The Italian Connection #DolceVitaBloggers

The internet is a wonderful thing. Sure it has its downsides, but when you find yourself moving to a new city or country, it can become a wonderful resource and a way to make new friends and connections. In the end, it can also lead you to find that special someone in your life, as it did for me. Today, thanks to some of those online connections I’ve started to make here in Italy, I’ve been invited to take part in the first #DolceVitaBloggers link-up organized by Kelly, Jasmine, and Kristie. The first theme is the Italian Connection, how each blogger has found themselves with a connection to this fascinating country.

Italian Introduction

My connection started off purely academic. I was at university studying art history and had to take a course on Italian Renaissance art and architecture. At first, I wasn’t particularly excited, as my interest at the time lay in Gothic architecture. My expectation was a class full of pictures of naked little chubby baby angels fluttering about. Meh. Fortunately, I was oh so wrong!DolceVitaBloggers renaissance art

I ended up falling in love with the art of the Italian Renaissance. All of that symbolism, iconography, and those colors and forms! The faces full of drama and passion and pathos! I still get a thrill when I get to see a work in person that I remember studying. It’s like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in ages! All of the emotions come rushing back.

I did also end up falling in love with the architecture. Give me some rustication, alternating curved and triangular pediments, columns, keystones, pilasters, decorated cornices, and quoins and I’m positively giddy. Probably a bit annoying, too, if you’re walking with me in any Italian city and having to stop constantly for me to admire some little architectural bit here and there or when I suddenly cry out, “Ohhh!” upon stumbling across a building I hadn’t been expecting. Not quite When Harry Met Sally levels of ecstasy, but you get the idea.

#DolceVitaBloggers alberti mantova church architecture
The unexpected joy of coming across Alberti’s Basilica di Sant’Andrea in Mantova.
Basilica di sant'andrea mantova alberti architecture
Look at that coffered ceiling in the entrance arch!

Sono Una Tifosa

Unfortunately, I’d come to my love of Italian art and architecture a bit late in my academic career and didn’t end up studying the Italian language at the time. But I was becoming a full-on Italophile, furthered by the Wold Cup taking place the year I graduated. I was cheering on Italy throughout the tournament and they went all the way to the finals! Then there was a penalty kick shoot-out that went horribly wrong and we won’t mention that any more.

Eventually, I started following Serie A, Italian calcio (soccer/football), thanks to the Internet and some international newspapers and magazines I could find at one of the big bookstores. I started trying to learn Italian on my own and could occasionally catch an episode of TG1 (evening news) on cable tv late at night. I eventually signed up to take Italian 101 at the local university, which was hugely helpful. I had also started exchanging emails with someone in Italy, so I was able to practice my Italian regularly.

By the time I finally organized my first trip to Italy, I was able to get by with the basics, had some fun conversations that were a mix of Italian and English, saw some works of art and architecture I’d been dying to see, and even got to go to an Inter-Milan derby at San Siro.

Love Connection

In 2000, I moved to New York City, when my job moved there. After some really lousy dates, I decided to give Internet dating a shot. It was new and a little weird, but hey, it couldn’t really be worse than some of the other dates I’d been on. In the end, I actually met a few really nice people. One, in particular, stood out, and he just happened to be Italian.#DolceVitaBloggers amore

Certainly, the fact that I knew something about Italy and knew a tiny bit of the language helped us connect, but we hit it off anyway, talking for more than five hours on our first date. I knew he was a keeper when he surprised me one day with the gift of a book. It was one of his favorites, Ocean Sea, by Alessandro Baricco (in English, though).

Sixteen years later, we’re still together and we’re now living in his hometown, Bologna. I get to indulge in my love of Italian architecture — and Bologna is particularly stunning with all of the portici. I’m also trying to remember and relearn all of the Italian that I once knew and have forgotten. I think official classes will be part of the plan in 2018. We spent nearly the last nine years in the Netherlands, so I’m currently speaking a mishmash of Italian and Dutch. I’m never quite sure what’s going to come out.

As well as learning the language, there are other adjustments to be made. But I’ve assimilated more than enough to now recoil in horror about the wrongness of spaghetti bolognese like a true native of Bologna!

