49 Days Left. Guess I’ll Start Packing

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

“Where is Dominic!? Why hasn’t he posted in so long? How am I supposed to go about my life without regular Zinn Blog entries!”

Oh, that’s not what you were thinking? Sorry, I’ve never been too good at that game.

Either way, I figured I should check in briefly, since my journey in Rome is just about at the halfway point (sad, I know). I suppose the optimistic way to look at it is to say that I still have half left, right?

Whatever… I don’t want to leave, and I’ll mope about it all I want. Thank you very much.

Since my last entry, several changes have taken place that might be interesting enough to note.

First, Rome isn’t hot anymore. Actually, it’s gotten kind of brisk. It’s good for me, because I never had the chance to wear the leather jacket I bought in Florence until now. But, at the same time, I’m probably going to end up wearing it too much (didn’t pack enough warm clothing), which might end up reducing its cool factor from Marlon Brando (from The Wild One) down to Roger Klotz (from Doug).

Sure… I could always go shopping for more clothes, but, don’t forget, this is Italy, not America, and I have my doubts about the quality of the clothing here. Maybe I should just wait to go home to Anniston, Alabama, where I know for a fact I can find adequate winter jackets for my eventual return to Chicago. And, while I’m pointing out obvious facts, Caddyshack 2 is one of the best movies ever!

In other news, my service learning program with elderly Italians has continued to go splendidly, I must say. The people at the Girasole (Sunflower) center have been very helpful in teaching me to speak Italian.

Well, not so much ‘speak Italian’, as practice my panic face.

You see, something about older people makes them unsympathetic to the fact that those of us in the program are still learning the language, and have not become fluent yet (sorry, some of us haven’t had 95 years to practice it). It’s not so much that I can’t understand what they say. It’s just that they won’t slow down, and instead of repeating themselves when something is unclear, they just go “Blegh!” and shrug you off like you’re hopeless.

Not all of them are this way, of course. Some are very welcoming, and treat you well even if you’re confused. But underneath you can tell that they’re judging.

Still, there are times when it goes really well; when I’ll understand exactly what someone is talking about, and I can even respond. But then, inevitably, another person will walk up to join the conversation, speaking too fast and using words I’ve never learned. Enter the panic face:

And -“Blegh!”- conversation over…

But I still have more than a month to get over that barrier. And I plan on doing it, by golly! It’s not my style to let old people get between me and my goals. (Speaking of which, my apologies to the old man in front of me in line today for the last piece of tiramisu. I wish you a speedy recovery… or a relatively painless death, if your injuries prove fatal.)

What else? Hmmmm…

Oh yeah!

I’m well into my second Italian course for the quarter, which is a conversation class, rather than grammar. And I believe it’s going pretty well. To be honest, I wish I had it a little more, because it’s only twice a week for an hour and a half. In my opinion that’s not enough to get a real conversation in. It’s forcing me to do something I never thought I would have to do: go out and speak with real Italians.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m explaining this, I still have many problems with the language. It gets easier and easier as time goes by, but I’m always reminded of the fact that there is much more to speaking a language than knowing how to conjugate the verbs.

In Italian, pronunciation is one of these things. One “n” between “Penne” and “Pene” is the difference between a type of pasta and a penis. Seriously. If you don’t hold the “n” sound for the appropriate amount of time, the waiter might bring you something you didn’t order, or the doctor might think you’re having difficulty getting your pasta cooked to the proper firmness.

It also seems there are thousands of simple words that I use in English all the time, but I’ve never learned their translations. For example, I went to the pharmacy today to buy some lip balm and eye drops. The cold is setting in, so it’s only natural for my eyes and lips to get a little dry. (It’s normal! Shut up!) But, once I was standing in front of the counter about to speak to the girl, I realized that the only way I was going to get what I needed was to play charades.

Here’s what I know how to say without trouble: “Scusi, potrei avere…” (“Excuse me, could I have…”).

But what’s the word for eye drops?

“… la cosa per gli occhi?” (“… the thing for the eyes?”) I made a gesture as if squeezing eye drops into my face, and she seemed to get it.

Next the lip balm. This was harder, because I knew how to say eyes, but I forgot the word for lips (which I now know is “le labbra”). So, instead of trying to talk my way around it, I just said “E anche…” (“And also…”), then started gesturing as if applying lip balm with my finger. She caught on after a few seconds, but I’m still left wondering whether or not she thought I was asking for a kiss, at least at first. I’m not sure if Italians use the apply-with-finger method that I was gesturing when they use lip balm (she gave me a roll-on tube, not the goop, like Carmex), but I didn’t want there to be any doubt that what I wanted wasn’t lipstick.

This is a very mundane example. Sometimes it’s a little harder and the stakes are higher. Like when asking a bus driver where to get off for your destination.

If buses in Rome were like buses in Chicago, there would be a perky little voice to tell you exactly what stop you were approaching; as long as you know where you need to get off, there would be no confusion.

Instead, there is no voice, or even a scrolling screen to tell you where you are. There’s just a scrolling screen to tell you the number of the bus. So, once you have all of the streets memorized, as well as all of the bus routes, you’re fine.

… but, I don’t. (Others in my groups are aware of this).

Getting to major spots or to/from school is no problem. I’ve got that down pat. It’s trying to find new places or taking new buses that throws me. So, what else to do but ask the driver? (Who will, without fail, only know one word of English by default: “No”)

Me: “Scusi, c’è una fermata per x?” (“Excuse me, is there a stop for x?”)

Driver: “Sì, ma non c’è ghjkfdfkgjhsdfghjasdhg, va bene?” (“Yes, but there isn’t string-of-unintelligible-gibberish, ok?)


“Sì, va bene.” (“Ok”)

But I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m a complete novice, either. I’d say that, by this point, I’m able to hold a basic conversation in Italian. It’s just not a particularly interesting one. And it’s certainly not one that involves eye drops or lip balm, as all the best conversations do.

Other topics that I would probably fail at discussing: Gardening, Driving, Types of Hats, Works by Rembrandt, Cartoons of the 70s, and so on…

But, you know me, I’m not losing hope. Each day continues to be a learning experience. So, I push forward for the second half of my program. Maybe I’ll finally learn my way around all of Rome, or maybe I’ll just keep asking the driver. Either way, I’ll do it with a smile on my face.



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