Sorrento: Pompeii, Brutal Classmates, and more (Week Four)

Ciao a tutti!
Sorrento has been home for a whole month now. As the summer ramps up, the streets in town have become more and more packed with tourists, so I’ve been spending more time further off the beaten path when meeting up with local friends. Class this week went somewhat well, I’ll say. This week I had two classmates who were both over sixty, and they were very sweet people just just awful in class, I must say. One spoke fluidly but butchered just about every word, and the other spoke well but always would forget one word in a sentence and stop the whole world while she thought of it. Worst of all, they constantly interrupted the teacher and themselves, even when the teacher would try to explain something…ridiculous. By Wednesday, I knew what I had to do: join the yelling match. The rest of the week I guess I practiced my quick Italian. when I spoke, it had to be quick and fluid or else I would be interrupted by the other two, so I was able to practice jumping in to conversations. When life gives you two lemons in class…

After classes, I tried to catch up on some frequent vocabulary and brush up on what I did in the first week, which I realized I need to do a bit more of. A couple friends in town had a lot of free time this week, so I was able to hang out while speaking and hearing heaps of Italian. I can see a dramatic improvement in listening comprehension, especially when I have context and hand gestures as aids. Speaking is definitely lagging in comparison to comprehension, but I think that’s normal; it just makes me want to continue expanding my vocabulary so I can quickly call to mind what I’d like to say.

I was also able to talk with a few locals this week about their thoughts on the U.S. Of course, it was impossible to steer clear of talking about Trump, but we covered a good range of topics. Everyone I talked to alluded to Trump being a spectacle and the ultimate unknown. They were most concerned with foreign relations if Trump wins, as again it’s a complete toss-up. I tried to drive the conversations away from politics in general. I tried to focus on perspective of the U.S. as an idea, and here’s some paraphrasing of the responses:
Young man (20 years old): America is open and fertile. You can do anything there. Success is so available, not easy but there for the taking. Imagine if I had been born in Texas: Hi, I’m Mario and I come from Texas–go Cowboys. (He’s a character without a doubt).
Middle-aged woman: People tell me that Italians and Americans are different, but when I talk to Americans I don’t see all the differences. When it comes down to it, I think we face essentially the same challenges and reach for the same goals.
Older gentleman: I could be American. I could have left as a youngster and made myself in America. I could have a beautiful estate in New York right now. The truth is, though, I could have just as easily failed, been the poorest guy around, unable to provide for a wife and kids. (He said this while surrounded by his lovely big family at his farm…I think me made the right choice).

Initially I thought that talking with the older gentleman was more of a story than a perspective, but after sitting with it for a while, I realized that his account in fact was his view of the States. The U.S. to this gentleman, more than anything, represents a chance he had back in the fifties and a hypothetical unravelling of his own life from there–it was incredible to see him dream ever so slightly while speaking of what might have been…and even better to see him finish the story by kissing his wife.

Hearing these thoughts gave me a good sense of the local sentiment, and the variety of responses was refreshing.

It’s hard to believe, but visiting the great Pompeii was a side note to this weeks happenings. Another astounding sight on the Bay of Naples, especially for a student of classics.

Pompeii's amphitheater written about by Tacitus

Pompeii’s amphitheater written about by Tacitus


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