Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Dakar: Coolest Place Name On The Planet?

Oh, don’t be fooled by appearances.

The capital of Senegal, Dakar, might look like it’s pronounced dä-kär, as Merriam-Webster suggests.

But if, like me, you spend anytime listening to BBC World Service or even National Public Radio, you’ll hear it pronounced MUCH differently, and that difference, in my humble opinion, makes it one of the coolest place names on the planet.

See, any self-respecting radio journalist pronounces Dakar so that it sounds something like this (æ = “a” as in cat):


Just listen to this report on an annual Senegalese beauty contest…for sheep.

Now, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, does a passable job with the pronunciation, there’s a touch of the dramatic extension of the æ sound, but when you hear correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton pronounce it, you hear SO much more, putting the cool factor over the top.

At the hands of the master, the “k” in Dakar, to my ears, is pronounced more like “kh”, and the ending æh has a touch of the guttaral in it, vaguely reminding me, for some reason, of The Castle Aaaaaargh scene in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Anyway, check out the NPR piece to hear Dakar in action.

It’s a cute story, too.

Video Fridays: Ye Olde Ye

As a lifer English major, when I came across the following, via Gizmodo, I couldn’t not select it for this week’s Video Fridays installment.

Cuz, you see, the irony does not escape me that I actually earned a degree in English from Rutgers University without ever having been required to take a class in the history of the English language, linguistics, or even English grammar. As a result, I had to grind my way through Shakespeare (my concentration) and Chaucer more heavily dependent on footnotes than I ever should have been.

Anyway, for years I felt a little illegitimate when declaring that I have a degree in English, and this was heightened when my family and I started hosting Japanese exchange students some years ago. There I was, a native speaker of my language, with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and yet I wasn’t much use when these students started asking me for help with their English as a Second Language homework.

A couple of years ago, however, I started taking classes in the Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages program, and the first class, which very nearly killed me, was linguistics. Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said that that which does not kill us makes us stronger, and ever since I’ve felt that my English degree cred was finally more legitimate.

Still, I never knew, though I always wondered about, the history of the Old English term ye, and I found this clip highly entertaining. I loved the subtle, humorous placement of “porn” and the bit about the French using way more letters in their language than they need to really cracked me up, as my wife and I have a running joke that reading French is easy, because all you need to do is not pronounce the last 2-3 letters of every word.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend, everyone!