Friday, October 2, 2009

Walking and Talking

I have come to the conclusion that I am a really out-of-shape. Yesterday we spent several hours walking around, having a look at the museum of Medieval History. It wasn't a particularly demanding sight-seeing day as those things go, but by the time we got home every muscle in my legs ached. This I don’t understand. Bologna is flat and surely my years of living in central Virginia with its hilly if not mountainous terrain would have given me the requisite physique for this trip. I’m beginning to think that the aches and pains are due to walking on stone. Bill, on the other hand, thinks it’s because when I speak Italian to people I get on my tiptoes, putting undue stress on my calves. And he may be right. Why I do this is anybody’s guess, but it does take every bit of my attention to carry on a conversation in Italian and I probably tense up. So, in order to improve my conversational skills and hopefully get off my tiptoes I am going to take a few individual lessons at a local language school. Hmmm... taking a language course to improve my physical fitness. That has to be a pretty unusual strategy.

I stopped by the school yesterday and took a test to determine my level. It was Upper Intermediate, which was disappointing to me. Surely all those years of practicing and studying should give me a higher rating, but sadly, I’m not a detail-oriented person when it comes to language. I can never remember when to use in, a, or da. I am a busy person and I just don't have time for a lot of prepositions. At any rate, I’m glad that when I answered the self-evaluation question (before getting my test results) I selected the response “I have a good knowledge of Italian” instead of “I have such an amazing fluency in Italian that it borders on the poetic.” That really would have been embarassing.

Awkward segueway coming up here. Speaking of conversation, which I sort of was a moment ago, when we left our apartment yesterday afternoon to go to the park, we passed a group of four women in a courtyard just down the street. They were sitting on benches in animated conversation. When we returned home two hours later they were still there, still animated. It is amazing to me how central conversation is to Italians of every age. By way of comparison, think about the times you might have taken your child to the park. (If you live in Charlottesville Pen Park is a good example—large enough to have a decent sized sampling of people.) Think about how many of the parents are on cell phones while their kids are playing (including you or me). A lot right ? Maybe half the parents there ? That hardly ever happens here in the Bologna parks. The large one a few blocks from our apartment is packed with kids and parents after school. While the kids are playing,the parents are talking. Certain areas of the park seem to be reserved for the seniors. These are the areas with several benches grouped together. Every afternoon we find groups of them in animated conversation. I am interested in the fact that it is always men and women together. They are generally dressed very well, the women in dresses and the men in “grown up” slacks. It is very rare that you would see a man in his seventies in jeans. And cell phones ? Hardly a one.

This after-school park ritual has been a wonderful opportunity for us. Boris has met kids that he can ride bikes and play soccer with, and Bill and I have gotten to know some of the parents. When you start to speak to the residents it is almost like a curtain is drawn back and you see parts of Bologna that you miss in the guide books and tourist areas. So, now we know where to buy the best lasagna. We learned what the schools are like. We have commiserated about how boys hate to do homework. We found out that the reason the playground is roped off was that a child died last year falling off a deteriorating swing. Now the city has to check every single bold and chain on every piece of equipment. Which will apparently take months.

With my newly acquired information about where to get the best lasagna, I headed over to the local pasticceria yesterday. The price for a small container was shocking. So shocking that I can’t even bring myself to write down the price in this blog. But I paid up and brought home the precious container. When I told Bill what I paid he asked why I bought it. Well, that was the first thing he said after he recovered from fainting. I answered, “Because I didn’t want to disappoint you !” Boris nodded his head fervently. He had been looking forward to the lasagna all day. So, it has come to a pretty pass. A layered pasta dish has become central to our lives. We think about it all day and we’re willing to pay whatever it costs. I kind of get the whole drug addict thing now.

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