The merits of a local guide

Today I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of a friend to introduce me to Pisa. Despite the rain, I had an absolutely wonderful day. We met up for lunch, and she read through the menu and translated it for me, teaching me a variety of words along the way. She was very encouraging and patient with my attempts to speak Italian, and as a result I had a great time practicing with her. I learned:

  • Sono abstemia: I don’t drink [at all]; useful as a reply to the ubiquitous queries about wine with every meal.
  • Io prendo…: I’ll have (lit. “I take”), for ordering food.
  • orecciette is female and plural, so to order my pasta at lunch I said, “Io prego le orecciette con pesto e pomodoro” (with pesto and tomato).
  • Sono finita: I’m done/finished.
  • Euro is invariant. It is Euro in the singular and Euro in the plural (I’d been trying to figure out if I needed to say “3 Euri”).
  • The streets that parallel the Arno river both begin with Longarno because they go along the Arno.
  • sinistra, destra: left, right

After lunch, we went to a special cafe that serves panna, a local specialty that is a very thick whipped cream. I ordered a cioccolata con panna that was absolutely to die for. The hot chocolate was thick and rich and not-so-sweet and more the consistency of mud than water, and the panna sat on top and made for a heavenly cream experience.

We then met up with another friend and continued walking around the town (the Arno, outside the (closed) Botanical Garden, back to the Leaning Tower, etc.), getting lots of local tidbits not found in my guestbook. At the Tower, I glanced around and saw three different people simultaneously posing for the obligatory “I’m pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower” shot. Yes, they really do this!

I ordered dinner mostly in Italian (from the English menus we were given): Io prendo le pappadelle con… come si dice “rabbit”? The waiter said, “lepre,” then paused and called over a colleague, who launched into an explanation that the wild rabbit mentioned on the menu was a lepre but the tame form of the rabbit is a coniglio. “Ah, like coney!” I said. Turns out that the dictionary translates “lepre” as “hare”, so it’s possible that what I actually had was pasta with hare sauce. At any rate, it was a little gamey at first, but it definitely grew on me; I liked it! The waiter asked if I wanted cheese on it (in English). I’d been told at lunch by my local guide that Italians never refer to “cheese”, because that’s too generic; instead they refer to all cheeses by name. So I asked, “Quel tipo?” which I actually made up but turns out to be correct (I think), aside from me giving it the French pronunciation (“kel”) instead of the Italian (“kwel”). Live and learn. The waiter’s response was “Parmesan”, so I figure I successfully asked the question.

Back at my B&B, I composed what I think is my longest sentence in Italian to date: “Posso pagare per la mia camera?” (Can I pay for my room?) and took care of my bill. Time for bed now — we’re thinking of a trip to Florence tomorrow!

Using Italian is harder than you think!

Buongiorno and hello from Pisa! (In fact, it’s more like “buona notte” in this time zone.)

I arrived into Pisa about 5 hours ago. Let me say once again how much I love Air France. I wish they operated domestic flights in the U.S. I’d fly with them over United or US Air or just about anyone (except maybe Southwest). Their customer service is invariably cheerful and polite, they give you useful things like eye masks and ear plugs on long flights (hear that, United?), and they serve you A++ food (on the airplane food scale). None of the “I’m sorry your overcooked pasta is ice cold, our food heater isn’t working” excuses I got from United when I flew to Japan earlier this year. No, Air France gave us flavorful chicken, roasted potatoes, veggies, a salad with what I think was pate, juicy grapes, and chocolate dessert for dinner (plus bread, of course) and then sliced meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit cocktail, and a croissant for breakfast. Yum!

My language efforts have been less satisfying. I essayed some exchanges in French with stewardesses, with mixed success. Once reaching Italy, though, it’s been even harder. I’m very, very slow with the very, very little Italian I know (made even slower because French keeps popping into the forefront of my mind when I try to compose in Italian). By the time I get halfway through a sentence, the other person has already switched to fluent English. It’s easier that way, of course, but I also feel embarrassed at making them use my language in their country. (However, I suspect that they don’t really care and just want me to hurry up and order my pizza.) The owner of my B&B picked me up at the airport and offered English smalltalk. He asked me where I worked, but didn’t recognize “NASA”, “space”, or “rockets”. It was surprising to realize how difficult it is to explain where I work even in my own language! I finally hit on “we send people to the Moon”, which he got.

Google, however, recognizes that I’m coming from Italy and is automatically using Italian to communicate with me. Yikes!

I had some excellent veggie pizza (artichoke hearts! zucchini! by the way, I find it funny that my dictionary translates “zucchini” (Italian) into “courgette” (English) — courgette? I had to look it up. My online dictionary claims it’s British, of all things (not French?) and refers to… zucchini.) and then walked over to the Leaning Tower. It is beautiful at night! (Thanks to Alberto Mayer for this photo; the tower is at the far right.) They have a floodlight illuminating the lower side, and lights on all of the other fantastic old buildings as well. Despite the darkness and hour (probably 8:00 p.m.), there were quite a few people strolling around the wet grounds, including a large Chinese tour group. Tomorrow I plan to go back, this time with a camera… and maybe I’ll get to use some Italian at some point!

“You’re the tertiary storage; I’m the L1 cache!”

Today I got my first taste of “nerdcore hip-hop” (thanks Jon!). This stuff is absolutely fantastic… and I’m not normally a hip-hop fan! I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, I guess. :) Here are some of my initial favorites, which you might also enjoy: