When I was a young teenager, entering junior high school, I was asked if I would like to learn a foreign language. I said I would, and was enrolled in a program of foreign language studies. The program consisted of three six-week segments: French, Italian and Spanish. After completing these classes I had the option of choosing the language I wanted to learn: I chose Italian. One of the reasons I picked Italian was because many of my friends were of Italian descent and I was ever so fascinated by their stories of Italy and their customs. I also seemed to have an affinity for the language and I felt as though I had an innate knowledge of the heritage.
After high school I went on to pursue my career, which led me away from my studies, but I vowed to return to them at some point. Then in 1992 I met a very special Italian man who would spark my interest in the language, leading me to rekindle my desire to speak Italian perfectly. This man spoke no English and I had no choice but to reach into my memory and recall all that I had learned 20 years earlier. Needless to say, I was not accurate in my dialogues, however, I made my points and them some. I became obsessed with learning the language, studying everyday for months with the anticipation of visiting Italy and being able to speak like a true Italian. After four months I planned a trip to Italy which would change the course of my life.
I traveled to Rome on June 25, 1993 and that is where my journey began. Overwhelmed with enthusiasm and awe I soaked up all that I could. I started in Trastevere, a famous area in Rome that was like home base to me; every day for ten days I would walk, look, listen and attempt to speak Italian. After the eight day, with my friend's help (thank God for them), off I went on my own to the beach. What an accomplishment! A 10 minute walk, a bus ride, two train rides and again another stroll to enter the beach; wouldn't my Italian teacher be proud! This was the beginning of a fabulous journey inside myself only to realize I had found what I always searched for; a place to feel at home.
Throughout my journey to Florence, Parma, Milan, Venice, Murano, Burano, Verona, I became entrenched in the daily rituals of the people. What a wonderful way of life, serenity and appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds you! I was fortunate to have to benefit of personal, passionate guides (my friends) to educate me in all areas of the Italian culture, religion (including my own; I am Jewish and I was able to learn much about my heritage), local costumes and much more. All this and more prepared me for the final leg of my journey. After 16 days in northern Italy I returned to Rome with my friends to prepare for my solo journey to southern Italy and the islands of Ischia and Capri. After three and a half weeks of being tutored, taught, schlepped in and out and up and down I was ready to go on my own. I left Rome early on Tuesday morning by train (air conditioned/not) and headed for Naples, slightly delayed by a 15 minute strike outside Itri (not an unusual occurrence). Once in wild Naples I got off the train, boarded the subway, got off the subway and walked to the pier to catch the boat (I was a wreck, but I made it). I was off to Ischia for a week to soak up the sun, the language and the sights. (P.S. No one told me there was no English spoken!). I had the time to of my life and I met so many new people who understood everything I said, along with correcting me, that by the time I left the island I felt as though I had been there my whole life.
I returned to Rome after one week and I have never been the same. I renewed my zest for learning the Italian language. I remained in Rome until Saturday, July 31, 1993 and on my final evening, in front of the Trevi fountain, I made a vow to myself that I would return, and I would return as a true Italian, fluent in the languages and fluent in the culture.