006. PARLO POCO ITALIANO, AND HAPPY ACCIDENTS / by Cara Hines

Viterbo - Faenza - Vipassana:  This entry steps back in time a bit to 20-21 Oct

Ahh, the Italian language. I first learned a tidbit of this euphony when I spent the summer of 1996 studying architecture (and life) here. Our professor, Dr. Jones (aka Dr. J), brought a group of about 18 of us from the Texas Tech University Architecture program to live in Vicenza and travel about, studying the works of Palladio, Carlo Scarpa, and many others. His wife, beautiful in appearance, proper in demeanor as any self-respecting Englishwoman might be, had lived several years of her youth in Italy and enjoyed extensive aptitude for the language and culture. She armed our group with a basic understanding of grammar, pronunciation, and typical phrases, as well as a preparedness for some of the nuances of the culture. We were well groomed in anticipation of the forward nature of some Italian men and of the overly accommodating nature of many Italians who, in their desire to be helpful and harmonious, will smilingly provide you with directions to your destination whether or not they truly know where it is they’re sending you. It’s a charming quality that often results in the most colorful adventures of your trip.

In any case, my only other experience with the language since then has been in recent business dealings with Italians while working with Studio Como. Last year I attended the Milan Furniture Fair, and in anticipation, I took a crash course from a wonderful Italian woman in Denver, Maria Chiacchio. Her method of teaching proved very helpful in resurrecting at least some of my knowledge of the language. Since then, however, I’ve utilized it very little. Despite this, I seem to be navigating fairly well and expanding rather quickly my vocabulary. Particularly if you consider that in the more than 2 weeks since arriving, I was not speaking in any language for ten of those days! Let me not mislead you, though. I have a very long way to go before I could consider myself adept.

The day before I entered the Vipassana meditation retreat, I was still in Viterbo. There was quite a bit of stress and frustration in those first 2 or 3 days as I adjusted my luggage and to navigating the trains, language, internet availability, etc. This is not a complaint! I was still in beautiful Italy, for crying out loud. Simply an observation. On that day, I was wandering about, trying to get to a particular place and having trouble with the directions of a very nice woman (see paragraph 1), when I stopped a friendly looking man on the sidewalk and attempted to ask for assistance in my best Italian. His name was Salvatore and, living up to his name which means “savior” in Italian, he was so very helpful. He was doing some work in the electronics store we were standing in front of and invited me to come in and have a seat. Inside I met Michele and Tomas. Michele, a nice-looking 25-year-old man, spoke English and was able to help translate. I actually spent a bit of time there with them, Michele let me use the internet and even gave me some help with some of the words and phrases I needed to use often.

I had intended to leave that afternoon for a leisurely drive in the direction of Faenza and be close to the meditation center for ease the next day. But Salvatore, after helping me locate the rental car facility and giving me other bits of advice, offered for me to stay in his family’s home for the evening. It is simply not something a traveler in a foreign country can pass up, this opportunity to spend an evening with kind local folk. He went to get his wife, Pina, from work and we went together to their home. Both their children were there, daughter Alessia 18 and son Andrea 21. They were so very gracious and treated me as if I were royalty. Salvatore showed me his extensive collection of trophies from the motorcross racing he does. He and Pina prepared a delicious meal of spaghetti and pepperocini, and they kindly paired it with a very special bottle of red wine they had on hand. We followed the meal with a few sips of limoncello, a lemon aperitif typical in Italy. If you have not tried this delicious drink, you must! We all did our best to communicate with my limited Italian and their small bit of English. An additional twist in this tiny “tower of babble” is that Alessia is deaf and for the most part mute. Let this not mislead you that she is limited in any way. She is highly intelligent, witty, and tenacious. She and I had a grand time playing around on Facebook. We chatted with her friends as she told them all about her American guest, and she spent a fair amount of time signing with other friends via her webcam. She, Andrea, and I sat up after Salvatore and Pina retired and did our best to converse. In total, it was a wonderful evening. I have new friends in Viterbo. Very generous friends.

But this social respite proved difficult for me in getting to Faenza in time the next day to take the shuttle to the meditation center. I’m running short on time as I write this, so I won’t regale you with those adventures (excepting a nod to the challenges of everyday tasks such as operating an Italian gas pump). I was filled with such anxiety and frustration with myself and the circumstances! But there turned out to be a bus from Faenza to Tredozio, a small village only 6km or so from Lutirano and the Vipassana center. As soon as I stepped off the bus in this bucolic place, I knew it was no accident. I should know by now not to be upset when things don’t go the way I think they should. There is ALWAYS a reason. Or there can be if I disarm my overgrown ego long enough to notice it. I had thought I might want to spend 2 or 3 nights in a quiet place after the retreat to ease back into the world and to gather myself for the rest of the trip. Tredozio seemed to be perfect for this purpose, and it is....

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