Observations from the Piazza

For our writing assignment, we were asked to observe a scene on Cagli’s piazza, take notes, write a few paragraphs, and leave ourselves out of the story. Unfortunately, I did not make any images of the scene about which I wrote, so I’ll give you a few of my favorite photos from our time here, instead.


He moved as fast as his short legs could take him, pulling his hand from his mother’s and running to the gelato stand. His curly red hair sticking out in all directions, the boy strained to reach high enough to see into the glass display case. He stands his blue tennis shoes on end.


His mother, in her bright, multi-colored top, stood away from the tables, blowing cigarette smoke away from the groups of people. Her long, tanned, shorts-clad legs crossed as she casually surveyed the scene on the piazza.


She dropped her burned-out cigarette to the cobblestones and strode to a table where another woman and baby waited. She called to the boy, who reluctantly shuffled away from the gelato display to join the women, his feet moving much more slowly, the toes of his shoes dragging on the cobblestones.


Shortly after, the women and children walked slowly away from the gelato stand, one woman pushing a red stroller, the other carrying the baby. They talked animatedly while the boy hung his head in silent lament. No gelato today.


The Language of Failure

Whenever I step outside the apartment doors, I ask myself, “What are the words I will use to greet an Italian?” I go through words and sounds in my head, typically starting with Spanish. Buenos dias. No. Bueno. No. Buona sera. Nope, it’s morning. Buon; bon-something. Ah, Buongiorno! That’s the word! As I walk to class, I repeat over and over in my head, “buongiorno. Buongiorno,” yet when I see a local, I simply nod.

Has it really come to this? Even my coffee is called

Has it really come to this? Even my coffee is called “Americano.”

I find myself going through that thought process every time anyone speaks to me, or I am planning to speak to someone. I am so uncomfortable with my Italian that Spanish words come out of my mouth. A year ago, I was in Cali, Colombia, with Gonzaga’s ORGL program, and couldn’t come up with any Spanish other than hola, gracias, and some menu items. I have no idea where these Spanish words are coming from – as far as I know, they don’t exist in my head (at least not when I need them!).


To say I am uncomfortable with languages would be an understatement. I knew, going in, that I would be expected to speak to the locals in their native tongue, and I studied before I arrived, but all my studying has left my head. It’s probably somewhere on Turkish Air Flight 7299.


I know that before I leave here, I’ll have at least some competence with a few words and phrases, and my classmates speaking words and short phrases helps me. I hope I don’t become that classmate who the others baby along, speaking for me whenever I encounter a local. I want to be able to carry on a rudimentary conversation, and find my way around a train station when I return to Milan. I know it will come, but it’s slow, and my brain is resisting.