Posts Tagged ‘Language’

Sep 21


Posted by Chris in Letters to Lauren

I’ve had an epiphany.

I’m not sure when it happened. It could have been whilst reading back through my previous letters to you, or whilst listening to Danny Baker’s Desert Island Disc show (none of which may mean the slightest thing to you) – it might even have been whilst reading you, your dinosaur book.

Either way, what struck me with my epiphany is that no matter how much I pretend that I do not try to mould you – it is pretty clear that through these letters, the story books I buy – the manner in which I speak to you are all part of a wider plan.

I want you to be a you, that is a you, you may not necessarily want to be.

I told myself when you were born that I would not force my wants on you. That I would not make you a fan of sport; make my tastes in music, your own. Food is already an interesting topic as you eat a far greater variety of foods than I do – so it may well be you pushing me to try new things as we grow older together. But everything else is clearly being led by me.

So there are subtle things that I do with you, that clearly stem from an interest I have, that I want to pass on to you.

Take dinosaurs for example. The simple act of reading you a rhyming storybook – which focuses on individual dinosaurs, is not necessarily an innocent thing. It’s by no means evil – but it is a subject I would love to be able to share with you. So I’ve started to read you a book, which I hope softens a subject matter, so that when we walk through the main entrance of the Natural History Museum – you’re not so scared of the Diplodocus skeleton that you want to leave immediately. Those precious night time stories, where we go back over the cute, pink Diplodocus page, is more of a lesson than an aid to your sleep routine.

The same can be said for your Italian nursery rhyme CD. OK, so we didn’t buy that for you – and it is a dual language version – but it does sit alongside the Italian word books we bought for you. I want to learn Italian, I’d love to one day move to Italy – and so it’s a wise move to get your mutual interest ignited at this early stage. Admittedly you have a choice. You can fall asleep when the CD is on in the car, but it’s usually me who wants to put it on before you ever ask for it.

Where will this stop? I’m not entirely certain which of our dreams we will be fulfilling if we ever go to Disneyland. If you ever take up cricket or volleyball – will that be because your schools offer those sports, or because Daddy always has them on in the background?

If my actions are by no means innocent, they are at least carried out with the best intentions – to give me the opportunity to have as much quality time with you as possible. And I mean that from the selfish perspective of doing things “we” both want.

So at the moment – whilst you are young enough to mould, to encourage and to guide – I’ll get out of all the dolls play, tea parties and dressing up games I can; and focus on the story times, the dinosaurs and the strange Italian/Spanish hybrid counting you have picked up from Dora the Explorer and your CD.

But then I am acutely aware of the balance between what I want for you, and what you will eventually want for yourself. For there is no good in me proclaiming that your independence is the key defining quality that I hope will set you apart from others, only for me to then “innocently” push you in one direction or another.

If I am allowed one final push, it is that you one day pick up a teacher or parent on their misuse of the dinosaur name Brontosaurus – and correctly point them in the direction of Apatosaurus – especially if you can do it with a broad, knowing smile on your face.

But then that’s just because your dad can be quite petty at a times – one of those characteristics I’ll leave you to develop for yourself.

Image: Apatosaurus (Natural History Museum site)

Aug 17

Parla Calcio?

Posted by Chris in Hopes & Dreams, Writing

Originally posted on Parla Calcio?

Oh Italy.

The place I’d love to one day call home – that beautiful country I have visited more than any other (if you discount Lancashire) in recent years.

Italy – the home of great food, great wine, historical landmarks, fantastic football teams – and a language so, so, err, so….

Parla Calcio?

This is a project I have thought about doing for a couple of years now. A way in which I can interweave my love for football with a burning desire I have to learn the Italian language. To see if the language of football – that of players names, club names, stadium names, formations – can be used as a bridging gap between the vocabulary used to describe them.

Just as pizza, pasta and cappuccino are commonly used as part of the English language, so to will you find Italian words creeping more and more in to the vocabulary of football writers and commentators – Catenaccio (always used in a negative way), Seconda punta (not to be said after too many drinks) and Trequartista (what every club claims to have, when they justify their midfielders smacking long balls over the heads of their strikers).

A glossary provided by Michael Cox of Zonal Marking gives a definition of those words

The plan is to pick a team (this will be explained in the second post on this site) and armed only with an Italian/English dictionary, an online translator, a copy every Tuesday of Gazzetta dello Sport and an, as of yet undefined method of learning Italian aside to this – be it lessons or an audio system – I hope to start to develop a far greater understanding of the language (hand gestures included) as the season progresses.

It won’t all be about football, though it will be linked to football – after all, that is the common language we are starting with.

Posts may range from memories of cities my chosen club is visiting, or comments on the local delicacies – the food, the wine – of that region. Either way, I hope to build my own glossary, through the titles used for each post, that anyone starting out at the same level can build a greater understanding of the language.

