Thursday, July 4, 2013

Learning Italian In Mussolini's Shadow

That could be the title of a novel, couldn't it?  It'd be set in post-Fascist Italy.  The prose would be spare, almost Hemingway-esque.  Actually, it could also be the title of a David Sedaris book.  Either way, the film would be in black-and-white.  Eastwood could direct it.  Jake Gyllenhaal would play me.  

In reality, the title of this posting refers to my first language lesson in a month.  I can't blame myself for the delay.  There was the trip to NY and Istanbul.  When I returned to Roma, there was devastating news.  Paola had gotten a job for the summer in Puglia, and she had no choice but to take it.  That left me tutor-less and clueless.  Luckily, Paola has a friend who was willing to take on the grueling task of teaching me Italian from nearly the ground floor.

Valentina and I started this past Tuesday.  Paola and I both explained to Valentina the pattern and practice we'd established over the past few months.  Valentina would have to prepare a lesson involving vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.  We'd meet at an interesting location that is off the tourist track, that would give me an opportunity to reach a part of the city I don't know (maybe by mass transit), and that has some intriguing cultural, political, artistic, or social aspects to it.  That way, when -- after 15 minutes of the actual lesson -- I inevitably said that I was experiencing cerebral overload, and that maybe we should (a) have some espresso/cappuccino/pastries, and (b) walk around and explore the gardens/architecture/museum/church/park/ruins/etc., it would be without an overwhelming sense of guilt or self-flagellation.  I am pleased to report that Valentina picked up on this routine without a hitch.

We met Tuesday at Villa Torlonia.  I doubt this is a place that any tourists visit.  But it was nifty.  The Villa Torlonia used to be owned by the Torlonia family, who I understand were like the Italian Rockefellers of the 19th century.  The villa and its palace became Mussolini's home during the 1920s.  He rented it from the Torlonias for 1 lira per year.  (As Mel Brooks would say, "it's good to be the dictator.")  The villa is now a big public park.

The grounds are nice enough -- and they are an oasis on a hot summer day, as they provide a temporary escape from the heat, humidity, noise, and commotion of the city.  But the best part by far is the fairy-tale-like cottage called the Casina dell Civette, or "Little House of Owls."  This funky house is representative of the Art Nouveau movement in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The movement here was called Stil Liberty.  The house is great: filled with color, stained-glass, owl motifs all over the place, porticos, and turrets.

All in all, it was an excellent first lesson with Valentina.  We went over the Italian words for all the forms of the verb "to be."  Not bad after 4 months, si?

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