Saturday, July 31, 2010


There was an interesting article in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal about how language influences the way we see the world: 

In the article, Charlemagne was quoted stating, “to have a second language is to have a second soul.” After reading the article, I thought about this for a long time. My conclusions are that: maybe another language doesn't supply a second soul, but possibly a mirror into another aspect of one’s soul.

The Italian language, above all, is a romance language (sounds better than Vulgur Latin, doesn't it?). Living in “Italian,” I am seeing myself as more of a romantic then previously. By romantic, I don't mean that I make candlelit dinners and place rose petals on the duvet. Not at all. What I do mean is that in Italian, everything appears more beautiful- a sunny day has now become squisito (exquisite), a nice dress is stupendo (stupendous) and a good lunch is meraviglioso (marvelous). My sentences have dreamier tones to them when I speak and there is a slight possibility that some of my rough edges seem more tender. My extreme Passion, on the other hand, has always been a bit exaggerated. Yet in Italy, it’s normal- and accepted- and no one blinks twice.

The entire language is like onomatopoeia: “a word or grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing.” It’s like whatever you are feeling- is right there in the sounds that are coming out of your mouth. Ugly is brutto, beautiful is bello, love is amore and war is guerra. To walk across the street is to attreversare and a before dinner drink is aperitivo- and all these words have rolling r’s in the middles and end in vowels that softly tumble instantly into the next words. Italy is probably one of the most beautiful countries, aesthetically speaking, in the world. So it makes sense that the language would reflect that.

I would be exaggerating if I said that I am fluent in Italian, but I think that I’m almost there. More importantly, I live my life in Italian. Meaning: when I remember them, my dreams are in Italian- when I play scrabble, the first words that come to me Italian- and when I get angry, I curse in Italian. Naturally.

I have heard that the Native Americans believe that humans are the only animals narcissistic enough to actually believe we have souls. Although we are the only animals intelligent enough to form a concept of a soul, and beyond that- the only animals with sufficient language to communicate the concept of the soul, I think that the Indians had a point. So to say that I have a number of souls due to the languages I speak, as Charlemagne would have noted- I think it would be going a bit overboard.

What I can say is that thinking in another language has broadened my thought process. The way that I look at things changes through the words that denote the meanings of objects and events. Italians, like in the business they do, always leave open ends- the meanings of phrases can always be interpreted in one of 100 ways. And although this can be frustrating at times, I’m finding it quite useful. “Ci vediamo,” literally means, “we see each other.” In daily discourse, it means, “see you soon.” But it can also mean, depending on the person you are speaking with and the context, “see ya sucker,” “I’ll see you tonight,” “I'll see you around,” “I’ll see you later,” “or “I’m being polite but I truly have no intention to ever see you again.”

Going back to this mirror into the soul that I mentioned, I have repeatedly wondered about how the words I use shape my thoughts- and not the other way around. Therefore, by broadening the expressions I use to describe things through an entirely different language- my world has been expanded. A sunset is not just a sunset- it can be, in English- sundown, dusk, nightfall, twilight, the day’s end- and in Italian- tramonto, sera, crepuscolo and calare del sole. See what I mean? I now have 10 ways to refer to the setting of the sun. And that, in turn, changes the image that comes to mind when I describe a sunset.

On another note, rather than a second soul, or even a mirror- languages help us to understand our souls…being that it would seem somewhat obtuse to ascribe only one language to each soul. In understanding my own soul, I have noted that I spent years with Spanish. From growing up in Miami, to taking hours upon hours of the language throughout high school to doing my MBA in Spain- I should speak Spanish better than English by now. Not the case. Spanish never stuck with me- it didn't agree with my character. Yes, it’s useful. Yes, it's a simple language to learn. Yes, it’s very similar to Italian. Yet with all that- I never “took to it.”

I can speak Spanish. But I don't like to. Whereas, speaking Italian, for me, is like singing. I find joy in it. I find that I am more capable of expressing my true feelings in my limited Italian than I was ever able to in Spanish. Sometimes, I find that when describing something- I describe it more aptly in Italian than even in English. So as some friends like to say that I have become “italianizzata” (Italianized), I think that maybe I have always had an Italian soul- and the language has only helped me to become acquainted with it. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Capri. In Pictures.

