Trya Speaka da Lingo in Roma

I have trouble wrapping my tongue around the Italian language on an evening of sightseeing in Rome.

It was a warm night when I arrived for three days of sightseeing in Rome. From the train station I hopped on the No.64 bus to St Peter’s Basilica and found myself talking to a friendly stranger. I say ‘talking’ but Pietro didn’t speak much English. Like a lot of Italians, English was a language studied at school and then dropped because the need for it was minimal. He was also, like most Italians, very friendly.

English But Not As We Know It

Pietro politely enquired as to where I was going. I replied in a kiwi accent: “The Vatican”. He looked vacant. I thought that he must be a foreigner as well. I repeated myself, thinking how strange for a Roman not to know of the Vatican. I made the sign of the cross and his puzzled frown cleared: “Ah, si, il Vaticano”. Great, it was me. Obviously my Italian accent wasn’t as good as i’d thought it was.

Having no idea of where I was meant to alight from the bus, I managed to make him understand with much gesturing that I needed help in reaching my destination. He nodded reassuringly and we rode in silence, him clutching some studious looking text books and me shouldering my 65L pack.

It was hot and the bus was crowded, so I was glad when Pietro suddenly came to life and beckoned me to get out of the bus. He pointed behind me: “Il Vaticano”.
“Grazie”, I replied. Now to find my hostel.
“Ottaviano?”, I enquired, perhaps he knew it? Pietro frowned looking more studious than ever and whipped a small map of Rome out of his pocket. “Ottaviano? Ecco”, he said, pointing out on the map an area that was right out of town.
“You must take Metropolitana”.
“No”, I argued, “Ottaviano Hostel, right around here someplace….look here”. I showed him my Lonely Planet map.
“Hmmmph, not good map”, he grumbled scanning it.
“Hostel? Not Hotel? Si, si, come I show you”.

Soon we reached it, an austere looking building on the corner of Via Ottaviano and Via Cola de Rienzo. I was all ready to say my goodbyes. “I meet you for cappuccino?”, he countered.
“Ahhh, well, ok. How about in ten minutes time?”, I said showing ten fingers.
“Dieci?”, he mused.
“Ten, yes that’s right, ten minutes”.
Ten minutes later, no Roman. Surely he didn’t think ten fingers meant ten o’clock? Yes, he did.

Sightseeing in Rome By Bus

By 10 o’clock I was ready to hit the hay but Pietro was all set for a night of sightseeing in Rome. What had I let myself in for? We were off into the night, catching bus after bus, seemingly effortlessly after my poor ditch attempt. He seemed to know exactly which bus went where.

Scintillating conversation was extremely difficult as his English was very limited and my Italian even more limited. After one very roundabout conversation in which we got nowhere, he looked at me and said deadpan: “Be quiet, you talk too much”. I was mortally offended. He realised he had made a serious faux pas and whipped a mini Italian/English dictionary out of his pocket. “Stanco, stanco”, he explained pointing. “Ahhh”, I said realising what he meant, “Yes, I am tired, I will try not to talk too much”.

He took me to the Pantheon and tried to explain, in very broken English, its history. After fifteen minutes I was none the wiser. We moved on. Next we visited the Trevi Fountain. We passed a theatre on the way and he became extremely animated, “La Dolce Vita, La Dolce Vita!”, he exclaimed. “Excuse me?”, what was he going on about? He tried to mime something dramatic but without success. “Christi, is hard!”. “No kidding”, I thought.

What’s The Word For Sleep?

We came upon the Trevi Fountain and as I marvelled at it he pretended to throw something into the air. La Dolce Vita. I clicked. Oh, of course that famous movie.
“Capisci?”, he said.
“Si, capisci”, I nodded. He frowned. “Verbo! Capisco, capisco!”. Right, this was quickly turning into an Italian lesson, time to change the subject.

I gestured at the fountain, “Who built?”. “Bernini”, was the answer. We moved on to Piazza Navona. I pointed at the fountains, “Who built?”. “Bernini” again was the answer. Next the Baraccia at the foot of the Spanish steps. Again, “Bernini”. Pietro laughed uproariously, thinking it was a great joke. We reached the column of Marcus Aurelius. I took a wild guess: “Bernini?”. This seemed to be even more of a joke. He danced around clutching his sides. Hmmm, obviously you had to be Roman to get it.

By this time it was 1am and I was looking forward to Ottaviano Hostel. I opened my guide book and tried to find the word for ‘sleep’. Pietro grabbed the book from me and looked at the front cover which depicted some Italians sitting outside a cafe`. He started laughing again: “They not Italian!”. I had no idea if they were of weren’t but sincerely hoped Lonely Planet knew what it was doing.

After what seemed like 200 miles of bus travel, my night of sightseeing in Rome was over. I finally arrived back at Ottaviano Hostel at 2am, dead on my feet and my head spinning with one hundred and one Italian phrases. “When in Rome”, for sure but mamma mia can they talk!

(Photo by mmmswan)