by Melinda Gallo

Flashback: Happy to be back at school

Lunch yesterday ended up being uneventful. I wouldn't say successful even though I was able to say that I wanted a panino and point at exactly the one that I wanted. I ordered another one to go for dinner because I knew I wouldn't want to go back out once I got home. The apartment I'm living in is just close enough to centro to be able to go, but just far enough where if I'm not motivated to go, it seems too far.

I heard the girls come home last night. Their giggling suggested that they had a good time in Venice. I am still planning on going to Venice alone for my 30th birthday, which is in just a few weeks. My friends in England, especially Polly, say it's pathetic to go alone especially since it's so romantic.

I didn't speak much with the girls at breakfast today because I was in a hurry to go to school. This week we're finally going to learn past tense verbs. I had to teach myself a few of them because I was getting tired of saying everything in the present tense. I felt like a crazy person.

My morning class went fairly normal with one of the Austrian girls continually asking "perché" every time Enzo explained a grammatical rule. The first few times, he did try to appease her by coming up with some explanation, but by the end of our lesson, he just blurted out, "Non lo so. È così!" (I don't know. That's the way it is.)

After lunch, Gianluca took me out of my class with the Austrian students and put me in a more advanced conversation class with him and all the Japanese girls. It was a lot of fun and I learned more this afternoon than I did all last week in my conversation class. I finally got beyond, "Ho fame. Sono stanca. Voglio un bicchiere d'aqua." (I'm hungry. I'm tired. I want a glass of water.)

I went to the gym and felt like a regular. I handed the man at the desk my tessera and walked back to the spogliatoio (locker room) to change. I ran on one of the tapis roulant (running machines), stretched, and took a shower. The man at the desk said, "Gallo!" to me when I went to the desk to pick up my tessera. I was surprised he remembered my last name that I couldn't help but smile at him when I said "Buona sera!" to him.

After dinner, I was flipping through my notebooks where I write down all the words I've been learning. I write down the Italian word, its meaning in English, and an example sentence. Every day I go over all the words in the notebook from the beginning. It's a little tedious, but the words are slowly entering my brain. I noticed that many of the words describe people, like zitella (spinster/old maid), fico (hot guy), fisionomista (a person who has a good memory for faces), and ganzo (ladies man).

The girls have told me that they think I'm a little pazza (crazy) for studying so much, writing everything down, walking around with my dictionary, and talking to myself in Italian. I only told them that I talk to myself in Italian; they didn't hear me do that. One thing I know is how I learn language and that is by total immersion.

Claudia knocked on my door and opened it up a sliver. She whispered to me and asked me to come to her room. I didn't understand at first, but she made it clear that she wanted to talk to me in private.

Catherine was out on the balcony, which linked my room to hers, smoking a cigarette talking to her boyfriend in Switzerland. I could tell by the initial softness in her voice that suddenly became harsh after only a few minutes.

Claudia closed the door behind me when we got to her room. There were no other seats in her room, so I sat down on the bed. I realized that her room was the son, Jacopo's bedroom. I saw many children's books and toys scattered on the furniture in the room and his name spelled out in wooden letters nailed into the wall above her bed.

"Non ce la faccio più" (I can't take it any more) she said as she sat on the bed so hard that we both bounced. She explained that all weekend long Catherine complained about Italy and how Switzerland is so much better. Claudia told me that Catherine kept asking, "Chi ha bisogno di parlare italiano?" (Who needs to speak Italian?)

"Tutto quello che amo io in Italia, odia lei. Dice che tutto è sproco e la gente è brutta." (Everything I love in Italy, she hates. She says that everything is dirty and the people are ugly), Claudia said as she scrunched up her face.

I felt sad at how worked up Claudia was getting over Catherine's words. "Che t'importa?" (What does it matter to you), I said remembering one of my handy phrases in my notebook. I put my hand on her fist in the hopes of calming her.

I want to tell Claudia that I think that Catherine is just missing her boyfriend. And that I don't think that she wants to be away from him for so long. I want to remind her that it's the first time she's ever left her country, so she's not comfortable with that either. I'm unable to say all of this to Claudia, so all I manage to tell her is, "Catherine è giovane." (Catherine is young).

A knock at the door signaled the end of my first real conversation with Claudia. I retract my hand and look back at the door. Catherine walks in the bedroom and cries out loud.

Claudia jumps up to hug her and I remain seated. I'm not as close to Catherine as Claudia is. I can tell they are good friends and Claudia wants to protect her. I have a desire to help Catherine as well, to ease her pain. It's hard to just look at someone who is so unhappy.

"Andiamo fuori!" (Let's go out) Claudia suggests with a big smile that makes us want to follow her wherever she goes. Claudia has been telling me about Parterre, a summer outdoor bar in Piazza Libertà, that she's been wanting to take me to. We all freshen up, get dressed, and spray ourselves with mosquito repellent. I'm excited about my first night out in Florence and close my notebook for the night.

I will be continuing to write about my arrival to Florence back in 1997 and will preface them with "Flashback" in the title.

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