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy tagliatelle al ragu tortellini in brodo
Tagliatelle al ragú, as it should be!

Are you an Italophile or simply have your own Italian connection? Check out the other blogs being posted today and check out the #DolceVitaBloggers. There are seemingly endless types of pasta and surely just as many personal Italian connections.

 

Biblioteca Salaborsa: An Exchange of Knowledge

With every move, the bulk of my boxes contain books. Books make me happy. Just looking at them all lined and stacked up in my own personal library is like looking at old photos. There are so many memories tied up in the books that have made the move with me. And for every book that didn’t make the move, it feels like a loss, especially when I go to reach for one and it isn’t there.

Unsurprisingly then, libraries and bookstores are my happy places. All of those books to be discovered! Adventures to go on, knowledge to expand your world … it’s all there in those pages. The books are the most important thing to me in a library; the setting is secondary. I’ve been in utilitarian-looking libraries, and I’ve been in beautiful libraries. That said, a beautiful setting full of books is always a pleasure. The public library here in Bologna is one of those bonus places where you have a wealth of information at your fingertips, all in a visually stunning setting.

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa

The Bologna public library is the Biblioteca Salaborsa. It is technically part of the Palazzo d’Accursio on the Piazza Nettuno, which is essentially an extension of Piazza Maggiore, the big square in town. [The fact that the Salaborsa is on the Piazza Nettuno might explain why I still don’t have an exterior photo of that part of the building, since it’s currently blocked to some degree by the restoration taking place of the Neptune fountain/statue in the square.]

The location of the library is rich with history, with archaeological discoveries dating back to at least the third century BC. It’s also had a surprising horticultural history. In the 1300s, Papal legate Androino de la Roche (a personal representative of the pope) established his own private garden, or viridarium in part of the area, as well as stables. In fact, the stables were reinforced and restructured in 1554. By 1568, a well-known botanist of the time, Ulisse Aldrovandi, turned the earlier walled garden into a botanical garden and orchard where they grew a variety of plants and herbs, including exotic plants from around the world. The resulting research that they were able to do at the university contributed to the development of modern botany.

Stock Exchange

It wasn’t until the late 1800s (1883-1886) that the current structure took form and became a stock exchange (sala borsa). It combines fairly classical design elements with newer materials, such as cast iron, combining to form a modernist style. The result is a grand building full of arches, decorative detail, and lots of light. It was a modern building for a modern era. Unfortunately, the good economic times didn’t last long and the building closed in 1903. However, after World War I, the stock exchange expanded and reopened in 1926. Then, after the World War II, it remained a stock exchange/bank during the day, and a public sports hall in the evening, with basketball and boxing often taking place. This lasted until the 1960s. After that, the building functioned primarily as administrative offices for the city.

Modern Library

In 1999, the city decided to turn the building into a public library. In 2001, the Biblioteca Salaborsa opened to the public as a modern library to serve the public in a new technological era. As well as hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, maps and other documents, there is extensive digital media, with videos, ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and other electronic resources. In addition, the library serves as a space for exhibits, lectures, conferences, and cultural events.

You’ll also find free wifi, a café, toilets and other amenities that make it a handy place to meet up with friends, take a break from your sightseeing, or while away some time on one of those days when the weather isn’t cooperating (though those seem to be few and far between). Usage of the library is free, though if you want to take anything home, you must be a resident and register with the library, though that is also free. (In the Netherlands, there was a yearly fee if you wanted to be able to check books out.)

It’s worth a visit, just to enjoy the interior. It was a busy Saturday when we went, and we had limited time, so I want to go back and see more of it, from different angles, when it’s maybe not quite so busy. Plus, you know, books! There’s also a special permanent exhibit in the lower levels that I’ll post about in the coming days. For now, a few photos I took inside. Pro tip: don’t have a coffee right before trying to take photos, especially if you’re trying to zoom in and don’t have a tripod. Lordy, I took some blurry photos of the ceiling that day!

