27 December 2010

Abbicci and the Art of the Italian Language

Abbicci is how we pronounce ABC in Italian.  It means ABC, alphabet, primer, rudiments, and basics.  I love that abbicci is a word instead of merely ABC.  The English equivalent is abecedary, though, I must admit, I have never heard it.

Many of my friends in the States often comment to me that I must now be speaking fluently and like a local.  Magari! (I wish) Anzi! (on the contrary).

Since a child and growing up in Los Angeles where Hispanics make up approximately 47% of the population, I spoke Spanish.

My first visit to Italy in 2003 inspired my desire to learn Italian. I thought it would not be too difficult since it is similar to Spanish.  Wrong!  Spanish is a piece of cake.  Italian is -- I don't know what to compare a piece of cake to. A piece of marble?  It requires chipping away at the stone for a long time to speak the language at all well.

Twice I received a month-long scholarship to study the language here in Florence, Italy.  Once I began studying Italian, my brain told me, "You must decide. Will it be Italian or Spanish?"  The two languages are similar yet still so different.  Spanish is spoken in more than 20 countries around the world; Italian, primarily in two countries, i.e., Italy and the Ticino region of Switzerland. It would have been more practical to choose Spanish, but I found the Italian language beautiful, melodic, enchanting, and seductive.  And I knew I would continue to return to Italy.  I chose Italian.  Now when I speak the word "gracias," it doesn't sound correct to my ears.

I am in Italy since about a year ago, and I would hope my Italian were near perfect by now.  I believe that practice does not make for perfection, rather practice makes permanent.  If you play tennis with a bad backhand and continue to play with that bad backhand, it's never going to correct itself.  It becomes a permanent bad backhand.  Old habits are difficult to break.  Yes, I can speak all day in Italian, but I make errors in every other sentence.  I imagine I sound like I just crossed the border into this country.  I can survive and get along quite well with my level of Italian.  But I want more.  I want to be able to speak and understand better than I do.

Speaking on the streets and in my day-to-day life, the conversations rarely get deep enough to stretch my language skills, and because most Italians appreciate our attempts to speak their language in their country, they rarely correct us.  And, frankly, there is too much English spoken in this town with so many tourists and English-speaking expats. Therefore, I keep reinforcing that bad backhand.

By summer I was becoming frustrated that my Italian was actually getting worse, not even staying at the same level.  I had forgotten the rules and the exceptions and was questioning myself when I spoke. Summer of 2006 is when I last studied, and my language was at its peak then.  Speaking well, not perfectly, is high up on my list of priorities since I chose Italy to be my home.
At the end of summer, I decided to take private Italian lessons with one of my favorite professors from 2006.  It's been a few months now since my professor and I started to review the grammar from the beginning.  Days come when I arrive to my professor's office for my lesson and tell him, "I used to love this language, but now I hate it."  The only easy part learning Italian is the pronunciation: What you see is exactly how you say it.  Italian has a ridiculous amount of rules, and for every rule there are about 20 exceptions.  And the verbs... 21 tenses and moods.  In English there are several, but we use only about a handful of them and not much changes in the conjugations.

Just this week we are studying the subjunctive tense (congiuntivo).  There are four moods: present, past, imperfect, and past imperfect.  It is a challenge to learn all the ways to use the subjunctive.  I am determined to grasp the proper usage.  At this stage in my review of the language, subjunctive, is when the language becomes rich and colorful, where it advances from abbicci to pure romance.  We no longer speak only in the indicative, facts:  See Dick. See Spot.  See Spot chase the squirrel.  See Dick chase Spot.  I need to express myself clearly.  My favorite topics of discussion are often subjective topics, which makes the subjunctive mood a necessity.  I am on the edge of properly expressing my hopes, dreams, wants, desires, opinions, doubts, suppositions, uncertainties, fears, experiences, expectations and more and having give-and-take dialogue clearly with others in a foreign language in a foreign country.  And it finally is sticking to my brain. My backhand is improving.  It is exciting to be able to express myself and understand what others say to me in Italian, to have much deeper, more meaningful conversations, and take the relationships to an all-new level. This is the very meaning of to be rich. The wealth of words and language to me is wealth in our hearts.  And with this kind of wealth, many doors open wide.  Abbicci spells opportunity.  Just in time for the new year.

My New Year's resolution?  Expression, self-expression, and a wealthy heart and mind.  My pursuit of the Italian language helps me achieve that resolution.

24 December 2010


A flower associated with Christmas in many parts of the world, its origin is Mexico and was first introduced to the United States by the former U.S. ambassador of the U.S. to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, in 1825.  The flower is known as Poinsettia in America, Stella di Natale (Christmas Star) in Italy, Noche Buona (Christmas Eve) in Mexico and Guatemala, Flor de Pasqua (Easter Flower) in Spain, Crown of the Andes in Chile and Peru, Atatürk çiçeği (Flower of Atatürk) in Turkey, Αλεξανδρινό (Alexandrinò) in Greece, and Lalupatae, Winter Rose, and Mexican Flame Leaf.