Apparently, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Being that words, to me, are some of the most precious things in this world- it is relatively difficult for me to accept this assertion.
However, after a number of days in Capri, I'm coming around. 
Below are some of the photos- and seriously, I don't think I have the words...

Next stops: Paestum and Sardegna!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gandolfo the Great

In an effort to mix things up a bit, and a desperate attempt to escape the heat for a day- we took a little excursion out to Castel Gandolfo last Saturday. The town is around 30 km from Rome and serves as the summer residence of the Pope. It's a miniature and charming city overlooking picturesque Lake Albano and apparently, has been voted one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.

It was a nice day, although I can’t say that the heat was any more bearable than it was when we left the city. Upon arrival- we did what we do best: found the finest restaurant with the best view and ate ourselves into oblivion. Lunch was a four-hour affair, accompanied by marvelous wine in vast quantities. Before heading back to Rome (for dinner, of course), we took a stroll along the winding road down to the lake- while I snapped a few pictures just to stretch the legs on my underused camera. Verification below:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spaghetti Number 9

I could talk about Italy forever- the indignities, the laughable moments- and the things that leave me incredulous- asking, yet again, is this really my life?

I was talking to someone about television in my teens. Mid-way through the conversation, she turned to me and asked if I was a fan of “nove-zero-due-uno-zero.” Initially, I had NO idea what she was talking about. Really. I didn't. I told her, without a doubt, that “we didn't have that show in America.” And she said it was filmed in America- California to be exact; “Don't you remember? ‘Bevedlee Heels nove-zero-due-uno-zero!’” Ha!

Hearing “90210” in another language not only transformed my association with the show, but it slaughtered everything that those simple numbers ever meant to me. It was like seeing my formative years through the Italian language. Or something like that.

As far as the rest of the entertainment industry goes- I’m still astounded by the vast differences between American and Italian entertainment.

I have a love-hate relationship with Italian Cinema. There is no American Federico Fellini- not even close. And for his existence- I am grateful. But, seriously, what’s with all the voice-overs? I cannot bear to watch one more American movie dubbed in Italian. Imagine watching The Godfather where Marlon Brando’s voice is not Marlon Brando’s voice. Or Scent of a Woman, where Al Pacino’s “hoohaw” is more of a “ooohhhahhhh.” Not to mention the fact that there seems to be only a small cluster of big-time “voice-over” actors. Consequently, let’s say for example that one day- you’re watching a Brad Pitt tear-jerker, the next day- the same voice is Batman’s Joker. Then, that evening- you go to watch Sex and the City and Big has the same voice as Batman/Brad Pitt and later, Wall-E. But then- there are the Fellini’s and Benigni’s of the world- and I admit that I can’t totally discard Italians of murderers of the cinematic art.

Of course, beyond the movies, there are plenty of minor differences I unearth on an hourly basis. Lately, I’m finding that certain elements or incidents that used to bother me are transforming into the beloved details of my daily life. Now, having integrated myself into this entirely backwards and loveable nation- I’m starting to appreciate the “stupidagini.” They make me smile- and laugh- not only at the folly, but at the fact that I’m totally starting to buy into it- all of it.

I used to hold the Italian way of doing business in contempt. As an American- no less an American with an MBA, fully aware of ethical methods and “good business practices,” I used to wonder how anyone ever did business in Italy. Now, although I don't totally accept it- I’m beginning to welcome it.

In Italy, everything is negotiable. In Italian business, nothing is concrete. You can only believe a small part of what anyone says- even the most respectable of individuals lie through their teeth. Every number, detail and word is inflated. Whatever is being offered, and whoever is offering it- is exaggerated. The beauty in it is that- once the frustration subsides; one realizes that in Italy, you can be whoever you want to be. “Basta che lo dici”- meaning “its enough just to say it.” Because everyone believes you. You even begin to believe your own fabrications. For the most part.