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Farm Animal Italian Lessons

Years ago, when I was first taking Italian lessons, I would rent Italian films for practice. One of my favorites was Johnny Stecchino, starring Roberto Benigni. It was fun and silly — though not without some social commentary — although with the speed and accents, it wasn’t always the easiest to follow. Still, that’s what the subtitles were for!

In one of the scenes toward the end, he’s seen leading a group of mafia thugs on a song about the sounds animals make.

There’s a street just off the Piazza Maggiore in the Quadrilatero that has some wonderful animal paintings on the protective grills when the shops are closed. That inspired me to add updating the animals sounds to my current Italian lessons. After all, animals in different countries speak different languages, too! Charlie, my Dutch dog, may not know “drop it” in English, but he does seem to know the equivalent in Dutch. (He wasn’t happy when I finally found the right Dutch term recently.)

So, I present to you the Italian names and sounds of a few animals.

Horses are i cavalli and when they neigh, they say “hiiiiii”
Italian lessons animal sounds

The cow — la mucca — goes “muuuuuu”
Italian lessons animal sounds cow painting

The rooster — il gallo — says “chicchirichí [keekeereekee]”
Italian lessons animal sounds street art

Pop Quiz! What sounds do these animals make?
Italian lessons animal sounds street art

If you’re thinking that I didn’t tell you what sound the bull (il toro) makes, well, it turns out they make the same sounds as cows. #muuuuuuuu

I hope you enjoyed this illustrated Italian lesson. If you want to learn more, you can find more sounds here. So from me, it’s “ciao” and from Charlie, it’s “bau bau”!

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Where the malcontent and the hyperpolyglot meet

italian language via malcontenti bologna

I recently watched a whole night of Italian language TV and felt pretty good that I’d followed more than enough of it to know what was going on. While I might not have understood word for word, I wasn’t struggling and really having to listen intently to it all.

My Dutch never got to that level, though I can read Dutch better than I can understand it being spoken. And I can’t speak either language all that easily at the moment. I get tongue tied and stumble and come out with endings and conjugations that I know are wrong as soon as they come out of my mouth. I also find myself speaking a hybrid of Dutch and Italian sometimes, especially when chatting to my dog, Charlie. He’s Dutch, after all, and knows his commands in Dutch, so I’m obliged to still speak some Dutch.

All of this is my way of saying that while I’m making some headway again with the Italian language, I will never be a strong polyglot. I definitely won’t be a hyperpolyglot like Giuseppe Mezzofanti.

A Way With Words

Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849) was born here in Bologna to a family of humble origins. He became a cardinal, but was perhaps best known for being a hyperpolyglot, in that he was said to have spoken around 38 languages fluently and had a basic knowledge of dozens more.

In 1797, he became a professor of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Asian languages at the University of Bologna, and in 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the Institute of Bologna. Not bad for a carpenter’s son.

Misfits and Malcontents

It does seem that there is some disagreement nowadays that Mezzofanti would have truly been fluent in so many languages. There is talk that the requirements were primarily in reading and writing, and that his ability and need to speak was typically limited to basic chit chat. No matter what the actual story may be, he seems to have been truly gifted when it came to languages. I remember only a little from the five and a half years of French I studied at school — though it has helped me some with Italian — and my attempts at learning Russian were a complete disaster. Even if Mezzofanti could only hold the most basic of conversations in 38 languages, I’m still impressed!

So how did I learn about this linguistic dynamo? I was wandering around town and found myself on Via Malcontenti. I’m easily amused and I couldn’t help but wonder about the malcontents that gave the street its name. In pausing to photograph the street name I happened to spot a memorial plaque, though I couldn’t really read it clearly at the time. Thank goodness for zoom lenses!

italian language via malcontenti bologna

With a bit of zooming and Googling, I learned about Giuseppe Mezzofanti and the fact that he was born and raised there on Via Malcontenti. There’s more to his story, including becoming the Custodian-in-Chief at the Vatican Library. You should check out this site if you’d like to learn more.

