Last night I had the pleasure of being part of a night out organised for two classes of Italian learners, at an Italian restaurant in Llanelli – about half an hour east of Carmarthen. Long story short, my aunt is one of the teacher’s neighbours, and she had been invited to join the group, and in turn my aunt invited me.
I went over to Llanelli not quite knowing what to expect. I must admit, groups of people who I don’t know intimidate me a fair bit. I’m very introverted, and do much better with one-to-one conversations. But it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.
Fueled by a very nice (no really, this was a particularly good one) glass of Prosecco, I got talking to the teacher, and her other half. And the conversations I had over the course of the evening were, honestly, energising. I spoke with the teacher in Italian, and I was very aware of how fast I was speaking. I overheard her saying in Italian to one of her students later on, ‘She speaks Italian in a phenomenal way’. I was so flattered. After 10 months of lying mostly dormant, only appearing on rare occasions, my full-blown speedy Milanese-inflicted Italian was back. It was like a part of my personality had returned. I’d been thinking a lot recently about how being constantly called inglese (English) during my years in Italy had erased part of my personality; but last night I realised how I’d lost another part of my personality by not speaking Italian. I’ve read so many times about how people have different personalities for each of the languages they speak, when they speak more than one fluently; and it’s something I’ve started to become aware of since moving back to Wales last summer – as Welsh is my first language. What I noticed with my Italian last night was something I hadn’t really thought about before – it was like my personality became more outgoing; and with the gestures I was making, I was occupying more space with my body. Switching from Italian to English was something I’d taken for granted in Italy; at work I almost always spoke English, and outside almost exclusively Italian. But this was a context where I was speaking three languages in the space of about three hours. Italian’s seen as much more of a ‘flamboyant’ language, where people speak faster, and louder. If you don’t speak the language, it can often seem that people are arguing, when they’re just having a lively, friendly, discussion. When I was living in Italy I unconsciously adapted how I spoke the language to reflect how my friends spoke, and what I heard and saw around me on a daily basis. On the way home last night, I started thinking about how my spoken Italian reflects my written English – very wordy, long sentences. Italian loves going off on tangents, which I did brilliantly last night. When explaining that one of my flatmates during my year abroad in Italy had studied at the same university as the Italian teacher, I went off on a tangent about how my university sent students out to Italy in their second year as opposed to their third year, if they had started learning Italian from scratch in their first year – as I had done. As I went off down that road, I was fully aware of of how, had I had the same discussion in English, I would’ve been much more concise. I’m sure people who speak more than one language will understand where I’m coming from, even though it’s difficult to put into words the transformation a person goes through when they switch from one language they speak fluently to another.
The teacher, as it turned out, had also lived in Trieste for a period of time. I visited Trieste at Easter in 2015, and I really enjoyed talking about how interesting the city was from a historical and architectural point of view, and also about the train journey over from Milan. Her boyfriend – and this was a MASSIVE case of Small World Syndrome – had been to the Expo which was held in Milan two years ago! I was sitting in a restaurant in Llanelli, in the county I grew up in, talking to a Scottish man, about a huge event that had taken place in Milan a couple of years ago, that very few people outside of Italy would realise the significance of. We talked about the infamous Japanese pavilion and its’ 10 hour queues, a few of the pavilions one or both of us managed to see, the food, the impact that Expo had had on the city… It was a very enjoyable, and quite surreal experience!
I’ve only been out at night a few times since moving back to my hometown. Walking the short distance from the car back to the house, I noticed the stars in the sky. I hadn’t seen the stars since living in the town itself. In my still slightly wine-induced state, and after some inspiring conversation which made me think about my place in the world and how I could use my skills for good, it was somewhat of a Dantesque moment – when Dante and Virgil leave Hell, and the end of Inferno, and see the stars again.
Oh, and if anyone in or around Llanelli would like to go for an Italian meal, I highly recommend Marzano’s. It’s tucked away on Cowell Street, a couple of minutes from the shops in the town centre. I had a lovely vegetarian lasagna; I must admit there were a couple of peppers too many for my personal taste, but it was still delicious. I’m a bit wary of ordering vegetarian lasagna in the UK, because some places have the bad habit of throwing in everything apart from the kitchen sink. But this worked very well. Yes, they have an amazing Prosecco (honestly), and the staff is very friendly. And bonus points for the huge photo of Venice on the wall!