(image by Piccolina Photography on Flickr)
The next 10 days are quiet. Classes are taking a while to be programmed in – obviously, George’s departure has upset the timetabling a bit. It’s quite a relief to be starting off slowly, as it gives me the chance to remember what I’m doing, but it does also mean that occasionally I have a little bit too much time to think. There are still days of crippling homesickness, but they become fewer and fewer as the days go on and as I get to know my way around. Alex and I become closer and spend a lot of time having surreal and ridiculous conversations which no doubt bamboozle our Italian flatmates, but which make us laugh like drains. I feel that I have my first friend here.
The day after the motorcycle incident, Alex and I make our way to the local market, which happens every Saturday in town, being careful to avoid the town square, as this is where I’m supposed to be meeting Valerio. Ahem. The market proves to be lively and bustling with people. I make a beeline for a sunglasses stall and the man at the stall starts straight into his spiel. I clearly look completely lost, as he switches to French, at which point, I suspect, a big smile comes across my face. For the first time in 10 days I can understand somebody speaking a foreign language and it makes me feel great. I hadn’t realised, until that point, how much I missed conversation. Obviously I have been talking to Alex a lot, but it’s great to be able to engage a stranger in conversation as well. The trader tells me he is Senegalese and we chat a little as I try on a few different pairs of sunglasses, all of which are enormous, knock-off designer-type things, from which I would usually run a mile. Still, when in Rome and all that … I choose a relatively non-gaudy pair, check with Alex that I don’t look utterly ridiculous, and we carry on through the market, which is enormous. Many of the traders are, like the man I’ve just chatted to, Senegalese, and so I hear a lot of French. There are a lot of clothes stalls – clearly this is where the Italians shop for everyday clothes. It’s good to know that I won’t have to bankrupt myself shopping for knickers at Burberry in the future! I feel like I would like to look closer at some of the stalls, but at the moment I am too unsure of myself with the language, so I just make a mental note for when I feel more confident.
Further on from the clothes stalls, there is a small vegetable market. Alex dodges off to buy veg from one stall, while I carry on wandering. Here, I feel more confident – food is something that is pretty easy to translate. I’ve read enough Italian cookery books to know the names of quite a few things, and so I dive in. Easy stuff to start with – melanzana, zucchini etc. I get into a bit of difficulty when I can’t make the man understand that I just want one aubergine, not one kilo (!), but eventually I manage to untangle my tongue and say ‘solo una’. He’s not the friendliest trader (I find a much more accommodating one the next week), but I come away with a sense of achievement at having got what I wanted and made a semi-stab at speaking. I find Alex chatting to a trader on another stall, and bask in his amazement at how much I have managed to buy. How on earth did you know aubergine? Oh, I’m just a genius. Y’know. ;-) We banter happily about Italian words as we walk back up the hill to the flat. I stop momentarily to buy a clothes horse (the one at the flat is desperately rusty and I have no intention of putting my clean clothes anywhere near it), and once again manage to complete the entire transaction without Alex’s help. As I leave, the Italian stallholder says, ‘merci’. I’m an international woman of mystery, clearly.There’s no way on earth I would ever be taken for an Italian, but it’s quite nice not to be instantly pegged as English.