Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thank Heaven for the Internet

My salad at lunch today

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world 
to explain. It's not something you learn in school. 
But if you haven't learned the meaning of 
friendship, you really haven't learned anything.” 
~ Muhammad Ali

I left Las Vegas two weeks ago tonight, and I find that incredibly hard to believe. A few days ago, I mentioned that, at times, I feel as though I've lived here a long time, but at other times, I feel as though I just arrived.  I began Italian class three days after I arrived, and I know I mentioned that evening that I was ready to kick myself for having started school so soon after arriving in Bologna. I now know why I did it.

On the first day of class, I hesitantly walked into my assigned classroom.  An older woman sat at the head of the long table.  I mean no disrespect, but she reminded me of La Befana, the Italian "mother of Christmas." (Read about her here.). Her long, salt and pepper hair was a bit disheveled; her long dress was a bit worn (meaning she'd worn it a lot, not tattered); and the aura around her a bit grey.  She didn't look up as I entered because she was apparently more interested in the Sudoku puzzle.

"Buongiorno," i said.

"Giorno," she rasped, the word coming low from the back of her throat.

I quickly debated where to sit and chose the seat next to her because it was near the window and allowed me to see the board without turning my head.  "It's okay?" I asked, and she grunted what I think was affirmation.  At that moment, a woman who had been in the orientation with me appeared at the door, hestitated, and walked in.

"Buongiorno," she and I said simultaneously.

"Giorno," the rasper again replied never taking her eyes from her puzzles.

"I'm Beatrix," the newcomer said to me.

"Cristina."  I shook her hand. She placed her things on the chair next to mine and looked at me.

"You want coffee?" she asked me.

"God, yes."  Relieved, I answered very quickly because I didn't want to stay alone with the rasper. Beatrix and I headed to the coffee machine.

Annette (Switzerland), Beatrix (Germany), Moi

We tripped over words trying to converse completely in Italian as the school requests. In the few minutes we were at the coffee machine, we became friends.  Later that day, a Swiss woman, Annette, joined the afternoon class, and we all fell into a comfortable friendship.

The interesting thing is that we were, almost immediately, able to talk openly about ourselves and to laugh with each other. Beatrix and Annette were more alike than I both in age and in culture, but it somehow it all worked. At lunch, we giggled over the rasper (who wasn't a student but an observer) and Amaury (the Swiss French guy who knows more about English grammar than Americans).

"Did the prison maiden (the rasper now renamed) really wear that same grey dress everyday?"

"Please, do not disagree with me. You are a stupid American who does not know your own language."

We also discussed subjects that were a little deeper—our husbands and children, religion, politics, culture, our three countries, the EU, life—trying in Italian and reverting to English or German when the words escaped us. (They spoke German and would translate for me when needed. Learning one language a month is quite enough, grazia.)

"It is very unusual," Beatrix said one afternoon, "that we can discuss such things with each other so quickly with no worries about what we will all think of the other if we disagree."

(Please allow me to step out of this commentary for a moment to explain that pranzo, or lunch, in Italy is not a McDonald's-grab-a-burger-fries-and-cola-scarf-it-down-and-run meal.  Meals in Europe, not just Italy, are a time to relax, enjoy, and socialize. Our lunches spanned two-to-three hours. More on that another time...)

The three of us had lunch together everyday last week, and as Beatrix returned to Germany on Saturday, Annette, who will return to Switzerland on Saturday, and I have continued having lunch together this week.  She and I have talked a lot about Bologna and our experience here.

"Why," I asked her, "did you choose this school in Bologna?"

"I don't know." She thought for a few seconds. "I usually do a lot of research into things I do, but this time I just picked the school. I don't know why."

I think I do, and for that, I'm grateful.

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