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By catrionaschwartz

I am now at the mid-way point of my semester here in Rome. These past two weekends I spent traveling in Italy—the first weekend in Palermo, and this last one in Tuscany—and it has been amazing, but I’m glad I will be in Rome these final few weeks. Palermo was fascinating though. It was very different from Rome. It had ruins of sorts, and while some were created by neglect and decay, many others were remnants of World War II—with whole facades of buildings gone, revealing hallways to bombed out rooms, abandoned chairs and tables—eerie but beautiful. It was also a very diverse city. Some of the street signs had Hebrew and Arabic translations, and there were lots of Indian restaurants and kebab shops which you don’t see as much of in Rome.

That weekend also tested my Italian skills. Most of the waiters and shopkeepers spoke to us solely in Italian which was refreshing as well as challenging. In Rome, people often respond in English once they hear your accent (or pick up on one of the many other innumerable clues that you are in fact American). I try to respond in Italian anyway. I like to think that it gives both myself and the person talking to me a chance to practice our language skills. In Palermo though, 90% of the conversations we had with locals were conducted in Italian. It made me appreciate how far my language skills have come, and how rewarding it was to be able to practice a language with locals while learning (something I hadn’t experienced when I took Spanish and French back in the States).

Still, the dialect in Sicily is quite different. There were a couple times the words they used were completely different from the Italian spoken in Rome. When we went to one of the main street markets for example, the vendors used a different word for ‘bag’ than what I had learned. Not to mention the market itself was so different from the placid farmers’ markets you see in Rome--people were shouting everywhere (“Fragole, belle fragole!”), and I tripped over a fallen fish head trying to avoid a group of boys fighting in the street and it was all a shambolic, wonderful mess.

Tuscany was a completely different experience. First of all it was a trip organized by the program so there was none of the stress of having to figure out the when/where/hows of the trip, we just got on the bus and got off the bus when it stopped. Then there was the fact that Tuscany is more about the sweeping landscapes, and quiet glasses of wine than frantic cityscapes. It was just as much fun though. We stopped in Sienna which was grand and medieval looking, and then Montalcino, which was practically empty which I loved. Montalcino is known for its Brunello wine and there are 210 vineyards in the area. We stayed the night in a 15th century farmhouse and vineyard with views of the rolling hills and it was relaxing and quite.

Rome will be somewhere in between. It’s not quite Palermo levels of chaotic but it is still a loud, frenetic city. The number of tourists is also increasing every day, making the narrow streets feel claustrophobic at certain times of the day. Still, the weather is beautiful and all of the flowers are blooming now. All this time I’ve been gone during the weekends but now I need to focus on Rome—the countless museums, the farther flung neighborhoods, the food and the wine—there’s still so much to see! I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left.

By catrionaschwartz

Although I came to Italy a complete beginner, over the past few weeks I’ve able to learn a decent amount of Italian. More often than not I will start a conversation with a local in Italian, and finish it in English, but considering the number of people that speak English here, and the fact that I’ve only taken Italian for a couple of weeks—it isn't too surprising.

There have been a couple little quirks I've learned about the language over the weeks including to pieces of slang that are fun and tell you something about the country. The first is ‘pronto,’ which means ‘ready’ in Italian and is how many people answer the phone here. The origin of the usage is from when all calls had to go through an operator. The operator would ask you if you were ready for them to transfer the call, and you would reply ‘Pronto.’ While Italy isn’t technologically behind, I feel like technology has infiltrated less aspects of daily life in Italy than in the US, and this somewhat antiquated phrase goes along with that idea.

Another fun one is the phrase in bocco al lupo, meaning in the mouth of the wolf. This phrase is basically the Italian equivalent of break a leg! As my Italian teacher said, all Italians are superstitious, even if they say they aren’t. The phrase is meant to avoid jinxing someone by wishing them luck. The proper response is, ‘crepi,’ or ‘crepi il lupo,’ which means: I hope it (the wolf) dies. Considering Rome’s founding story involves a pair of baby twins being suckled by a she-wolf this phrase rings true to Italian culture to me.

This last one isn't a phrase so much as an etymological note. Every day, along with ‘si’ and ‘grazie,’ the word I probably use most is Ciao. Who would've thought though that the origin of this sweet greeting is actually, ‘I am your slave,’ from old Venetian Italian. Apparently such a greeting was so common, the phrase blurred together and came to mean hello. First of all that says a lot about the Roman Empire and Venetian Empire. Second of all, how funny is it to think that everyone walking around, going to the local bar (which is what coffee shops are called here) and saying Ciao, and it actually meaning ‘I am your slave! Good morning!’

Basically Italian is turning out to be pretty fun.