(NB – is a blog that will sit in parallel to this one. I intend to start this off by keeping the two separate, but there is the possibility that I will morph the two together – preferably so that the new site is linked here as a direct page. Articles may appear on both where the main thrust of the subject is non-football related)

I know it’s been a month or so since we were out in Italy, but there is an episode from our trip that I’ve been meaning to share. An episode which shows that no matter how difficult a situation might first appear – languages can be broken down with a simple smile, wave of the hands and a plate of food; lots of food.

The friend we were staying with in Italy had once taken us to a fantastic agriturismo just north of the main vineyards of Barolo and Asti. Agriturismos are old farms that have been converted in to holiday lets/B&Bs, with the view that they are able to secure tourism grants as long as they promote and provide the food and drink of the local area. There we ate a five course meal – Salami, Cheese and Truffles, Pasta, Chicken Cacciatore and a desert – all washed down with a fantastic Roero Arneis.

We had gone for lunch with the intention of offering to pay – a thank you for taking us out for a drive around the vineyards. As the courses started to pile up, and the bottles of wine drained of such a delightfully crisp white – it started to become apparent that there was no way near enough money in my wallet to feed the three of us. I feared I was off to the kitchen to earn my keep, and to wash dishes in exchange for the truffles we had just polished off.

I need not have worried. Although our host was never going to allow us to pay – the final bill came to no more than €50. That was 15 courses, two bottles of wine, plenty of bread and water at little over €1 a course. I could now see why this successful businessman chose this venue over the more fashionable spots in Torino.

We tried to find the same place on our latest visit. We had a name, a map and a good grasp of the directions.

Or so we thought. As we got closer to point on the map our destination suggested we should be, the rolling hills that greeted us last time around were nowhere to be seen. Admittedly it was October on our previous visit, and a blanket of fog laid nonchalantly over those hills – but still, where once there was undulation – now only flat, straight roads.

We saw a sign that matched the name – it lead us up a farm track (promising) which ended in front of a large metal gate (not so promising). Even though we knew we were at the wrong place, we still pressed the buzzer on the gate – too hungry and impatient to turn back. The gate swung open, we followed the track further in to the car park and settled, deflated (me) in front of a building we had never seen before.

Three yapping dogs greeted us as we got out of the car – followed by a stout, greying Nonna; filling the frame of the door. She said something – I looked at Amy. She said something else – I continued to look at Amy. My default position when I don’t understand something is to look in another direction and hope that someone else does.

They tried to find a common ground. The Nonna asked if we spoke Italian (not really), then German (err) and finally French – yes – Pour aller au stade, sil vous plait? Though how that would get us a plate a food was beyond me.

Eventually we worked out that we should have made a reservation, though with a wave of an arm we were welcomed in to the venue. We walked through a holiday venue clearly in readiness for the coming summer, with tools, boxes and piled chairs surrounding us. We were shown to a table in a darkened room – offered bread and wine, before a younger woman started to appear with the food; and what food.

Whatever difficulties I thought we might face with the language barrier soon disappeared thanks to a set menu. We didn’t have to order, we just simply had to nod and accept the latest offering to come out. First there was a selection of Salami, then mortadella, then a Russian salad, then a flan, pasta, more pasta, seconds of everything that had gone before.

I was jumpy. I am always jumpy in difficult situations – especially if Lauren is restless and unhappy. But the more the food flowed in to the room, and the more of the inoffensive wine I drank – the more times I got up to the window and showed Lauren the dogs in the garden – the more I realised there was nothing to be intimidated about. There was no reason to be jumpy. Quite the opposite in fact. The Nonna appeared towards the end of our meal and asked our fellow diners if anyone could speak English. She then asked the person who could, to apologise to us on her behalf for the state of the venue. To explain they were in the middle of renovations and that the room wasn’t always this way.

I was taken aback. Here was this person, who had without need or reservation, been happy to feed my family – gave Lauren an extra course of strawberries with nothing but a smile. Apologising to me; an idiot who had wanted to run away because I felt lost without the ability to communicate with her. It really made me think that maybe, I need not worry so much about the initial inability to communicate – and that I should care more about simply enjoying the experience; the new – the food.

So we went to the wrong place. So I hid behind my wife as a woman struggled to tell us that she’d be happy to feed us – what eventually came of the day lives long in the memories. From the bread on the table, the wine in the carafe to the food in my belly – no matter the initial difficulties, this was another experience to chalk against the reasons why we love Italy so much. It was also helped by the fact that the meal had only cost €20 per person.

I doubt we’ll ever go back to that agriturismo. I doubt we’ll even ever find the original one we had set out to visit. What I don’t doubt is that I need never be fearful of a greying woman who simply speaks another language – for when she cooks, and I eat, it is perfectly clear that my belly and her kitchen were at one – the only fluency that really mattered.

Agriturismo Verne – where we eat