Oh. Em. Geeee! Jack and Jimmy as Gary and Nuno!!! Ha-lair-ee-ous!!
I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Ireland. I’m drinking Irish black tea and writing a proposal to speak and train on communications for an upcoming international tech sales conference. But then – ineffective multi-tasking alert! – I notice that my sister, who lives back home in the States, has sent me an email with a video attached. The subject line is “Watch This Now!” Obedient sister that I am, I do. And Whoosh! Down the Rabbit Hole of Distraction I go.
I’m an American now living in Ireland where everyone drives on the left – or as some less generous folks might say – the WRONG side of the road.
Although we managed during the three years we lived in Italy to not own a car, it really wasn’t feasible here. So, last month, my husband and I steeled our nerves and bought one.
Driving is something I had long taken for granted. I have been guilty of tapping and talking on my phone, applying makeup, even writing notes while driving.
But now, with the ink barely dry on the sales contract and the new ignition card (it’s not a key) in hand, I am faced with getting behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car and driving on the complete opposite side of the road – making turns and everything– FOR THE FIRST TIME.
I picture Mr. Toad and his wild ride.
My heart is pounding. Oh-my-gosh is that a round-about? I have to turn to the left to enter it, right? I mean, correct? Oh, no, I need to be in the other lane, this is a turn-only lane. Oh-my-gosh the oncoming traffic looks like they’re coming RIGHT AT ME.
Okay. Breathe. I MUST be alert. Vigilant. This is no time for complacency.
The first couple of days are a challenge.
For instance, residential roads here in Ireland are incredibly narrow. A single lane sized street will actually be intended for two lanes of traffic with the added hazard of cars being parked along the sides. Shoulders do not exist. Drivers will take up the full roadway until they see a car heading their way, then one will need to try and pull over to let the other head on through. It’s makes for a fantastically jerky driving dance, but somehow it works.
Perhaps it’s because, here, drivers are very polite. If you signal your intention to merge into a new lane, the car behind you will actually slow down to let you in, not speed up to close the gap like I am more used to!
I continue to take is slow and I’m getting more sure of myself every day. I am learning a new skill and improving my confidence along the way. It’s a lot like life, isn’t it?
What challenges are you facing today? What project or endeavor is out there that you would like to do, or know you have to do, but are afraid to try? What is holding you back?
Sure, you might be scared, but go ahead. Go slow. Be alert.
The people around you might be more encouraging than you imagined beforehand.
The only way you can accomplish something new – is to start. Even Mr. Toad managed in the end.
“Madonna a cielo!” the two older Italian ladies near me gasped as they watched me jump down onto the tracks at the busy train station in Florence. It was autumn. I was just returning to Italy with Lulu after a week vacation in Paris. It had been brisk there, but now it was much warmer here in Tuscany and my arms were full with the sweaters and jackets we peeled off. I had just finished helping Lulu up the steps to the train when her coat tumbled down onto the tracks.
Yes, it is forbidden to go on those tracks. This is a hard-fast rule at every train station, I think. But I promise you, the train was not scheduled to depart for another ten minutes; there was plenty of room for me to hop down and really, it was her brand new winter coat I had purchased without asking.
I was down and back up again with said coat safely recovered before the loudest of the two ladies could finish up with, “Non posso credere ai miei occhi!” ( I can’t believe my eyes!) as her arms bent at the elbow moved back and forth in rapid succession with upturned hands flapping in disbelief, “Mamma mia!”
What I remember most about it all is how much I love Italians and their expressions and the passion with which they utter them.
When I prepared to move to Italy, I asked my foreign language tutor to switch from French (in honor of where we had lived) to Italian (in honor of where we were heading). He was European, so naturally he was fluent in several languages. I continue to be so jealous of that. Anyway, up until then, the rhythm, pitch and pacing of my teacher’s voice had been smooth, fluid and even – just like the sound, to me, of the French language. But then, once he began to speak Italian, his calm demeanor evaporated into a surprising din of staccato vigor! (For more on the expressiveness of Italian, please read Dianne Hale’s enchanting book, La Bella Lingua. I highly recommend it.)
If the music of the French language is classical, then the music of the Italian language, to me, is more like hip hop. Fun, loud, and aggressive.
Like this hilarious video of an Italian’s reaction to The Family Guy. “SEI PAZZZO!” “You’re crazy!” My Italian friends and I both love this.
For example, Tuscans often punch, “Ciao!”with a loud upward inflectioned “EH!” at the end. And each word can extend for as many syllables as the speaker cares to give it. So it can be a quick, “Ciao, eh!” Or a windy, “Ciii-aaaaoooo, AAAA-EEEEE-HHH!” I love it!
