Writing this whilst listening to: Elisa Toffoli, L’anima vola
Location: the apartment at Piazza Castelnuovo, Palermo, see the view in the ultra short video below
Drinking: Cusumano, Insolia, Sicilia, white, 2015
“Berrei volentieri un…un….bicchieri di vino bianco e…well”
“You would like a glass of white wine, Miss? Dry?”
“Ah…si, yes per favore!”
I’m sure the Palermitan waiter wasn’t impatient with me, even though it must be frustrating when it takes someone minutes to place a simple order in a very busy restaurant. He was actually just being friendly and helpful, which is very typical for Sicilians. This is fantastic, but – combined with my lazy nature – didn’t help my Italian language skills any further.
In 2011 when I lived in Palermo, Sicily’s incredible capital, for six months I got frustrated with myself a lot. I tried to learn Italian without having any system put into place and made very little progress. Somehow I managed to write a song in (very basic) Italian by the end of the sixth month, but having conversations remained difficult.
Back in Palermo
Right now I’m back in Palermo for nine days to work on the Italian lyrics for the new album. Seven days have gone by and this morning I found myself having an actual conversation. In Italian. Without any long silences due to language brain-fry.
I was at the bar of my favorite coffee place, still sleepy, when an elderly man -rolled-up jeans, loafers, neatly ironed blue shirt and bronzed skin- said something to me about Palermo’s football club in reference to a newspaper-article he was reading. We ended up talking about his city, The Netherlands -where he had been decades ago- and Sicilian food. It felt great, but when I stepped out of the coffee place I wondered: what caused this sudden language break-through?
I thought about it and here’s what I came up with:
- French: I’ve been studying French intensively for the past few months. Not only does my brain seem fitter than before, but French and Italian are actually quite similar.
- A relaxed mind: I was still sleepy, thus very relaxed and I didn’t see the conversation coming. Much less focused on not making mistakes than (unfortunately) I usually am.
- Asking people to speak Italian with me: before this trip I realized I should just ask people here to not speak English with me. So during this trip I do this all the time and everyone’s very happy to hear me struggle with their language and help me. Only seven days of intense failing already helped me forward so much.
- Grammar: I have a great Italian grammar book that I read and take notes from every day for half an hour.
- Reading: I’m reading a book on Frida Kahlo in Italian. Words I don’t know I look up and write down.
- Listening and watching: I watched a lot of mafia series and movies in Italian (with English or Dutch subtitles) over the past years (yay again, for the perfect excuse to watch great stuff, if I ever needed one)
And perhaps the best way of all: translating my new songs from English to Italian. I keep running into language problems, but I’ve already translated three songs. I still don’t have any sort of system in place for studying, but I find that learning in my own way works. Slowly, but surely. I just hope that my Sicilian friends agree when they check my lyrics. If not, I’m ready to keep failing my way forward.