Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Studying Italian... and Prego

I’m trying to fit in…. which means, while here in Italy, I am trying my best to speak Italian. All would have been better, had I not decided to take a two-week Spanish class this summer, as I seem to sprinkle my Italian phrases with a touch of Spanish. I can usually tell when I have done this, as the person I am talking to cocks his or her head in a certain way. I stop, think, and realize that I have just messed up… again. Of course, there is a bit of French slipping in, every now and then. That goes back to my high school years, and even after two semesters of studying Italian, I still have a stronger command of French… il mio dio! What is the Italian word for the Spanish Gringo?

Given all my ineptness at times, I am delighted to say that I have been able to communicate enough to conduct my sabbatical research in libraries where the workers speak no English, and no French, and no Spanish. So, somehow, I get my point across. This is what life is all about for me. I am so thoroughly excited about living in a different culture, shopping in the vegetable market for my daily foods, stopping for an espresso or cappuccino in the middle of the day, and simply watching the people walk by. I have attended two lectures now, where the only language spoken is Italian. The first was on the Photography of the Bauhaus, and the second was a guided tour and lecture on Contemporary Digital Photography. I am working my way up to a play, and let’s hope I find one before it is time to go home.

About every other day, I meet my adopted Italian family, for coffee in the morning. At 9:30, I show up at Cafe Noris to find Santina and Bruno Campolongo sitting at their usual table, reading the paper. They speak no English, niente (none). So, after several meetings, I have dubbed Santina as La Mia Professoressa del Inglese, alla Tavola… which means “my professor of English at the table” (meaning our breakfast table). Il Noris is a wonderful cafe, where Santina and Bruno go regularly, read the paper, drink an espresso and commence their day. Santina and I have talked about many things; her work day, my work day, her children, my children,, and so on. I sit there with my English-Italian dictionary looking up words when I can’t quite get my point across. Bruno talks to me also; we have discussed politics, and I know where he stands with the upcoming American election. He keeps me abreast of the point spread between Obama and McCain. Recently, Bruno told me that on the weekends he is a fannullone. I had to look that one up. Once I read the definition, I broke into laughter, and this word is now a joke between us. Bruno told me that he chooses to be a lazy-good-for-nothing. I applaud this, as Bruno is in his seventies. Every weekday afternoon he works at his son, Andrea’s, newly purchased apartment, renovating it so that it can be rented to tourists like myself. We call the space Susanna’s appartamento…. Meaning that it will hopefully be my home on a regular basis, as I hope to visit Verona often (as long as my miles last). After all, I met my Italian family because they were my landlords on my last two visits.

Let’s take a look at my current challenges…. How does one understand Italiano? Well, it can be incredibly confusing, but it is still, simply a blast. To begin, let’s take a look at one of the anomalies of the language.. the use of the word, Prego.

Un Lezione della parole, Prego..

Prego, as a word, has intrigued me, as it has so many meaning. It is used in the following ways;

Prego… says the waiter, as he stands there with his order pad in hand, awaiting you to give your order. He has already been back two or three times for the order, but you are struggling to sort out what the food options are, as the menu is only in Italian. I think you can guess at the tone of voice with this prego.

Prego.. says the sales clerk, in response to your Grazie, (meaning thank you) after assistance was given. She is saying you are welcome. In my case, she is probably saying, thank goodness, she has finally made up her mind.

Prego…. says the man who is letting you enter through the door he has decided to hold open for you. Chivalry is not dead.

Prego? … say I, when I didn’t quite get what the person was saying to me? This would basically mean, I’m sorry, what did you say?

Prego… says the train conductor, as you stand there, looking baffled, about whether this is the car you are supposed to get on, or not. He is asking to see your ticket, or maybe he is wanting you to get on the train quickly, as you are holding up the show. No matter what his intent, you know he wants to get you moving. Of course, his tone of voice delivers the intent of his question, and communicates how soon the train will depart.

Prego? …. Says a person, when they are told the cup of cappuccino costs four euro, instead of the typical two euro. This would basically translate to “You can’t be serious”. I could have used this one today when I purchased two meringue treats, and after they were bagged the cashier asked for five euro ($7.50)…. Prego??

And …Prego.. this is what you do, when you go to church and pray, as the literal translation of the verb Pregare, is “to pray”.

Favorite Italian Words…

I have become fond of many Italian words, and wish I could used them daily back home, but most people wouldn’t know what I was saying… but here is my list, and the translation.

As you go through the list, you must try to say the words, as you work your hands (in gestures) and add a rhythm to the pronunciation… so you almost sing the word. Typically, as a general rule, the second to last syllable is the emphasized syllable, although…. yes, there are always exceptions to the rule. Of course, you simply have to memorize most of these. Mama mia!

My List
Allora – (ah LOR ah). – I love, love, love this word. It technically means “then”, but it is yet another word, that is used in many ways. It is used as a transition between thoughts, as a pausing word, and as the beginning of a new statement. You hear it often.

Andiamo (awn dee AH mo) – This means “we go”… so when you getting read to leave with friends, you say ‘andiamo’, or let’s go.

Ciao – (chow) – which means hello, good-bye, and probably other things as well. As I listen to people talk on their cell, I can usually tell when someone is trying to get off the phone, as you hear a series of ciao, ciao, ciao’s. This is like our bye… bye-bye. Of course there are variations of the word, such as ciao bella (which means, I think, hello/goodbye pretty one).

Va Bene – (vah BEN eh) which means, “it goes well”. I hear it both as a question and an answer. When you meet someone, you can say, “Va bene? They can answer, Si, va bene… or Non va bene.

Pronto – (PRON to) This generally translates to “ready, speedy, or prompt” (ah… another word akin to prego). However, when you answer the phone in Italian, you say “Pronto!”. I have a borrowed cell phone, and it just makes me roll over with amusement to answer the phone, not that this happens a lot, as I don’t really know anyone who would call me. Yet, when I get the occasional call, I say “Pronto!” … and then I break out into a fit of giggles. I have no idea what the person on the other end of the line thinks. I haven’t got past that yet. I guess I need more people to talk to.

There is so much more for me to learn about the Italian language. I continue my efforts by buying books, magazines, and popular music in Italian. I have translated recipes, knitting patterns, poetry and various other things. I even have an Italian pen pal in Cortona (a city in Tuscany). I have no idea how correct my translations or writings are, but I am growing in my abilities. This project will be a long-term one for me, but it is a fun one, and I am able to stretch my mind.

So, in ending, I shall say…
Ciao! (or if you phone me, Pronto!)
Allora…. Va bene? Ah,… si, va bene con mio.
Prego? (what did you say?)…. Ah, si, andiamo…. Pronto!
Ciao bella.

oh yes... since I wrote this piece, I DID go to the theatre. I saw a Shakespeare play, Love's Labor Lost.... in italian of course. I understood parts of it.. just a step beneath what I understand when it is old english. But, va bene.. it was good.

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