Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alone, But Not Lonely

by Karkie Tackett (Advanced Student at School Amici)

Karkie's place in Siena
I went to Italy alone because, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I wanted to live deliberately.”  I wanted to find my own way, and I wanted to speak and hear the language that I remember from so long ago.  The sound of that language (Italian) brings many memories of courtesy, history, happiness and tradition.  In this frightening world, I wanted to be reminded that in Italy, life is beautiful, slow, and celebrated.  I hoped that I could bring a little of that happiness home with me.
In Italy, I wanted to stay long enough in one place to learn the names of people in a nearby bar or shop.  I wanted to learn the streets, take long walks, see ancient art and architecture, meet new friends and try new types of food.  I didn’t know which town would be the best, but a friend in Rome told me that his first choice would always be Siena.
When Michele Alonzo, Director of School Amici, heard that I was thinking of Siena, he suggested that I should contact the school Saena Iulia.  I looked online, wrote a brief e-mail, and quickly received the first of many kind and generous messages from that school.  Siena, and Saena Iulia, would be mine!
The school is located in an ancient palace directly behind the Duomo.  It’s in the center of Siena and enjoys an easy rapport with stores and bars all around.  From the open windows of the school, you can hear singing, shouting and laughing…all very joyous and all very Italian.
Every day at school, we had conversation in the morning, we enjoyed a coffee during the break, and we finished class in time for a lunch with the other students.  No one wanted to speak English, and so we continued to practice our Italian during meals, over the afternoon and during our walks.
Coffee break with students
The school offers excursions and helps with arrangements such as lodging but it is not a tourist agency.  It is a serious school with expert, well-educated instructors who are native speakers of Italian.  It has a rigorous curriculum and the lessons are stimulating.  I have always been discouraged by the conjunctive tense…but my teacher, Signorina Sabrina, taught it well and I think that (penso che) in the future, it will be (sia) easier for me.
After the lessons, we went together to explore Siena and to eat very, very well.  We discovered museums, churches, parks and we also discovered a typical soup called ribollita, sformato di formaggio (kind of baked cheese), whole roasted onions, and the delicate pastry called ricciarelli.   During a visit to Assisi, our director, Mauro Faleri, took us on a marvelous tour of the works of art in the church of St. Frances.  We explored the town of Assisi and found a salumeria (deli) where all the sausages and hams were of boar.
My memories of Siena are made up of many small pieces.  I want to list some of them: when you understand Italian but you remain silent, you sometimes overhear other conversations.  I was surprised to hear two bus drivers speaking rapidly about a woman.  I heard one man saying “….but she’s from Naples; and that is a big problem.”  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask what the problem is with Neapolitan women). I got the giggles with an Italian lady while we were waiting at a bus stop.  We both hoped that when the bus came, our driver would be that stupendously handsome one I had seen the day before. 
By mistake, I think I insulted a woman in a grocery store when I asked for dadi di porcini (mushroom stock cube)  “We don’t have any dadi here, signora!” she said, with a little edge to her voice.   She did, of course, have real porcini for sale. One waiter told me he is a student of film, and I looked like a famous American actress, but he couldn’t remember who.  This got my attention!  I insisted that he tried to remember.  Finally, he said it was Gena Rowlands.   I resemble Gena Rowlands to him.  I’ll take that!   He was a fine boy in a great trattoria.  I returned to eat there two more times (Us American actresses are very loyal!). 
learned a very useful word: scorciatoia (shortcut). A fine word. In Siena, the shortcuts are varied and glorious.
Liz, Mauro, Carol and Karkie
I travelled in Italy by myself but in Italy, you are never alone. The Sienese, like most Italians, are a little formal (we must always greet each other with buongiorno ….always), but warm, and welcoming.  They want to help visitors and they love to chat.  My classmates at Saena Iulia (Juliet, Carol and Liz….God bless you all) were marvelous and I hope to see them again and again. My favorite thing to hear was "But madam, you speak Italian". Thanks to my teachers Michele, Mariateresa, Mauro and Sabrina, it is almost true! I said to one man that my Italian is a little rusty. He laughed and said: "Then you must come back to remove the rust". I think that he is right.