Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Italy – CCIII. Our Daily Life (12 of 19)

Italian has to be the most beautiful language in the world! To foreign ears, it actually sings! No wonder opera was invented in Italy, and the most beautiful operas are sang in Italian

It is also an easy tongue to learn, specially if you know French. Easy, however, does not mean that you need not expend too much efforts to master it. My parents arrived with a fair knowledge of Italian; they had, therefore a foundation on which to build. That wasn’t the case with Robert and myself. We had to work hard to learn the language of the realm. And we did. Robert was the first out of the gate. Perhaps because he was younger, or maybe because he had a better aptitude for languages; I don’t. And yet, fate has forced me to learn many languages. Today, of course, I am happy it happened; back then I cursed a blue streak over the need to grapple with the intricacies of my fourth language.

I am the type who fight with any changes in my life; while it’s true for most of us, I consider myself a more extreme case.

So what were my trials and tribulations vis-a-vis the Italian language?

Some of you may have been told that to learn a language, you should go and live in the country where that tongue is spoken. It’s true. If you want to learn French, go and spend a year in, say, Paris. You won’t speak French like a Parisian, but you will come back speaking a decent French. And that’s what happened to me.

Italian was (of course) everywhere! Sooner or later I learned many words, just by listening to people. Context helped me fill in the blanks. Television and movies proved invaluable. What I learned, I used it to survive: When buying what I needed; when ordering food and beverages in a restaurant or a café; when using public transportation; when asking for directions; and when travelling (I travelled alone to Livorno).

Does that mean that I was a willing student? Not at all! When I had to, I used my Italian; but at times, I tried French; but you had to be an educated Genovese to speak French. Therefore, like it or not, often, I trotted out my broken Italian.

You will mangle any new language you’re trying to learn; people understand that; you shouldn’t be embarrassed, my problem, however, was that I was.

When I was out with my parents, they did the translation at the beginning. Eventually, I was told by them that I shouldn’t be shy and that, “I should use my Italian, bad as it was.” This point was emphasized when they added, “you’re on your own now.”

Alas, I was not only abandoned by my parents, but the Palachi who sided with them. Everybody was ganging against me, and I was told that it was for my own good.

When Robert started speaking Italian without preoccupying himself with the errors he was making, he was of course pointed out: “Look at Robert, he is at least trying.” Echoes of the past came back, “look at Robert, he has finished his homework, and …”. But the worse was yet to come.

One day, Paolo advised me that from now on, I would not be served unless I ordered in Italian! Any conversation at La Veloce had to be in Italian or I would be ignored! “Your Italian is adequate. Speak it. We promise not to laugh.” This was serious; no, I was not going to starve, I could always go to another restaurant, but here again, I would have to order in Italian!

Bad as I thought it was, my Italian had to come out. And as time went by it improved. Within two months, I was speaking an honest Italian. After three months, I was speaking without giving it a second thought. I was mangling the verbs, creating a “new” Italian grammar, and “coining” new words! In the process I learned an invaluable lesson; you can’t be timid when learning a new tongue, you have to jump in the water even if you have just learned to swim! And that lesson would come in handy when I had to master yet another (more difficult) language, Hebrew.

My description of my hardships with Italian, may have taken the tone of a Greek tragedy! In retrospect, it was never that bad. I was never going to be totally abandoned by my parents. La Veloce’s staff did not have a mean streak. I was not going to be deprived of the divine pasta of Rosa, nor her sublime minestrone or veal piccata. It was just a bitter medicine that had to be administrated to improve the Italian of the patient!

A student who is learning to play the guitar is immensely proud of himself when he has mastered a few basic chords. But then it gets more difficult, and he is brought back to earth. The same thing happened to me; I spoke an acceptable Italian; now, I had to learn to speak a proper Italian.

And this would prove to be my next challenge.

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