoping I could get away soon. I had turned into a right scaredy cat, often just burrowing down at home, madly trying to study and thinking that more knowledge was the key to success.

I liked the Italian language, I had moved to Italy to improve it so of course I knew I liked it. But I wanted to do so well that my frustrations at not being completely fluent yet had rendered me speechless and annoyed. I wasn’t allowing for the inbetween period, where you have to spend a fair amount of time trying, getting things wrong and learning.

Then, a few days before Christmas, I stumbled across a song called Perfect, by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. Now I’m a bit of an Ed fan and hadn’t really paid attention to what was playing so I was singing along because I know the version with just Ed, when this beautiful, authoritative voice burst onto the scene, declaring that I was his woman.

“Sei la mia donna!”

If you haven’t already, go and listen to the song and brace yourself for the point, mid-song, when everything changes to Italian and Andrea Bocelli sings this first line. It is stirring. It makes me want to stand up and sing on a stage.

On he goes, “La forza delle onde del mare” – the strength of the waves of the sea.

“Cogli i miei sogni, i miei segreti, molto di piu” – take my dreams, my secrets and more.

I was in my room, getting ready to go somewhere and I just sat on the bed and let these beautiful words float over me. One of my favourite words in the Italian language was discovered in this moment – “sussurando” – which means, whispering. All plans went out of the window as I googled the lyrics and played the song over and over again, trying to learn the words. For the next 24 hours, I listened to it whenever I could. In the shower, in the morning, while walking somewhere, before bed and by the time two days had passed, I knew all the words, was obsessed with the song, was in love with Andrea Bocelli and was learning new Italian words.

I realised that this is how it had felt when I first holidayed in Italy and overheard Italians speaking. I loved the obsessive use of vowels, how 99% of words end in an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ or an ‘i’, I loved the musicality of the language, how it rose and fell, how some words were clipped, creating a sort of mid-word pause with the double letters, as in, ‘capello’ and some were no-nonsense and commanding, as in ‘cio’. I love the immediacy of the language, how two of the most common ways to greet another person are with ‘pronto’ on the phone, which literally means ‘ready’, and with ‘dimmi’ in a shop, which means ‘tell me’. I love how the ‘ci’ sound is like an English ‘ch’ and how it gives such character to a word when it makes an appearance – in ‘cucina’ (kitchen), for example, or ‘decidere’ (to decide). I love learning how to roll an ‘r’, such an alien concept for an English speaker and a bit of a tongue twister when faced with two, as in ‘correre’ (to run). I love how the ‘g’ sometimes takes centre stage, as in Caravaggio, but sometimes hides away, distorting other letters near it. When a ‘g’ comes before an ‘n’ or an ‘l’ it is silent, but it is not actually silent. It gives the other letter a sort of ‘y’ sound to it that I am yet to master. I’m always wandering around the house muttering the words ‘gli’ and ‘li’ to myself and trying to make them sound different.

I loved all of those things when I first listened dreamily to Italian speakers and I held onto it until I got here in November. Six weeks after arriving, however, after finally living out my dream, I was silent. I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t practising, I was annoyed at myself.

Then Andrea Bocelli played and I remembered those things. I remembered how even the simplest ordinary word can have an inherent beauty to it (‘cetriolo’ is one of my favourite words to say and simply means, cucumber). I remembered how certain ideas expressed in Italian lose their magic when translated – ‘inside our music’ is a woefully inadequate way to communicate the loveliness of ‘dentro la nostra musica’.

In essence, I remembered why I had moved to Italy. Thanks, Andrea.

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Moving To Italy: Two Months In

There’s been a bit of everything in the last month – some ups, a down, lots of uphills, one fall downhill and a lot in between.

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My little Monday and Thursday routine of walking along this pathway on my way to a little pebbly beach called Boccadasse is now well established. I work about an hour’s walk out from the centre, so on my way back, instead of going directly to the centre, I walk down to the waterfront, down little alleys and side streets, always hugging the water’s edge as closely as possible, until I arrive at Boccadasse, where I sit down with a good book and my lunch and just enjoy the moment and consider how lucky I am to live next to the sea. If I’m feeling flash, I’ll also get some gelato from the ice cream shop next to the beach to start my walk home with. My current favourite flavours are panna cotta and marron glac√©.

I then potter along the Corso Italia, a lovely spacious path alongside the water, back into town.

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My weekends usually look like this – on Saturday I go to one of the museums in town where I can use my annual pass and on Sunday I walk either up into the mountains or down to the sea.

I’ll say this much, if there’s one thing Italians do well, it’s a museum! They know what they’re doing, trust me. I always want the museums and galleries to be packed because there’s so much great stuff there, I want more people to be seeing it. But at the same time, one of the things I enjoy is the utter peace and tranquility I often find in these places, only disturbed every so often by a few others. My latest great find in Genova is the Galata Museo, the museum of the sea. It was seriously fascinating. On two of the floors, they have built full size ships which are representative of the period in history that that floor deals with. It is fantastic. I was able to go on board both boats and have a really good poke around. On one of them, a guy on a recording was “talking” to me and, although I knew it was for kids and he couldn’t see me, I still felt sort of like I should answer him and so did! I was in the museum for over three hours and only got around half of it! I then rushed the end as they were closing but really should visit soon to do the last half properly.