It’s amazing the bits of history you can stumble across, just by taking a few extra photos while wandering around a city. Even if you don’t understand the Italian language — or the language of whatever country you’re in — take a few extra zoom shots of these kinds of markers and then go back and get what you can from Google and Google Translate (or your search/translator of preference). Sometimes they’re older plaques like this and sometimes they’re modern ones with more information. Either way, it’s a fun way to expand your knowledge. I’m sure Mezzofanti would approve of that.

italian language via malcontenti bologna

italian language via malcontenti bologna

Learning Italian: The Nightly News Edition

First off, languages are not my strong point. At least not foreign languages. I mean, I’ve made a career out of English, but perhaps all of my language proficiency went into that one language. I studied French for four years in high school and then thought I’d try something more exotic when I went to university. Bad idea. After failingbumbling my way through Russian and Latin (Latin didn’t have a spoken requirement), I eventually went back to French in order to fulfill my language requirements. Learning Italian was not really an option while I finished my undergrad degree, even though it would have come in handy with my Italian Renaissance art history studies.

Traumatized or just burnt out from my language learning issues — along with a lack of a clear idea what I wanted to do — I didn’t go on for a master’s degree and instead joined the work force. Teaching art history at a community college was a decent job, but it didn’t really pay the bills, so I ended up becoming an obituary writer for the local newspaper. That meant my mornings were free. I ended up using that convenient schedule to begin taking Italian 101 at one of the local universities.

After struggling with various languages, it may seem weird to want to start learning Italian. However, I knew that if I were ever to return to academia, at least in the art history field, I was going to need to know the language. Might as well give it a try when it didn’t really matter in terms of grades and scholarships. Perhaps that lack of pressure helped. Perhaps all those years of French helped. Perhaps I just had a good teacher and a textbook and lesson design that worked for me. The point is that I ended up doing quite well in that class and picked up a decent foundation in the language and actually enjoyed it.

Scheduling issues prevented me from taking Italian 102, but regular emails with an Italian pen pal helped me keep up with what I had learned. I also started listening to some Italian music, reading Italian newspapers, and sometimes watching TG1, one of the Italian nightly news programs, which occasionally showed up on one of the random cable channels late at night.

Oddly enough, it was when G and I got together that I stopped using Italian as often. Go figure. I heard it often enough from him, and we’d use it occasionally, but there was no concerted effort on my part to continue learning. Moving to the Netherlands didn’t help. I had a new language to bumble through.

learning italian in italiano bookSo, here I am. Now living in Italy and really wishing I’d kept up with my Italian studies. Still, I do understand more than I ever understood of Dutch, despite my best efforts. Right now I’m using my old textbook and Babbel to review and brush off the rust. In terms of the European language levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), I’m somewhere in the Bs, I think. I’m reviewing A2 level stuff right now and it’s pretty basic. I know I went much further than this in my studies. Still, the review does come in handy, because it’s easy to make mistakes, even when you know better. All that gender agreement! It feels more like a war of the sexes!

[I didn’t originally plan on that whole language backstory. This next bit is all I really was going to blog about. Obviously, I have language issues that need to be worked out.]

We don’t watch a lot of TV, but we watch L’eredità (a quiz show) sometimes, followed by a bit of TG1, the evening news that I used to watch many years ago. The news is hard to follow, particularly because of the speed of it all. There’s a lot to cover in 30 minutes, so catching much of it can be challenging. However, it wasn’t the speed that confused me recently.

In between each main news story, the anchor will introduce the next topic, as is typical. One thing I kept noticing each night — sometimes once, sometimes twice — was that the anchor would seem to say, “Grazie, grazie a Lei” right before the start of some of the segments. You see, it sounded like they were saying thank you in an odd, formal, but wrong way. It was particularly odd that it was only before some stories and not others. Why?! I kept meaning to ask about it, but didn’t want to interrupt and then would forget about it. Finally, though, I had a chance to ask.

G was confused at first and rightly so. Then it dawned on him what I was talking about. It turns out the anchor was introducing the name of the reporter covering the story: Grazia Graziadei. Because of course that’s her name. I think I can be excused for making such a mistake. It’s right up there with the footballer whose last name is Immobile. Ah, the joys and confusion of life in another language.

Well, that’s enough of my language travails for now. Time to get back to learning Italian. Grazie. Grazie a Lei for reading. 😉

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