An Argument for Higher Education

College is the place you go to learn to pronounce things. Flaubert (Flo-bear), Post-modernity (post-moe-dear-nit-tea), etc. It’s important to sound important; and academic to be in academia (Akku-dame-yah).

That’s why I didn’t do well with Italian. I never sounded like I was intelligent, academic, or important. Most of my Italian pulled smiles and nods from Italians, at least until I turned around. Then it was guffaws.

Example: When I hear “bagna cauda” (a culturally-rich, hot dipping sauce rich in garlic), I hear “hot bathroom” (bagno=bathroom; caldo=hot). An Italian friend asked me: “tu piace la bagna cauda?”  I had a ten minutes conversation in Italian about how I love a warm bathroom and a hot bath.  He smiled and nodded. From across the room, I heard guffaws from several Italians.

Learning to hear and repeat (pronounce) is important. This is why we think the news reports from Stephen Colbert (C0e-bare) is incredibly funny. And G.W. Bush. And Al Gore. All educated savants (Saw-vaws). Our vocabulary (and lexicon) are richer and more expansive.

So, I say: Keep the halls of high education open. And keep attending college. We need more people who look smart. And here’s to hot bathrooms!



Plowing New Ground

I am in month eight of language classes, and I feel like I have just begun to understand a little of what I hear and read. On occasion I can even follow one sentence with another in conversation.  The “language acquisition experts” (read: my wife) say that learning a new language in later years (not sure what she means with that) requires that the mind reopen channels of learning that have hardened and closed. I wondered what that loud noise was in my head each night when I go to bed!

There is an incredible beauty to the Italian language, and the Italian people who speak it. It shouts, it caresses, it sings, it embraces, and it kisses you on both cheeks. I can hardly wait till I get past the present tense! I have heard a lot of people say – I love Italy! For someone to say he is in love with Italy would be a  claim that’s hard to pin down. Are you in love her people, her statues, her climate – which runs the length of the thermometer, her night life, her food, her pace of life,  her diversity?

My first impression is that, to fall in love with Italy is to first fall in love with her land, mountains, valleys — her soil and rock and water. Italians come and go, but Italy’s soil has always been. Deep, rich, smelly close up; and everywhere you go, the Alps, the coasts, the plains, the Apennines, have and are shaping the region. Her land is her life. The continuity of what Italy means. That’s why Italians are so picky about their food. You eat what is in season, from you garden or local if possible, but from Italy by all means. Very little preservatives, and if you have any dirt at all, you create a garden.

My first drive south from Torre Pellice to Perugia through the Apennines, I fell in love with Italy’s land. Everywhere I look, even from the coast, I see hills, mountains, fields of whatever is in season. Spring is just greening here, and the vines and kiwis and orchards are coming alive with promise of a good season of fruitfulness. But it’s not just the food it produces as much as the lifestyle that is tied to her soil.

One of my favorite stories is of Jesus describing how seed fits into soil, and how soil is sometimes resistant to the seed. Because it is busy trying to grow other stuff not nearly as fulfilling. Because it cannot get past the worries of today and see the joyful potential of the harvest. Or because it has been pounded on by life, or has rejected seeds for year, and is crusted over. The one thing in common in each of these is a dire need to be worked by the Farmer. If I could ask you to pray for one thing over the next year for me, it would be… God, keep Rick’s soil turned and ready for seed, and let Rick and Susan and Rachael plant good seed wherever and whenever they can. And let the soil be fertile and ready for the seed to sprout and bear fruit all over Italy… and beyond! And where it is not ready, let it be open to the touch of the Master Farmer.

All For Him – from the Fields,

In Answer to the Number One Question

13:55 Friday, 13 March 2009

I can’t describe the feelings Susan and I get when we receive some sort of connection from a friend. Being on the field, away from friends, and still learning the language is sometimes like being a huge isolation chamber. One is aware of the surroundings but hits a wall in the amount and depth of interaction. So, a card, a SKYPE call, an email, a facebook post or note — each time I see in our box downstairs something other than a “publicita'” from the local grocer, or one my computer a little red number indicating someone may have written on my wall, I get a certain lift inside or a fresh burst of energy. So, thank you, wonderful friends, who have written, mailed, called, or some other way let us know you are there, praying for us and remembering us.

The most popular question lately has been a variation of “So, how’s the language coming?” From a Georgia friend, its more, “So, hair yall doin with Etalyon?” There are ways to answer this that sound great, and not so great. Compared to August a year ago, I have come a long, long way from only reciting 1 to 12 and the primary colors. I can count upwards of a thousand now, and know “blu” can be “azurre” or “celeste.”

I can sit in church and understand, when I concentrate, about 60-70% of what goes on, and I don’t break out in a cold sweat when I am at a cash register or restaurant. I am able to negotiate my way around the piazza market on Fridays and when I lead a Bible study, I occasionally break out in Italian, and understand more than 80% up close one-on-one. The not-so-great part is, I am still far from conversational (after a few sentences, I get stuck) and it takes a huge act of will to concentrate on understanding and responding for more than an hour or two. Classes help; conversations help more; being in an Italian Small Group study (I am leading the new men’s study – or “Man Study” as one calls it – at church) is the real gift God has provided.

Our “lingua Italiana” instructor asks us occasionally to write about things in our life. This week, she asked us to write about a famous landmark or statue in America. I, in one of my weirder moments, bypassed stone mountains, and presidential monuments, and chose one that is perhaps more famous in Atlanta than any of those. Below, by popular request, is the Italian version (corrected by the teacher, as I really have trouble matching prepositions and articles with nouns for some reason.) If you have trouble figuring it out, there is always

“Vicino ad Atlanta, c’e’ un monumento famoso in tutto il mondo. Che e’ alto quasi quindici metri e si trova alla destra della strada inportante nel’ villagio di Marietta di fronte all’ ristorante famose per i panini di cotoletta. Il colore del monumento e’ bianco e rosso. Si chiama Il Pollo Grande.”

Ciao from your monumentally serious friend in Italy!