December 2, 2009 | Italian

Field Trip: Istituto Italiano di Cultura

Culture, but more important, Italian, at the Italian Cultural Institute on Manhattan's East Side.

I woke up this morning, way before the alarm again, showered, got dressed, and went to Café Margot, where I did vocabulary. Again. I haven’t done grammar in at least a couple of days.

To my right were three women speaking Spanish, one natively and the other two with conspicuously American accents. I talked to them a bit in Spanish, and the native speaker of the three, who is from Buenos Aires, invited me to join them next week. She meets the other two every week and helps them with Spanish. Not for pay—just because, apparently! I thought one of the two American women looked unenthusiastic about the possibility of my joining, so I’m not going to go.

Anyway, vocabulary is basically all I did during the day today, though I did have to interrupt my flashcard-making activities to go get my glasses emergency-superglued. I broke them last night because of my persistent tendency to remove my shirt before I remove my glasses. (Right before I began this project, by the way, I was not using reading glasses.)

Tonight I was supposed to go to a running workout, but at the last minute I ended up going instead to the Istituto Italiano di Cultura with my friend and neighbor Julian Gargiulo, whom I’ve mentioned previously.

Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 686 Park Avenue

I had never been to the Institute before, but it’s in a neat old building over on Park and 68th. We went for a musical performance, but from my point of view, the important part was what happened after the event, since people, many of them Italian, stuck around for wine and socializing. So I got to speak Italian, especially with one woman who writes for the publication Oggi (which means “today”). She seemed quite impressed by my progress, which made me happy, and gave me her card, saying that if I e-mailed her, she’d invite me to dinners where everyone speaks Italian.

I told another woman, who was part of the performance, “Lei è stata fantastica. Mi ha piaciuto molto.” Meaning, I hoped, “You were fantastic. I really liked it.” I think that I said it right, but you never know in these early stages of language study. A mistake can leap up and bite you in the ass when you least expect it.

For example, there was a small moment of horror tonight when I heard Julian say the word sei, as in “you are,” and I realized I’d been pronouncing it wrong. This is a very basic word that is used constantly in informal conversation, yet somehow over the past few weeks it changed, in my mouth, from sounding something like say to sounding more like sigh. When, and how, did that happen? I wonder if it’s the German influence; perhaps the brain traces of the word sein (meaning “to be” in German, and pronounced with a long i sound) got to me.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when you do this stuff on your own. Fortunately, although embarrassing, it’s not disastrous.

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