Yes, like those two old ladies in Florence, the locals really use all sorts of forms of the Holy Virgin as exclamations. The simplest one is just her name – but it’s rapidly and roundly (‘round yon virgin? -nevermind) pronounced like this:, “Mah-DOH-nah!” There’s also a little diminutive version that I particularly like, “Mah-doh-nee-nah!” Then, you can take this staple and dress it up in a myriad of colorful ways like: “Mah-DOH-nah, mamma di Dio!” (or Gesu, take your pick). And there are plenty of ways to make this even angrier, like adding “pig” or porca at the end – but Lulu points out that saying “Madonna” at all as an exclamation is “actually very naughty.”
Other colorful expressions that I adore – and will mightily miss hearing every day once we depart dear Arezzo in only a couple short weeks – are “Che bellissima” (Lulu and every other little girl in Italy get this all the time) and really every form of bella. It really is not a cliché to say, “Ciao, bella!” after you have had a coffee with a female friend. Men say it to ladies. Ladies say it to ladies. Everyone says it to every little girl. And it’s the same with “Bello.”
“Bravo” with itsvariations depending on number and gender of the recipient (s), is another favorite. It’s an adjective that works with about everything. Great job at homework, Lulu – Brava! Nice painting on that old church by that Renaissance master – Bravo! All the children sang that song well – Bravi! And on and on. “Buono” and its variants are the culinary equivalent. Don’t forget to really sink yourself into the first syllables of these words, roll your r’s, and open your mouth to let the vowels explode. Did you try it? Bravo! (or Brava!)
The boisterous Italian language accompanied by the mandatory requisite hand gestures, have combined to make for one of the most expressive and vibrant communications experiences I have had the pleasure to enjoy. From some of the most expressive and vibrant people I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy as well!.
Baci a tutti!
P.S. I know I barely scratched the surface on lively Italian expressions. Do you have a favorite? A not so favorite? Please share!
It’s no baloney, mortadella is something we will definitely miss when we leave Arezzo.
It bears a resemblance to our American Oscar Mayer type variety, but make no mistake, the Italian version is much richer, tastier and, I think, purer. Lulu’s refined tastes go even further. She often says, as she gets a free sample of the Italian sausage from our favorite butcher in town, “It’s not mortadella, if it’s not Alfredo’s mortadella.”
You can find mortadella and its delicious piggy sausage cousins, like salami and finocchiona – and this eye-catching and full-bodied roasted and stuffed suckling-pig known as porchetta throughout Tuscany.
It took me a while to get used to being, er, face, to face – leg or snout – with so much meat. In fact, seeing the sequoia- sized logs of pork – like this photo I snapped yesterday at our supermarket –
So, the day we walked into our supermercato and saw the grand-daddy of all salumi on display, I’m not exactly sure if it might also have been from the subset, salami, but Lulu and I agreed, it was HUGE.
To better paint this image, let me explain that I like to call this store “the Disco,” because invariably there is some old dance party music thumping through its stereo system. And on this particular day, “Super Freak” greeted us as the automatic glass doors slid open.
“She’s a very kinky girl. The kind you don’t take home to mother”
Lulu was laughing as I began bopping and singing along with Rick James while I pushed our cart. We first arrived at the pasta and bread aisles.
“She will never let your spirits down. Once you get her off the street”
Then we turned the corner to the fresh produce area to select some veggies.
“She’s all right, she’s all right, That girl’s all right, with me, yeah”
And then. Then it happened. We rounded into our final stop. The pork section. And there it was.
A ginormous 12 foot by 2 foot long, brick-red shaft of cured pork was stretched out on a wooden table like a, er, telephone pole. Customers were all crowding around it while a grocery store associate wearing a blue and white striped apron and a little white paper hat delicately shaved off thin slices and handed them out.
It was massive. I had never seen anything like it before. Clearly neither had Lulu. She pointed to it and yelled at me, “Mama! Look! A giant meat rocket!”
That was it. Lulu’s innocent, yet illicit, innuendo, combined with Rick James’ freaky song blaring over the store’s speakers, was just too much for me.
“She’s a Super Freak, Super Freak. She’s super freaky. Yow”
Lulu wanted us to get a sample, but I had turned into a junior high school student. I was laughing so hard at the improbable combination of sights and sounds that I couldn’t bring myself to wait in line for a taste of the meat rocket, er telephone pole, er, straighten up, Gina – salami.
But after almost three years here in Tuscany, I am more than used to the popularity of pork. I am fond of it. And as we prepare to depart Italy for Ireland, I must prepare to have the pork make way for… er, potatoes?
With love of food everywhere,
P.S. What are your region’s specialties? Like ’em? Love ’em?
