Today was my first day of school.
Of course, I woke up a bit disoriented…did I bring my placement test? Una penna? Will I get there on time?
R feeling a bit off so it is just me venturing out today. To get to my school I walk along the Naviglio Pavese — with its dinner boats, its dark water. Lots of biciclette and I walk all the way to the left so as not to get run down. It’s about a sixteen-minute walk to my school.
I am trying to breathe the whole way.
When I find the turn off, three blocks up I come upon the school. Wow. A design school. A familiar environs. I find building B. Walk up the stairs, up to the second floor which is really the first floor. Then up to the third floor which is really the second. I am greeted, fill out my application — am paired with someone to help me determine my language level.
She says — let’s start you in Rb’s class. Heart beating super strong, super fast as I walk in the already-begun class. There is no, “Ciao, sono Leslie”.
I just find a seat.
The teacher is talking to the other students that he clearly knows better. No one meets my eye.
He is talking completely in Italian. I get about 85% of it, truthfully. Maybe one or two points more.
There are probably eleven of us in the class. One from Taiwan, two from China, one Greek, two Norwegian, two French. Maybe I counted wrong. Once again, I am clearly the oldest. And now I am sweating. He, Rb, our teacher, announces to the class that he will not be asking where we are from and our names — but other questions to get to know us a bit deeper. Per esempio, he wants to know our nicknames. He wants to know if we have ever lived outside our home countries before. Then we spend fifteen minutes writing other questions to “get to know each other better” that are not the basics.
It is my turn…I tell the class that my nickname is “Les”…and for the rest of the class he keeps calling on me as “Les” — and half the time I don’t realize he is speaking to me.
The questions we answer in the next few hours wonder if we smoke. What is our horoscope sign? Have we ever done extreme sports? Do we have brothers or sisters? (Fumi? Di che segno zodiacale sei? Hai mai fatto sport estremi? Hai fratelli o sorelle?)
Several of the other students are smokers. “Fumo”, they say. One girl, intending to say that she used to smoke, instead of saying “Ho fumato”, says “sono fumata”. The teacher laughs. He says “you just told us that you were stoned”. (“I am smoked”)
Then, we have to answer “what do we regret?” (C’è qualcosa di cui ti penti?)
For me — I said — I regret….che non aver vissuto all’estero. (I regret that I have not lived abroad).
Of course, before now.
I texted mio marito. I told him that I was overwhelmed. I told him that my teacher was good. I told him I was in the right place. But oh, so very much to learn.
The other students talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up (most have not grown up completely yet…). A veterinarian. Cleopatra. Marie Antoinette. Leonardo Da Vinci.
I answer that I don’t know exactly who I wanted to be — but someone coraggioso. Someone who inspires others.
I can’t think of any names.
(Alexander Hamilton?) (Eliza?)
I am thinking that I should be on the streetcar. I am thinking I should be in my apartment. But is it better to be in a strange land, in a strange situation where you are not comfortable?
You are going to tell me that this is better, right? Better to step out — to sit in a class where all is fluent Italian and to make your mind work very, very hard. Right?
I figured you would say that.
After class I approach the teacher. I tell him that I am so sorry — it seems that I have forgotten all my italian. “What?” He says in English? “Are you mad?” (I supposed he learned English from a Brit.)
“Yes,” I say in Italian, “it seems I might be”.
He smiles and says to me — again in Italian…”you have only been here nine days. Everybody who comes has to get used to listening to Italian again. You have to develop your ear. Listen to music.” (I have been listening to the Italian Rock station on Spotify.) He says “Great! Listening to Italian music was everyone’s weekend homework so you did it too!. If anything, Leslie, I was very impressed.”
Ancora — what????
Oh wait…me again…I can act normal! I throw on my coat, my scarf. It is cloudy but on go the black sunglasses because I rock.
Yep, it seems that I may be “mad” — and I rock.
(Oh, and I have to be able to read stuff)
I walk back to the apartment along the Naviglio. (The canal). I stop for groceries — and I carry them home in two heavy bags…but my feet are so light that I barely remember my walk home.
I get back. I make soup, applesauce. Baci di dame.
It is a quarter to six here…the sun has gone down.
The church bells down the block are ringing…and it has been a good day.