It was always the language. There are many things to love about Italy, but when people ask me what I first fell in love with, the answer is: the language. Before I ever set foot in the country, I fell in love with Italian.
On my first trip to Italy, I visited what travel books call "The Big Three": Venice, Florence and Rome. Before I went, I wanted to learn a bit of the language. I bought the obligatory "traveler's Italian" tapes and a book from a bookstore (this was before you could download lessons on the Internet) and started studying one night after work. That night led to the next and the next and the next. Studying Italian became an obsession. For me, the full-bodied musicality of the Italian language is as seductive as the country's beautiful people, landscape and art.
The first city I visited in Italy was Venice. Staying at a small hotel near Piazza San Marco, I awoke the morning after my arrival and headed to the breakfast room. I greeted a young waiter with a hearty "Buon giorno. Com'e sta?" and actually saw the man's eyes light up when he heard me speak Italian - even though I only spoke four small words. I felt so proud, so worldly, so Italian. The waiter answered with a fast-paced string of several sentences that left me wide-eyed and stammering a somewhat embarrassed, "Oh, no, no, no, no - that's all I can say." Instead of being annoyed, he gave me a gracious smile and asked - in English - if I wanted a coffee or cappuccino. The conversation left me feeling a bit foolish. But it also gave me an idea of what a connection I would be able to make with people in Italy if I could speak their language.
The next morning, I awoke, opened the windows in my room and listened to two Italian men talk on the street below. I had no idea what they were saying, yet I could have listened to the melodic conversation all day. On every trip to Italy, part of what I enjoy is the Italian language soundtrack I get to hear. And as my ability to speak the language has improved, I find that just having a brief conversation in Italian with a train station clerk or waiter brings me sheer joy.
I have studied Italian on my own and with wonderful Italian tutors in New Mexico. Last year, I studied Italian in Italy for the first time. I went to the Lucca Italian School. What fun! What wonderful teachers! What interesting fellow students! (Look for blog posts about the school by Joanne in a few weeks.) I'm heading back this year and non vedo l'ora (I can't wait).
-post by JG