Kittie Howard

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Italian Language Sings

The Italian language sings.  This was the topic of after-breakfast conversation around a table on the hotel's terrace.  British friends said that when they're shopping, back in Liverpool, and happen to hear spoken Italian, they stop briefly, just to enjoy the language's beauty.  "We haven't a clue what anyone's saying," Brian said, "but, for a few moments, we want to get lost in the beauty of a language that sings."

I couldn't agree more.  Sometimes, when I'm walking, I'll pause on a bench simply to hear the beauty of passing conversations.  I love how the vowels stretch, how phrases roll higher, then down into a sentence that mellows out, like a bell that tinkles, the last sound a dainty reverberation that soothes the soul.  I can't imagine a really angry person speaking Italian and retaining the anger.  Of course, it must happen.  People are people.

Still, for the wandering tourist, snippets of conversation here and there, greetings in stores, background commentary on television, all merge into a language of beauty, a language that sings "Co me va?" (How are you?) with such purity one has to feel good or at least better, if only for a moment.  And, sometimes, it only takes a moment for a day that has started out poorly .... kids crying, a rough e-mail ... to turn around, for a smile to reach upward.

The hotel solved the problem of the disappearing food last night by bringing out more food: a second round of beef (like one sees at huge receptions), more lamb chops, huge piles of French fries, more pasts, double the cut fruit selections, increase ice cream flavors, and so on and so on until one looked at these mounds of food with a weakened appetite.  For it's not normal, I don't think, for this much food to feed what in reality are few people, about 100.

But, not knowing the increases would appear, others didn't rush to stand in chow lines, but held back, maintained a firm grip on the leisurely pace of dinner traditions.  This is a part of the Old Europe it took centuries to reach.  No one was going to forsake tradition for a lamb chop.

I can't say at which precise moment it happened .... perhaps the sight of so much food had a sobering effect, that no one in the room starved ... but civility returned, the rush abated, and order prevailed.  That one could feel a certain sense of harmony blessed a pleasant evening.  Except that there are murmurs prices will rise, that this hotel will be too expensive next year.  However, I don't think this will happen.  The British and the Germans and the Austrians are the hotel's core guests. Some have been returning yearly for decades. Without this nucleus, occasional Russian groups can't keep the hotel afloat.

A reader asked if I knew thirty-three from the Russian Federation read my blog?  And, in a roundabout way, if I worried about the political correctness of what I had written?

Yes, I knew about this readership, am grateful for their support, and have sometimes wondered who they were, what they did, where they lived in Russia (I've always wanted to visit Siberia, romanticized a reader lived there).

About the political correctness, no.  Actually, hell no.

When a group of people assumes others don't understand their language and makes ugly comments that can be understood, this is a xenophobia that can be called to task.  I wish I could say I'm alone in this but am not. A couple of weeks prior to leaving the States, we had lunch with a Russian speaker from one of the former Eastern Block countries.  Mariyan complained about the same issues I have written about but hadn't yet experienced.  "They give us all a bad name," he had moaned.

And I understand this helpless feeling.  Wasn't it Graham Greene who wrote about The Ugly American?  I can't say Greene was wrong.  Oh, but the times I saw my countrymen/women behave overseas in a manner they wouldn't think of doing back in the States and felt a sense of shame.  Time has seasoned most Americans to tuck their manners into the suitcase when traveling.  Still, the problem often persists, The Ugly American who needs to get his/her act together.  I'm not personally insulted when others are reprimanded.  The Russians I've known aren't either.

Like Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage...."

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