Two big things have featured in my life in Italy in the last month. The first is my ability to wind myself into a frenzy by my frustrations about not being fluent immediately upon arrival. I recognise that I haven’t been there long and I should go easy on myself but it’s easier said than done. Sometimes I’m fairly at ease when talking to someone and then my words will just eat each other up and I end saying something jibberish then fleeing in horror. Let me explain.

I went for a run down to the sea the other day. I was on my way back after about an hour. I was running up the final set of steps before arriving home. An older couple were walking down the stairs past me.

“Complimenti!” they said, applauding my audacity in running the stairs.

“Sono stanca! Ma ho finito adesso. Il mio appartamento √® qui!” – I’m tired but I’ve finished now. My apartment is here – as I indicted just up the road to where I live. Now, I know that’s probably a bit off, I will have conjugated the verb ‘finire’ incorrectly, I’m sure. But my basic meaning was communicated to them.

They said I must be very strong and fast to run in Genova. I guffawed at the “fast” and assured them that no, “non sono veloce,” I am not fast. It was all going swimmingly.

Then as they started to move off, I wanted to say ‘have a good day’ – buona giornata – but realised it was late afternoon so ‘have a good evening’ – buona serata – would be more appropriate but at this moment they were just wishing me good luck – buona fortuna – for the rest of my run. So the thoughts and words got jumbled up and I opened my mouth and came out with “buona ferata” which means….. nothing. It means nothing. A ferata is not a thing. Certainly not a “good” ferata. Silence fell momentarily. Our eyes caught. We immediately looked away, saving the embarrassment for everyone, and I fled up the stairs at a speed I would never have thought possible. “Buona ferata,” I spent the next few hours muttering confusedly to myself. “It doesn’t even bloody mean anything.”

At the moment, language-wise, there is still a disconnect between my brain and my mouth when conversing with Italians. They speak Italian to me. My brain madly sorts through possible replies, limpingly says something which is inevitably wrong then backs out fearfully and leaves my mouth, abandoned and empty of content, fear in my eyes as the silence falls and I know, somewhere, that I have the words I need, they just refuse to enter my mouth. As I depart from the conversation, I will be able to conjure up exactly what I should have said in reply, just not at the time when I needed it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a meltdown, along the lines of “how can I ever survive here if I can’t even make my brain tell my mouth what to say in real basic conversations?!”

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The day after this meltdown, in which I had convinced myself that I was cursed to a life of silent nodding so long as I stayed in Italy, I woke up and just didn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been that worried about meltdown days as I know they serve a purpose. Every meaningful positive change I’ve ever made in my life has consisted of a turning point, which was usually a meltdown day. So even while feeling down, I knew I had to go through that phase, to push me to change things. Since then, I’ve made a few language exchange links with other Italians and started doing Skype calls which are half conducted in English, to help them, and half in Italian, to help me. It is helping to build my confidence with speaking.

It’s still very early days and learning a language does things to you that are unexpected. For example, as a generally chatty confident person, to have that natural instinct whipped out from under your feet is strange. There are words flying all around your head, everyone is smiling, laughing, raising voices, disagreeing in a friendly way, discussing something interesting…. and you can do nothing. You can’t join in as you’re not completely confident what is even being discussed, even if you do know what everyone’s talking about, you can’t formulate answers in your head to contribute, you can’t do a witty joke because a) you can’t think of the words fast enough and b) even if you could, would the humour translate well? Thus, the completely alien situation of being a rather shy, quiet figure in a crowd, with the very real possibility of being considered boring. This was unexpected, this new facet of my being, the boring wordless version of me. Hopefully, when I write a month three update for you, I will no longer be boring.

The second thing has, thankfully, been more upbeat. I was finding that the downtime I first loved when initially leaving London, had started to stagnate a little. I wanted to move again. Sitting around for hours on end with nothing to show at the end of the day wore thin and I decided that the hills would no longer scare me and I would get back to running.

After a few brief excursions out, just little runs of twenty minutes, I have started in for some longer routes. Down to the sea and back takes about an hour, depending on my route. Up into the hills and around can be anything from thirty minutes to an hour. I am running every other day and discovering new places with each run so it is also nice for exploration of my new home. I did, however, recently, fall victim to the uneven surfaces that are all over Genova and about which I am constantly conscious.

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Sure enough, they claimed me on my last run before returning to England for Christmas. I lost skin, dignity and part of my knuckle in the fall but I am recovering well and have barely told anyone about it nor expected sympathy or kept showing off my wounds. Honest.

Christmas and New Year in England have been lovely and very mince pie filled, given that mince pies aren’t sold in Italy so I’ve had to get my fill while here. It was awesome seeing my nephew, easily the best conversation being the following:

My sister-in-law: “What’s the largest planet?”

Nephew: “Jupiter.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the hottest?”

Nephew: “Mercury.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the smallest?”

Nephew: “Mars.”

Sister-in-law: “And what planet do we live on?”

Nephew *thinks for a moment*: “London.”

All in all, month two has been shakier than month one, less of an exhilarating high because I live in Italy now and more of a realisation that if I want to say more than ‘hello, how are you’, I’m going to need to really put in some hard work and effort.