This week, dear Reader, we’re heading off to school. After a few weeks of housewifing around I am excited by the prospect of putting my brain to work and of having something to call my own. I make the quick walk to the metro station near our apartment and pop into the station convenience store/cafe to buy a ticket. “Un biglietto a Montesanto, per favore.” I pay for my ticket and, already feeling hugely successful, board the train.
Upon arriving in downtown Naples, I pull out my phone in hopes that my GPS will guide me seamlessly to class. Instead, it has a total meltdown. “Turn lef- turn right- proceed to the route…” The screen zooms out, the map spins around, and my phone beings speaking as though it were possessed. The streets are too narrow, the concrete buildings too high. What should be a 15 minute stroll to class is now a full on expedition in an entirely different neighborhood. Technology can’t save me now. It’s just me and my street savvy. Yay.
I wander through a few hidden courtyards, alleyways with clotheslines overhead, all while trying not to notice the locals’ bewildered stares. You’d think I was a giraffe wandering down the strada! I don’t mind being lost, but I loathe being late. Through a window to my left I see an older woman sitting down at her kitchen table. Desperate, I poke my head in:
“Buogiorno, signora. Mi scusi… Piazza Dante? (gesture left, gesture right)” Startled, she stands up and starts talking a mile a minute. Nonna doesn’t mess around, she gets right down to business and asks if I am married.
“Ahh… si, si. Ho un marito.” She isn’t psyched about that.
“Antonio!… ANTONIO! (something something something)… lei è confusa!” I don’t know who Antonio is but I’m already embarrassed this old woman described me to him as “confused.” Aren’t I, though? Sigh.
Antonio appears, he is dressed for the day but still a bit disheveled. I guess that he is probably in his early 20s. Nonna says a whole bunch of stuff to him that is too fast for me to comprehend and then she turns to me and rattles off Antonio’s five most marriageable qualities. I agree (in busted Italian), “yes, if I was not already married, I would be lucky to marry Antonio.” She nods contentedly and barks some orders at Antonio – he protests, but it is clear he has lost the argument.
As I contemplate ways to extract myself from the situation, Antonio comes outside – he has been instructed to walk me to school. Nonna hands me an apple through the window.
“Grazie! Una mela!” (Thanks! An apple!) Nonna looks at me like, duh it’s an apple.
And so here we are: me and Antonio. He speaks a little English and I assure him he doesn’t need to walk me the entire way, just point me in the right direction. He waves me off and when we pass his friend Andrea on the street, Andrea joins us too. The two boys converse (rather apathetically) about who I am and why Antonio’s “crazy” grandmother enlisted him to help me. The situation is a bit awkward but at least now I won’t be late and I have two scrawny bodyguards to protect me from the mean streets of Napoli.
Sidenote: I’ve already mentioned that Napoli is gritty. I can’t say I feel unsafe in this area of town, but it has that same sketchy look about it: graffiti and trash and noise and stares. I don’t let it get to me. You leave the diamonds at home and take your level of attractiveness down a peg or two, ya know? Don’t carry lots of money – these are the kind of basic survival tactics you possess if you don’t grow up on a farm.
I arrive at Centro Italiano and duck through the small door cut from the large wooden car gate. The courtyard is inviting and the students are just beginning to fill in the cluster of classrooms on the second floor. My class is small, only 6 of us beginners, with students from Japan, Germany, France, India, and the U.S.
Classes are Monday through Friday from 9:20-1:20 with a short break in between. In the morning we have one instructor who focuses mostly on grammar while the afternoon instructor spends more time chatting with us, allowing us to showcase our newly acquired Italian phrases. It’s insta-immersion! One of my favorite words is ‘allora‘ – you hear it often because it means “so…” or “then…” I think it sounds beautiful.
I have always loved being in a classroom and this experience is no different. The lessons come easily to me and Italian is proving to be an especially fun language to speak. I easily navigate my way back to the train station in the afternoon and, in general, I’m feeling less batshit crazy than I was when I was stuck at home. In just a few short days, I find comfort in this new routine. As my first week of lessons comes to a close, I effortlessly order a train ticket home and a celebratory ciambella (donut) at the station cafe. Honestly, if I can order a train ticket and a treat than I figure I have the basics covered – any Italian I learn beyond this point is just frosting!