Wishing you

Peace in your heart
Peace in your home
Peace on earth

All the best in 2011

23 December 2010

Piu' Biscotti / More Biscotti

Visible signs of the heavy snowfall less than a week ago melted away with our current heatwave (60° F) and rain, but evidence that someone has been baking in the kitchen is apparent with flour and cookie crumbs on the table, countertops, and floor.  So the snowfall is inside my home rather than outdoors.

The experimenting continues.
Cool before slicing and returning to the oven

The first time making biscotti since my attempts last December, and the biscotti are near perfect.  A bit of tweaking is still in order, but I learned a big lesson today.  

The first batch of batter would not come together; so the cookies eventually found their way into the trash bin.  With the second batch I learned I need to trust in the process, and that in time everything will come together.  Just like rain and freezing temperatures mix to create snow, if I just keep mixing (being patient, trusting, and doing the footwork), eventually it will stick. And then I place my hands in the mix and knead the dough.  The trick is to get the mix just right: not too farinoso (floury; figuratively: flowery) nor too appiccicoso (sticky, gluey; figuratively: clingy, clinging).
Ready to eat
In the case of my quasi perfect biscotti, today it worked.  Magical.  What a wonder it is to create.  The second part of the lesson is to take what I learned out of the kitchen and apply it in my day-to-day life.
Mabel gets comfy while I bake

19 December 2010

Snowed In

under snow

18 December 2010

The Day After

Ponte Vecchio
Not a cloud in the sky today, the sunshine is bright and brilliant, reflecting yesterday's 11 inches of snowfall. The forecast calls for a chance of more snow tomorrow evening.
Ponte alle Grazie
Mabel and I learned the hard way that she is not crazy about the snow under her little paws. She will wear her little, pink booties on her feet the next time we return to a snowy outdoors.
Santa Clauses on Ponte Vecchio
Before my eleventh birthday, which was a very long time ago, my birthday wish was to have a white Christmas.  Figuring snow to be a frequent visitor to Detroit, Michigan, I flew to visit relatives.  That winter, though, was unusually warm -- no snow on Christmas -- so I renegotiated my wish. A few days later, my cousin woke me early in the morning to tell me it was snowing.  Finally!  We rushed outdoors, still in our pajamas, to play in the snow, have snowball fights, and make snowmen and snow angels.  My wish came true on my birthday. 
Scales of Justice
I can't share with you this year's wish, but I hope it too comes true.  
"Ti Amo"
I am old and wise enough to know that while you can't always get what you want when you want it, if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.  Sometimes it is the day after and what we need is also what we truly want.
Florence street

17 December 2010

Nevica Oggi / It is Snowing Today

On the cusp of a change in season
What is it about snow that brings out the child in each of us?
A dusting of snowflakes
Especially the first snowfall of the winter.  Especially for this girl from sunny Southern California where Santa Claus spends his time at the beach in shorts, holding a drink with an umbrella rather than drink a hot toddy, and Santa's elves wear string bikinis.
The girls ...

... only an hour or two later ...

... on Ponte Vecchio
I love weather's many changes.  I love the sunshine warming my soul.  I love the wind making me feel alive and frisky.  I love the rain, thunder, and lightning, being childlike and splashing in puddles, coming indoors and watching the rain fall, raindrops on the window, and steamy windows, and having that someone special with whom to cuddle.

Palazzo Vecchio

Piazza Repubblica


Piazza del Duomo
Snow...something so fresh, new, pure, clean, calming, quiet, and peaceful about fresh snow.

Piazza Signoria (above 3 fotos)
The elements when they keep changing, instead of staying the same, cause me to feel vibrant and alive. If only I could embrace this attitude with the continual changes in my personal life...
We just had to go out and play.  Everyone is happy, smiling, and laughing.
We'll see how much I love it when the snowfall turns to rain and the snow on the streets turns to ice and it becomes frightening to walk on.
But today, as the snow continues to fall, Florence is heaven and a playground for all.
Sledding outside my house
One of about three streets in Florence with a slight hill

12 December 2010

Bel Giorno

A day with gorgeous light, the streets full of people in spite of the cold, enjoy a walk through Centro Storico with me.

Ponte Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Via Roma

Dead animals (there is a lot of that here)

"Caldarroste" Hot roasted chestnuts

Street painting

Nostalgic for cotton candy

Via Calzaiuoli (shoemaker street)

Xmas lights on Via del Corso

Via del Corso

"Mangia, mangia!"

Zingara (gypsy woman)



Giambologna's "Nettuno"

Connected (more dead animals on their heads)

Rivoire (8 Euro hot chocolate!)