Saturday, March 3, 2007

Green Eggs and Prosciutto

We made it to the Pantheon! La Bimba was asleep in the stroller, but I'm sure she caught the building's vibes.
I forgot about all the nuns and priest tooling around Rome. And the liturgical garment stores. A few years ago, a friend and I witnessed a clergyman (higher than a black-frocked priest, lower than the Pope...bishop? cardinal?) trying on a hat, one of those pointy bishoppy hats. We watched through the window as he shook his head, up and down, side to side, to see if the hat would remain on his head. One store, De Ritis, has an attractive female mannequin modelling a whimple. Do you think nuns go whimple shopping together and Sister Mary Teresa comes out of the dressing room and asks Sister Mary Immacolata, "Does this make me look fat?"
I forgot about all the tourists, especially American college students in Trastevere, young women from Michigan or Arizona stumbling around in high-heeled boots, one drunk and laughing over the ankle she just twisted after having gotten a heel caught between two cobblestones, coming to the next morning with a purple elephant's foot. I forgot about how hard it is to find a bus ticket and that it is a bit of a risk to ride the bus without one. I forgot how beautiful Rome is.
I moved to Rome from Berkeley in August 2004. I lived there for eight months before moving to Naples. I am always happy to visit Rome and, shockingly, I am always happy to return to Naples. Naples is a drug and I am addicted. People in Rome often look like they are living la dolce vita instead of la vida loca alla napoletana. Lots of comfy, over-priced outdoor cafes, fancy shops, government types in pinstripe suits, lungofiume strolls at dusk.
Romans are awful drivers. They lack the consistency of Neapolitan drivers, i.e. they don't always and without fail try to go first, before the motorino, the pedestrian, the doggie. Sometimes they stop, sometimes they slow down, sometimes they speed up, sometimes they maintain breakneck pace. You never know what the hell is going on. And so many motorino accidents! I rarely see a motorino on its side in the middle of the street in Naples. As a Neapolitan typographer I know once explained: "If you have a one-way street, but it will save you and everyone around you time to go up that street the wrong way, you have to be an idiot not to do so. There is no sense in following traffic rules if they cause traffic." Smart.
My friend the journalist in Rome is coming down to Naples to write about smoking and helmets. I told him Neapolitans put helmets on their pastries but not on their heads or the heads of their children. I was being metaphoric, referring to the cardboard domes that are placed over pastries in order to protect them from getting smooshed. He thought Neapolitans put their actual motorcyle helmets over their pastries. I just love a good misunderstanding. It's like an episode of Three's Company!
When I was living in Rome, The Husband (then boyfriend) called me and started talking to me about work and how he was in a hole and was really down and was having trouble getting out of it. I made sympathetic noises whilst thinking how poetic he was, how depressed and poetic, when his narrative started to breakdown. When I was thoroughly confused, I said, "Wait a minute. Could you repeat that?" When he retold his story I realized that HE HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN INTO A HOLE AT WORK, had fallen pretty far down, and had trouble getting out of the hole. Isn't that great? The misunderstanding, that is, not the fact that poor Husband fell into a hole.
Being in a marriage where one spouse doesn't speak the other's language at all, and one spouse speaks the other's language fairly well, but that language is not really the other's language because The Husband is only truly comfortable in Neapolitan, can be very challenging, often fun, frustrating, humbling, exhausting. We have lots of misunderstandings, create hybrid terms such as "crankissima," and mix up our languages ("Tu sei proprio stinky"). It's like living in a Dr. Seuss book.
One of my main motivations for moving to non-English-speaking country was to get out of my habitual ways of thinking and perceiving the world by speaking in a language not my own. It worked great for a good long while, but now I think I've been here long enough to have returned to my old thought processes, neuroses, biases. I've just carved another passageway in my brain for my ancient issues to stroll through. Call it Via dell'Angoscia.


Delina said...

Welcome back to napule!
Me and my OH mix up the languages too. Napoletano-Italiano-Inglese, few would understand us.
I can't wait to hear what La Bimba picks up language wise :)

Doug said...

I always thought that if I'd actually learned any of the six languages I half-heartedly attempted to learn, I, too, would be greeted with a whole new Mind. Still think my mind is impoverished without any facility in another language, but it's comforting to know that it's not what I thought it would be.

Glad you enjoyed Rome! I love it there. Naples, too, of course, but I've only spent three days in Naples; five weeks in Rome (in my life).