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Learning Italian

I never realised that learning Italian was a competitive sport.  But around the cottage this is starting to be the case.

Jean's homework.

We had our first lesson last Friday and were plunged into the realm of verbs – both the regular and the irregular.  I must have been away the day they covered all this in school so not only was I learning Italian I was also learning the structure of language – in Italian.  Suffice it to say I don’t think I’m going to be a star pupil.

My lovely wife, however, was taking it all in, chipping in with useful comments and questions and making copious notes along the way.  After an hour my brain was full and our tutor, Mauro, realising that nothing more was going in asked us to do a little homework for the next lesson.  Nothing too taxing but homework none the less.

We adjourned to a bar around the Campo in Siena for a well deserved drink and discussion.  We were pleased with the lesson and with our choice of language school.  Yes, there was some homework to do but, let’s face it, we didn’t have a lot else to do.  It should be easy – no stress.

Yesterday morning I rose at my usual time of 10am, refreshed my cup of tea in the kitchen, and wandered out to the verandah.  There, hunched over her notes with cigarette in hand, was my wife furiously scribbling homework notes, completing sentences, scouring the dictionary for nouns, and  filling page after page with perfectly executed Italian.

Now to put things in context, I’d spent upwards of 15 minutes the previous day sitting by the pool jotting down some random notes which I thought might cover the homework.  I had included a rather good doodle of an Italian villa on a hill with a Cypress tree next to it – not strictly part of the homework but I’m sure I would get extra marks for it.

I could see where this was going and I wasn’t going to stand for it.  The last 24 hours has seen a flurry of activity as notes are made about notes, verbs are conjugated and nouns are possessed and repossessed.  Conversation has been non-existent and the only sound has been the occasional sentence said aloud in italian to test pronunciation.

Alas I fear it is all to no avail as every time I sneak a look at Jean’s work I see myself drifting further behind the pace.  My only hope is that time honoured excuse – the dog ate my homework.

Now, where is Daisy?

Everywhere we go – cars!

Some of the more observant of you may have noticed that in some of our photos of Siena used in another post, there was a considerable crowd assembled outside the Palazzo Publicco in the Campo.

Initially we had no idea why they were there (to celebrate our return to Siena – probably not) or why part of the Campo was being blocked off and officials were running around putting up barriers, blowing whistles and generally ordering people around in the Italian way.

The first clue we had was the sound of high powered engines approaching through the narrow Sienese streets. The second clue was the appearance of some very expensive high performance motor cars which paraded through the Campo. The final clue was the large sticker on each car with a number and the moniker “Miglia 1000”.

It was the day the 2011 Miglia rally came through Siena. The Miglia is an annual rally event for historic cars of note or significance. That means very expensive cars or very old cars, or both. This year it included a Ferrari tribute to the Miglia as well – so that would be more expensive, very new cars. It took around 4 hours for all the cars to go through the Campo on their way north but it was a chance to see some cars that you would normally only be able to see in museums – including a genuine Porsche 550 Spyder.

For those of you who might like to participate in this event next year the entry fee is a mere €6,360.

Back to school

There’s a degree of nervousness around the cottage today.  It’s the first Italian lesson this afternoon which means a double stress.  Firstly we have to apply our brains to something other than – pool day or not a pool day – and secondly we actually have to be somewhere at a pre arranged time.  Almost like a meeting.

But as with all things Italian there is a twist.  And the twist was an invitation we got from our language school to lunch last Wednesday.  It was an opportunity to get to know the staff and some of the other pupils before starting lessons.  Everyone bought something for the meal and we spent 2 hours chatting in a mix of Italian, English and occasionally other obscure languages as required.

The students are all nationalities, ages and backgrounds.  Everything from an Australian art student brushing up her Italian on the way to the Venice Biennale where she is one of the hosts at the Oz site, to a retired Irishman who was taking a group from one of the local Sinese contrada to have lunch with the Irish ambassador in Rome on Saturday.  He had learnt Italian at the school previously and was just taking a few “top up” lessons in anticipation of the visit.

Anyway, enough of this writing, I must go and get my school books ready.

We are now with TIM

A big day last Thursday.  We took the plunge and visited the local electronics store to get our technology “italianised”.  It was finally time to break the shackles of Vodafones roaming rates and start to enjoy cheap local calls and internet access.

We went into the local “Trony” shop (it’s italian for Noel Leeming I think) and plonked two iPhones, two iPads and one laptop on the counter and basically said fix it.

The young lady helping us had as good a grasp of English as we have of Italian but one hour and 4 SIM cards and a modem stick later we were customers of TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) and everything seemed to work – and still does.

We have no exact idea of the rates we are being charged – our anglo-italia mix of language and gestures didn’t quite stretch to that. The TIM website is comprehensive and detailed but also completely in Italian which doesn’t help but we know whatever we’re paying it’s going to a lot less than Vodafone roaming rates.

The next challenge will be to top up the phones which can be done through the local Tabacchi shops which are found in every town and village.  I’m figuring we go in waving our phones and a wad of Euro notes and someone will understand.

I’ll be emailing our new numbers to everyone over the next few days.