Monday, January 14, 2008


I’ve got to gush…Maria is one of my favoritest peoples in the world. She is a woman who does credit to all woman-kind, she’s an inspiration and someone who keeps me laughing. She has worn many hats but is currently a personal trainer, chef, building contractor (and subsequent on-site muscle), political campaign consultant, dog mom, wife, vine-tender, nurse, nanny, cleaning maid, web designer, taxi service, and friend. I told you she was amazing, didn’t I? And besides all that she is also a fantastic writer. So….I give the floor over to….Ma-RI-aaaa!

Ciao Tutti….I’m Maria, a friend and fan of Valerie’s, vicariously enjoying life in Italy through her blog, Slow Trav articles and emails. In real life I live in her former home village of Corrales, New Mexico. We met in Italian Conversation class a few years ago, got together one day for a pilgrimage to Costco, a bottomless cup of coffee and some girl talk that goes on to this day. Even when we haven’t communicated for a couple of weeks, we pick up right where we left off in the same endless conversation. Like Valerie, I love to write and enthusiastically accepted her offer to be her guest “blogster” during her and Bryan’s brief scappata back to the States. I also love to tell stories. Many friends have, in fact, affectionately noted that I often speak in stories. Small talk is not an option. So, for this blogster’s debut in Valerie’s (cyber)space I offer a tale called “She Got Game.”

The classroom setting does little to promote or inspire friendship and bonding among students. It’s rather impersonal and, especially for the non-traditional or geezer student, stirs memories of “sit up straight, face forward, no gum chewing, pay attention!” It was in this setting that I first saw Valerie and a number of other Italophyles who signed on through UNM Continuing Education to try our hands at stringing Italian words together into sentences. By virtue of how very Italian Valerie looked (dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin) I determined that she would likely be the most vocal . Un grande sbaglio. She rarely uttered a word. “Stifled by the classroom setting,” thought I. We all were, to one extent or another.

The following semester, UNM did the class a favor. It cancelled Italian Conversation. Left to our own devices, several of us valiant Italophyles banned together with our beloved teacher, Gigliola, to form Il Gruppo. It was then, in the comfort of Gigliola’s living room, sipping Illy coffee and gnoshing biscotti, that the walls came down from around each of us. Let the bonding begin! We all grew to know and love Valerie (and to forgive her for being the best looking and youngest among us). Valerie was soft-spoken and somewhat shy about her faltering Italian, although she had excellent pronunciation and good “language rhythm.” This was our Valerie: blushing as we encouraged her to speak up, sweet, courteous, generous, mild-mannered and, well, “three times a lady.”
Keep this profile in mind . . .

We fast forward to Italy, December 2006. Hus-friend Bob and I have a much-anticipated rendesvous with Valerie and Bryan (who, by now is known as Bruno). We spend a glorious day in Assisi, shopping, exploring, laughing, eating. I am truly impressed by Valerie’s facility with the language. She understands perfectly, even when the speaker has a strange pronunciation and words pour forth at autostrada speeds. I note how easily she “fits in” and is comfortable with the entire atmosphere of life in Italy. “She’s a natural,” I thought to myself. Little did I know how right I was. The four of us waiting for the bus in Assisi, photo added by Valerie.

Following an afternoon of hoofing it, we arrive at a bus stop from whence, Bruno explains, we can catch a free ride to the top of the hill and spare ourselves one last aerobic hurrah for the day. The bus arrives. We hop on and continue chatting happily.
After a few blocks the bus driver reminds us that we haven’t given him our tickets showing that we’d paid for the ride. “No, no,” says Valerie, “This is the free bus; the same one we took last evening.” The driver informs her that there’s no such thing as a “free bus”. We’ll have to pay. Suddenly, mild mannered Valerie morphs into Jackie Chan and launches her first verbal karate chop – the Italian equivalent of “Hold the phone, Buck-o!” The argument escalates. Voices get louder. More verbal salvos. Valerie assertively holds her own with the irate driver. “Ma! Scusa! Scusa!” she intones, and affirms that we will NOT be fleeced by a driver of the free bus masquerading as the ticket police. “Punto!” I’m speechless. Bruno is proudly smiling in the direction of his wife, silently cheering her on. “You go girl!” The bus arrives at the top of the hill. The drama ends. The doors open and the four of us calmly exit, courteously thanking the driver.

“Wow! What was THAT all about?” I asked.

“Just all part of the game,” Valerie explained. The game?

And then it all came back to me…my favorite chapter in Luigi Barzini’s The Italians,
“The Importance of Spectacle.” Everyday Italian life is a show, full of characters, full of drama, plots and subplots. It’s noisey. It’s animated. It’s a game. And it becomes even more elaborate when there is an audience. It’s what makes Italy fascinating. It’s what makes Italy one of the best places on the planet for people-watching and for having adventures. Nothing is ordinary or boring, not even, in this case, a bus ride up the hill.

I couldn’t wait to return and share the news with Il Gruppo. Valerie is indeed a natural, AND she got game!


erin said...

haha! brava! i could picture the story the entire time :)

Valerie said...

Grazie, Maria! How knew the "free bus" wasn't in fact free? The driver the first night let us on for niente. I recounted this tale along with a full re-enactment of The Windshield Wiper Incident to my cousins last evening. They nearly peed their pants laughing. Thanks for your tale, amica.

La Casalinga said...

Molto Bene!! I loved your entry today. I, too, began learning Italian through evening Continuing Ed. classes...which have since morphed into weekly meetings at a local coffee shop. The more relaxed atmosphere helps to get our Italian language juices flowing and we share in a lot more laughs than we ever did in the classroom!

J.Doe said...

Are there still conversational classes at UNM for Italian? Mine is getting a little rusty after being in NM for a while.

The Passionate Palate said...

What a great story! It shows us a whole other side of Valerie. I hope to be that confident in the language someday so that I can be part of the "show"!

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