I know this seems rather extreme but I cannot stress how true it is. I mean, if you go to have a drink at a hotel and a man walks up to you and begins flirting, before long, he will undoubtedly tell you that he owns the hotel. Case in point. When I tell someone that I am from Miami, there’s a great chance that before long- they will present me a laundry list of the best hotels in South Beach- that they apparently own. “Oh this belt? It’s Versace. I’m Versace’s son. Doesn't matter that he was gay. Nice to meet you. And by the way, Donatella’s waiting for me on my yacht with a suitcase full of millions for my summer vacation. Want to come back to my place for a drink?”

And so on and so forth…

Its fun though. In the past, I got frustrated. It made me angry. I was both distrustful and cynical of everyone I met- simply knowing that if they weren’t already lying to me, they would be soon. Now however- I play into it. It’s like a game. Italy is a world where whoever you want to be- you can be. And no one asks any questions.

Another interesting tidbit about Italians and the importance of food in Italy:

Did you know that Barilla pasta is identified not only by type, but by number?

I didn't.

And I got in trouble for getting a number 3 spaghetti as opposed to a number 9.

Apparently, each number denotes the thickness of that particular pasta.

So not only must I remember the type of pasta I have been sent out to buy. i.e.: spaghetti, fussili, linguine, fettuccine, bucatini, papparadelle, tagliatelle, penne, pennette, maltagliati, maccheroni, paccheri, rigatoni, cavatelli, orecchiette (my personal favorite), trofie, strozzapreti, etc… the list is endless, but I now know that I must be aware of the exact thickness of whichever pasta goes best with the sauce I happen to be making.

Word to the wise; never buy spaghetti for an Italian without first consulting a specialist.

Despite conflicts over the width of pasta and a daily dialogue filled with embroidered fabrications, for the first time in a very long time- I can admit, and truly mean, that I am happy. Like…really happy.

I’m actually surprised about how contented I am. Happy to the point that I’m waiting for some tragedy to jump out from behind me and piss all over everything. But in the meantime- before it all comes crashing down, I’m going to bask in my happiness…because as I have learned in my 29 years, it’s not that easy to find.

My life in Rome hasn't changed much, so I cannot attribute this sudden elation to anything specific. Summer has quickly descended upon us with suffocating heat and hordes of tourists- but I can’t help but smile as I walk down the street- dripping with sweat and veering off the road in order to avoid vacationers staring down at their maps- as opposed to who they may be walking straight into. (me).

I spent a few days in Milan. The short vacation kicked off with an evening of Faust at the Scala opera house. I then spent the fourth of July at lake Como- attending a gala dinner at Villa d’Este, followed with a spectacular display of fireworks over the lake- accompanied by an orchestra playing the American national anthem. And as I heard my anthem and my chest filled with pride, I thought to myself, “It’s ok if I never make it back stateside.”

Career-wise, things are finally starting to come together. I’m working on a number of projects- trying to get them off the ground. I’d rather keep my cards closer to my chest right now- superstitiously speaking. But what I can say is that if I am able to fully execute any of these ventures, I’ll be spending my time doing exactly what I've always wanted to do- embarking on a new(ish) career combining writing, business, travel, PR and marketing. So- fingers crossed. More on that later…

However, with regards to all the above- I feel lucky. Lucky to have people in my life to give me the opportunities to do what I have always wanted to do. And lucky to have done everything I have done up until now- in order to arrive at this point.

And if what they say is true, that life is a journey- my journey hasn't been half bad, and the next part is shaping up to be quite a ride. How could I not wake up with a smile on my face? Not to mention the fact that as I roll out of bed for a cup of coffee- all I have to do is look out the window and see views that really, I think one would be lucky to witness in a lifetime. Beyond that, I’m surrounded by amazing people who make everyday an adventure.

I thought, at this point, that I would be bored. I’m not travelling the way I used to- not right now at least. And although I eat at the best restaurants, drink the best wines and am living a life in Italy the best way possible- my social life is considerably calmer than it has been in the past. But as the Italians say- “non manca niente”- nothing’s missing. At least, nothing I’ve noticed yet.