It feels like an eternity since I was last in Italy and yet, on the other hand, it’s almost like I never left. The emotional upheaval of leaving loved ones in Ireland was gradually tempered by the frantic forward momentum of our return here. We flew from Dublin to Heathrow three weeks ago, and London was a full-throttle working week en route to Italy, gone in a blur of snatched reunions. We made our way to northern Italy, stayed in Bolzano for four days, where Ollie attended a conference, and I fell in love with the pristine Alpine air from the snow-dusted Dolomites surrounding the picturesque city. I can see why it was ranked number one in 2014 for the best quality of life in Italy! We had barely sampled the Germanic/Italian culture there, just making enough time to visit Ötzi the Iceman, before we were off again, on the final leg of our journey to the Tuscan capital.
We arrived in Florence a week ago with a wheel hanging off our brand new suitcase (guaranteed to last for ten years apparently!), and I am only now starting to catch my breath. My first week has been filled with enamelling test pieces of copper at Metallo Nobile and diligently trying to create a mosquito no-fly zone at home. So far I have started to get the hang of enamelling, which is great fun, and have only been bitten by a mosquito once – a massive achievement for a former mozzie buffet!
My fear that I had forgotten my few bits of Italian has happily turned out to be largely without foundation so far. For some reason, even though I was inexcusably lazy with my language studies during my extended stay in Ireland, the words I had previously learned more often than not obediently rise from hibernation when summoned. Admittedly, I am better at comprehension than communication. I really need to up my game, especially when it comes to grammar. Whereas before I had managed to scrape by, perpetually in the present tense, I’m now cautiously attempting to jump between the past, present and future tenses like there’s no tomorrow. And I have identified a glaring gap in my language abilities – I can’t really make natural conversation in Italian! I can order food, ask for directions, and talk about jewellery and its associated fabrication techniques, but I can’t conjure anything that resembles everyday chitchat. I just realised this at a picnic/barbeque organised by Metallo Nobile for students, staff, family and friends.
My tutor Ignacio and his wife Chiara generously opened their foliage-enveloped, thirteenth-century home in Tavarnelle Val Di Pesa to a bus load of Metallo Nobilians, where we were utterly overindulged for the day. I was a little hesitant about going at first because I don’t really know anyone past the point of ‘ciao, come stai?‘, but I realised that should actually push me to go to these events. So I did, and I brought Ollie along as my security blanket. There was a cacophony of Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and English being spoken around us on the bus. Some were switching effortlessly from one language to another depending on who they were talking to. These were students that I normally might not encounter in the college because they are studying different subjects to me or on a different schedule. It was a thoroughly international outing. There was also another Irish girl, Tamzin from Cork, who rails against Irish stereotypes by declining to eat potatoes, drink Guinness or engage in our national sport of talking about the weather! We were collected from the bus stop in the town by the others who had driven there, and whisked away to Ignacio and Chiara’s farm. I had a brief chat with my fellow back seat passenger Anne (originally from Holland, but resident in France for years) who, like me, couldn’t quite believe we were whizzing past seemingly endless vineyards and acres of olive trees towards a feast of home-cooked Tuscan food.
When we arrived, my eternally helpful Japanese classmate Ricky caught an unsuspecting chicken for a photo opportunity, a few sun-seekers basked in the warmth, impossibly photogenic children ran around and I largely forgot to use my camera. Myself and Ollie took our seats at a table where some of our fellow diners spoke English. It was tempting to cling to the English speakers, but as soon as Ollie stood up and began pouring wine for everyone, multilingual introductions were made as the glasses were filled. I haltingly explained to the silver-haired Italian couple opposite me that I only have a few words of Italian and most of them are about jewellery. They laughed and Roberta told me that she couldn’t speak any English, only some French from her school days years ago. She and Ricardo overlooked my mangling of their native tongue and kindly alerted me to the arrival of any vegetarian food whenever it emerged from the kitchen.
Ollie and I chatted in English to Enrico, who teaches technical drawing and computer design at Metallo Nobile, and he was very enlightening on all things Italian. Lovely Azusa, another English speaking member of staff from the school was also at our table with her Italian husband Martino, so we were not lost for conversation partners. Azusa took some amazing photos on the day which you can see here. As I piled our plates with yet another selection of deliciousness, I encountered multilingual Emil and Andres. They are from Chile, and initiated a series of observations about the weather in Ireland, hence revealing their superlative knowledge and appreciation of our culture! Emile loves the music of Liam Ó Maonlaí and Andres has even busked on the streets of Dublin playing the bagpipes. We all drank some more wine which Ignacio revealed was made from the grapes in the surrounding fields.
After demolishing the mouthwatering main dishes of pasta, roasted vegetable platters, and various savoury hotpots and baked offerings, we were treated to apple cake, and an array of torti made with chocolate, strawberries, custard and rose petal jam and finished everything off with strong espresso. Myself and Ollie ate too much food and had to stroll out to the main road for fear of bursting our trousers, but we convincingly made it look like we were just appreciating the scenery. We returned to find other sleepy diners strewn about in the buttercup-speckled grass and the rest being gently coerced into eating more torta di cioccolata. Luckily I have self-inflicted pinch marks and a handful of photos to prove I didn’t just imagine this perfect day. In no time at all we were back in the cars, racing towards the town to catch the last bus to Florence, relishing our taste of la dolce vita.