I am proud to report the evil prank my mother played on me when I was five (oh yes, wait ‘til you hear about it; it was purely evil!) has now moved on to a new generation of tricksters.
The initial crime, er prank, was committed one morning when innocent little Gina London work up one morning and prepared to get dressed to go to what she thought was a regular day of kindergarten. My loving mother, however, had removed every pair of shoes from my closet.
I had no idea, of course, that it was April First and that the day had any extra significance for making Fools.
I remember my mother siting me on a stool in the kitchen and very seriously explaining to me that Daddy had accidentally thrown away all my shoes. “We can buy some new shoes after school, but for now Mommy will just wrap up your feet in newspapers and you can go to school like that.”
My mom, then as I recall, loudly cackled out, “APRILFOOLS!” I seem to also recall her face being green and a witch’s pointy hat was perched on her head. Seriously, I still shake my head whenever I think that my mom actually pulled this off on me. I mean, I was five, for Lawd’s sake. In spite of this, I swear to you, my mother and I have a very close relationship. And I never did find out if Dad was in on it or not.
Okay. So fast forward to yesterday afternoon. Lulu and I are sitting on a bench in the Tuscan sunshine at Parco Prato and she tells me her teacher has told all the kids that tomorrow is April Fool’s day. Actually, she says “pesce d’aprile” because that’s what they call it here in Italy. Happy April Fish Day. But it’s still about playing tricks.
Of course, I have told Lulu the twisted tale of her grandmother and my first April Fool’s Day many times. Lulu is convinced it will work on her daddy.
Lulu has been practicing a string of Italian songs in preparation for her school’s Christmas Concert – set for later this afternoon.
Although I am still not fluent in Italian, the repertoire includes a ditty about Moses, Jericho, something with a lot of “Hallelujahs” in it – and then, rather out of the blue, the rousing 1960’s Gospel song “Oh Happy Day!” Yes, she sings it in English, but slightly off-key and with the cutest Italian accent ever.
Aliotti Elementary kids have been hard at work at school and Lulu has been practicing a lot here at home too – singing while she sets the table, singing in the bathtub, before she goes to bed, you get the idea.
Last night, she grabbed a baton and began “conducting” a choir of her stuffed animals. She sang pretty loudly. I didn’t hear much from them, however.
Lulu will be joining her fellow classmates to sing in an impressive 11th century stone church in the historic center of our adopted medieval town here in Arezzo.
There’s even a gold-cased relic inside that supposedly holds the head of Arezzo’s patron Saint – St. Donato (who apparently was beheaded up the hill near where the duomo now stands and his head rolled down here! – His body is enshrined up at the duomo. I am not making this up!).
Tour groups often stop in front of it and get lectures from their flag-holding guides.
When I was a kid, I sang in a few Christmas concerts. A couple in my tiny school’s auditorium or gymnasium. A few at the tiny little Methodist church we attended in Parker City, Indiana.
But never in an eleventh century Italian church – complete with Saint’s head.
Here in Italy, I had never even heard of it. Not until my hip-to-all-things-pop-culture sister Andrea wrote me an email and asked me if the song was as popular in Tuscany as it is in the US. My unscientific survey consisted of asking my cool personal trainer Elena whether she had heard it (she had not), and an hour and a half review of power house Radio/Web/TV station “RTL 102.5” which also did not turn up the Fox.
I went on YouTube and watched the video and also watched the two Norwegian brothers singing their hit on Ellen.
They’re cute. The dance is quirkily catchy like “Gangnam Style” – which did sweep Italy along with the rest of the world. But the lyrical query the song poses was no question for Lulu.
“Everybody knows the fox barks like a dog,” she said after watching the official video. “It doesn’t go ‘Pow-pow-pow!’”
The wild boar roams the countryside, makes for delicious stew, sauce and sausage and is a mascot for the region.
There doesn’t appear to be a song for the wild boar, but Lulu does have its shirt.
But Italians do have their own famous version of an animal sound song: “Il Coccodrillo Come Fa” “How does the Croccodile go?” is a song that every kid, including Lulu, knows well.
The song’s Italian composer, Pino Massura, passed away this summer at 82. While he wrote beloved children’s songs, Massura also had a string of famous grown-up hits throughout his lifetime, including some recorded by Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Elvis, (that American guy, not to be confused with the “Ylvis” guys from Norway who wrote the Fox).
Maybe the Norwegian brothers will go on to the same kind of enduring fame as Massura. Or maybe not.
What does the Fox have to say about all of it? I don’t know. I live in Italy.
Until next time, Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
P.S. Do you love the Fox? What’s your favorite animal song? Share please!