Monday, December 13, 2010

An Unexpected Lingua Franca

I had to document this story--something that happened to me earlier this year. It is too priceless to chance times expected dissolution of my memory.

If it isn't particularly obvious from my blog, I have a sort of fascination with Italy. I go as much as I can (which, of course, isn't nearly as much as I want), delight in their delectable delectable's, revel in their history and bewildering architecture, mimic their gesticulations, indulge in their bountious wine get the point.

Prior to our trip in January, I decided it was time to learn their language. So, I began teaching myself the summer before. Pimsleur is excellent. I practiced and practiced--all in anticipation of our upcoming trip. Eager to overwhelm some poor Italian with my bad grammar (have you seen how many verb forms they have?! It's enough to make one fall over senseless and have nightmares about attacking verbs).

We flew all night and landed in Roma, picked up our luggage and headed to the Termini to catch a train to Firenze. Italians were everywhere, speaking Italian. My ears were in raptures. If only someone would speak to me. Someone. Anyone.

We boarded the train, and lo! An older woman was in the car, about half Ben's height, with short blond hair. This didn't discourage me much. Not all Italians have dark hair. I just wanted her to talk to me. She scowled at us as we approached, meandering down the narrow walkway, looking for a seat. And then, without warning, she stabbed her pointer finger at my face and started yelling. And it wasn't Italian. I didn't know what it was.

Wide-eyed and confused I glanced back to Ben who was just as confused. The woman continued pointing at us and pointing to her things, while yelling--yelling louder thinking increased volume would some how miraculously make us understand. Through her movements, we gathered she wanted help moving her luggage to the shelf overhead. Once that happened, her eyes twinkled and she gifted us with smiles all around. She knew absolutely zero Italian. And almost the same amount of English.

Very slowly and deliberately I asked, "Where are you from?" with particular emphasis on that last word. My hope dwindled as she bit her lip, looked up to the ceiling in thought. And then very decidedly she said: "Moscow!"

So we wouldn't be speaking Italian. We wouldn't be speaking at all. But then she suddenly turned to me: "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" she asked, to which I answered, while laughing, "Ein bisschen" (a little).

So there we were, on a train in Italy on our way to Florence. Speaking very fragmented German to a Russian lady.

I love Europe.


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