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...."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Italy Charms

Italy charms.  Slowly.  Like a flower whose scent drifts, pulling you into an orbit of beauty, where bad happens in another place, another time, like yesterday's newspaper, left on a terrace table, the English gaining my attention, the headlines so dramatic, so far away I recoil from what threatens and walk away, preferring the scented beauty, the Italy that charms, the Italian language that seduces, like a lullaby, into feeling safe and secure.

After four lovely days in Munich (which I'll blog about after returning to the States, for something interesting happened which I'd like to share, hear your input), we're into our routine at Jesolo Beach, an hour's ferry ride across the bay from Venice, Italy.  It's a tourist area that shuts down in winter, reverting to the gray emptiness expected from a narrow peninsula victimized by seasonal winds and heavy rains.

In the meantime, tho, the sun shines in a cloudless blue sky, tourists wander the town's shaded streets, beach devotees have claimed lounges or locals go about morning errands.  The atmosphere is peaceful, very relaxing.  Dick's out by the pool, content reading a Daniel Silva novel, half-shaded under his umbrella.

I don't like sitting in the sun, umbrella or not, even with sunscreen, a hat, and so on.  I enjoy exploring side streets, taking photos, and walking and not really thinking, just absorbing.  Around noon, Dick and I meet at a   beach hangout popular with Italians (for most of the tourists here are Italian).  He usually orders a beer and a panini.  I don't order anything.  There aren't any calories in what I pinch from his plate!!  That sip of beer, too!

What I've noticed most about the area, is how generational the lifestyle is.  Sons work with fathers in the small shops.  Grandmothers push strollers (prams).  Long-time friends gather in the piazza and talk and laugh.  Small kids know to endure the pinch on the cheeks, the kisses, the exclamations about how beautiful they are.  Dogs know to flatten down, to wait until they can return to being dogs, tails up, paws moving, styling and profiling.  It's Italy.  Everybody and everything looks good.  Not a speck of dust on constantly washed cars.  Store windows sparkle.

Our hotel serves dinner at 7:30.  It's the only hotel in the area to include breakfast and dinner in the daily price.  Dinner includes a long salad bar, a soup and pasta bar, and a buffet of fresh vegetables and grilled (while you wait) meats and fish.  Dessert consists of a table filled with mouth-watering tortes, with a parallel fruit table, the cherries, strawberries, and melons that are in season.  One can top off the fruit with gelato.

And, so, for a week we enjoyed a leisurely paced routine.  Until a large group of Russians checked in.  Now, no one knows what to think.  Not just us, the lone tourists from the United States.  But the numerous Brits and Germans and Austrians.  We've begun to gather and compare notes.  Decide what to do.  When there's only one thing to do:  Come to breakfast and dinner earlier, change our leisurely routine.

If not, there's little food, with the hotel staff scrambling to find fillers.

It's beyond comprehension that a group of people can put so much food on plates (for each balances more than one filled plate), move as a group, not following the course order, piling on the really good stuff (for a menu is posted daily).  And they eat it all, every crumb, scraping plates clean, as if an eating marathon exists.  Then, they leave.  With the rest of us sitting there, wondering, what the hell was that all about?

There's a bit of sympathy, that that many people are that hungry.  But sympathy only goes so far.

For those of you new to my blog, my hub and I lived in Macedonia for two years.  I learned to speak Macedonian fairly well.  Some Macedonian laces Russian (or vice versa).  So, I understand a bit of these Russian conversations.  In short, they don't like us, look down upon us, enjoy talking about us.  By 'us' I mean those of us from the West, be it Austria or Germany or England or the United States or wherever.  I wish I could list exceptions and say this couple or that person was very nice.  I can't.  They move as a group with a group mentality.  Nothing individual here.  Not even a response to routine greetings in their language.

I wish I could say that this is the experience from one tour group.  Not so.  Out desk clerks say it's the same with Russian tour groups everywhere here.

And the Russians shop en masse, flush with euros (oil money), buying high-end designer items with the same abandon with which they fill dinner plates.

So, where am I going with all this?  Nowhere, really.  Except to say that I, like other hotel guests from England, Austria, and Germany, am a product of the Cold War.  We're a bit taken aback by this East-West divide we're experiencing.  For there are guests here from European countries who speak Russian.  I'm told overheard conversations get harsher when one understands Russian fluently.

One can't buy Paradise.  Reality always slips in.