THE LAST WORD
Learning the Art of Language in Florence
by Melanie Tutino
During my three weeks in Florence, my mastery of the language steadily improved. Soon I could preface “Melanie” with “mi chiamo,” and shortly after that I could order food or ask for directions with ease. My friends and travel companions, Tina and Maria, urged me to stop speaking in an embarrassed tone of voice, advising that I would seem more fluent if I spoke with more confidence. Within those three weeks my shy smile eventually made fewer and fewer appearances.
As I strained to grasp the language, I began to imagine how my grandparents must have struggled when they arrived in Canada, speaking neither English nor French. I visited Italy in privilege, travelling in leisure because I could – a journey far removed from their financially-driven decision half a century earlier.
When Maria had suggested a trip to Florence, I was intrigued by the potential to study the language. I remembered a conversation I had had with a Parisian friend who was studying at my university and who, upon arriving in Canada, initially knew little English.
“English made me someone else. People thought I was so shy. I’m funny, I love to tell jokes, but in English, I didn’t know how,” she said.
I thought about my grandparents – how I had only ever spoken to them in a language not their own. Their sentences were often fragmented: a mix of English, French and Italian. I wondered how much of them was tangled up in those sentences, and how much of them was lost.
Florence provided Tina and me with a base level of Italian, upon which each of us has since attempted to build. For Maria, who had been fluent in Italian since she could first form words, our trip was the realization of a long-held dream. A history major with a great interest in the Italian Renaissance, she brought Tina and me to many museums, where we were introduced to our own ancestral history through the stories locked in the artworks.
After a morning in class and an afternoon typically spent seeing the sites (from atop the Duomo or up close on the cobblestone streets), we would unwind with a traditionally late Italian dinner and a gelato in an airy, star-lit piazza. Although none of our relatives is Florentine, this city nonetheless provided for my friends and me a reclaiming of sorts of our Italian background. It prompted within me a renaissance of interest in my cultural heritage.
Melanie Tutino is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Honours English Literature at Bishop’s University.
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