Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Italy without any Italian

Most people ask me at some point how I get around without speaking the language of whatever country I'm in. In Italy, I had decided early on to use my Spanish and my five-word Italian vocabulary instead of relying on English, and that got me absolutely nowhere. Either they would take pity on me or despise me for mussing up their language, or in many cases they would rapid fire sentences back to me, and the few words I understood made me wonder why all the others were necessary. It happened repeatedly, but one time stands out more than others. I was searching for an Internet cafe in Levanto, one town north of Cinque Terre, and I was in a hurry because I had to find it, check my email and catch the last train before the two-hour lunch break. I wandered around for about 20 minutes before I finally asked a nice older woman on the street.
“Café internet?”
“No. Blahblah, blahablahabblah blah.”
I think I may have gathered that she never uses them, so she would have no idea where one is. But maybe, just maybe, she said something like this:
“I know of one, but you have to be inducted through a ritualistic sheep killing. Hail Satan.”
Next I wandered into a camera shop.
“Café internet?”
“No.” I think she may have thought that I thought I was in one. Then she pointed one way down the street she was on, blabbered on for a minute, then made a movement that told me I should take a left.
“Straight? Then left? When? How far?” I asked.
She shrugged. Maybe, just maybe, this is what she said:
“No, I will not take you to my leader, but if you go straight down this road, it eventually turns left right in front of the train station, and you can get on the train and go back where you came from, you moronic giant of a red head.”
After having made it back to the train station on her directions, I tried one more time at a fruit stand. The man took pity on me and used what little English he knew to tell me how to get to the one Internet café that was right down the street from the photography shop. Nevertheless, I think he may have said, “Go back to your home planet,” as I gratefully waved goodbye.

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