If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

09 March 2005

Swimming in language and doubts

As if the overwhelming feeling of 'gee, I'm going to be living here soon' wasn't enough, today had me on my own visiting a gorgeous (and enormous) nursery south of Rome. I was there at the suggestion of Nutty Professor Bowtie, and was meeting a young woman - daughter of the owner - who I had only corresponded with via email. I had no idea what to expect.

She was LOVELY and very hospitable. It's always strange meeting people for the first time, especially when you know you will be imposing on them eventually (in my case, bringing a group of 40 people to trounce through her business, probably on a Sunday. Gotta love Americans.). The Italians are lovely this way, though -- hospitality that is truly legendary, and an openness and eagerness to welcome strangers into their worlds that instantly puts you at ease. In this case, I was a virtual stranger, known only by a random introduction, and they invited me to have their 'typical daily lunch' which they offer to any customers who are in during the lunch hour (actually a pretty smart idea, saves customers the trouble of finding a restaurant in a remote area, finding a place to park the truck, etc etc., ). It's in one of their large meeting rooms, a beautiful place ... all vaulted wood beams, very natural. They had the table set - simple, yellow linens and blue napkins, very elegant but still homey. The first course came out -- a regional dish whose name I can't remember, but was basically homemade twisted pasta with a cheese and red cabbage sauce. Sounds strange but was DELICIOUS! (Thankfully so, since EVERYONE at the table ate every bite, so I would have felt awkward not doing the same!) Second course -- chicken breasts with mushrooms, and for dessert, a gargantuan bowl of homemade tiramisu with what must have been a full 1/4 inch of cocoa powder on the top. Of course, wine and water were flowing.

Here's the fantabulous meeting and lunch room ... boy, who says nurseries are different in the US?!?!?

The lunch group was about 12 people -- the rest either the family members (the Nonna, the three sisters and the baby), or customers -- four Italians, two Spanish, one French. They all spoke fluent Italian, for a while stopping to translate for me, but I stopped them; feeling bad that it was slowing up the conversation.

At that point, I realized: when you have SOME idea of the context of the situation, it's easier to try to pull words out of a conversation. Starting from scratch, you're basically adrift in a giant sea of conversation -- your ears can't distinguish anything and your brain glazes over from a total lack of recognizeable syllables. Everything was moving so fast... no context, food and drink obscuring mouths, rapid fire conversation punctuated with group laughter... I attemped to nod and smile where I could, but the feeling was akin to being struck completely deaf and mute. A feeling of dread -- (holy crap am I really going to pick up my life and move here?!?!) -- and panic struck.

Finally, a conversational liferaft in the sea of words: non fumare. Ah-ha! As of early March, Italy has put a ban on smoking in all public restaurants, bars (Halleluliah, I say - leather is a bitch to clean that smell out of!), so the group was going on and on about this and its effect on life (as one of the sisters gestures violently with a cigarette bouncing up and down in her hand...!). The Spanish gentleman turned to me and asked if this was the same in the States... and, blessedly, I was able to formulate a somewhat intelligent answer about California, which prompted someone's Schwarzenegger impression (oh, heaven help us all, yes, this really IS what they think of America.)

Non fumare. One word at a time. Of course, I am smart enough to know that one conversational liferaft does not a rescue make. It will be a long time before I'm living the life of luxury in comfortable conversations in Italian. But at least for the moment, I didn't feel like the sharks of doubt were circling anymore.


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