Monday, May 19, 2008

A Long Time Ago in Italy

Today one of our actors got an audition for a commercial which, if he gets it, will film in Barcelona (and yes, I know that's not in Italy, in spite of the title of this post!)

"I hope it won't be like the last time you did a commercial in Barcelona," I said, "when there was such a terrible storm that filming was postponed and the commercial nearly got cancelled."

"What, you remember that?" he said, "That was years ago!"

Yes, I have a good memory: people are often surprised by it. Sometimes I think I remember too much.

When I was five, The Communist, my mother and I went on holiday to Italy, to Laigueglia.

Before we went, my parents taught me some Italian: how to count, and a few simple phrases: "Uno gelato, prego" - an ice-cream, please - is one that springs to mind.

I was happy to learn all this - I liked learning things: still do. I remember asking how it was all written down and being told "the same way that we do". I took this to mean that, although it might sound strange when you spoke it, Italian would be written down in English, and I'd be able to read it. I remember being very disappointed when I couldn't.

Still, they took lots of books for me to read: Little Old Mrs Pepperpot, and The Little Prince are two that I remember. Reading and swimming were my two chief areas of interest in those days: as soon as I worked out what both were I had been determined to learn to do them.

However, it never occurred to me that I might be called upon to say any of this Italian that I had learned.

On the beach my parents got friendly with an Italian family and somehow their daughter and I ended up reading a dictionary together on the beach: I read the English words and she read them in Italian. I got to the word "interpreter" and didn't know what it meant so pronounced it the best I could, which was INTER - PREETER rather than in TER preter.

Everyone present laughed uproariously in that "aaaaw the little child has made a mistake" way and I remember thinking "Hey, folks, I'm only FIVE" - although I had my sixth birthday on that holiday, in fact - "and you should count yourselves DAMNED LUCKY that I can do this at ALL."

I remember the terrible feeling of embarrassment, of being laughed at.

Another day my parents got chatting to an elderly man - well, that's how I remember it, he might well have only been forty - on the way back to the hotel.

The Communist, as usual, was keen to show me off.

"Speak some Italian, Daphne!" he said.

No, no, never. I was paralysed by shyness.

"Go on, count to ten!"

My mother joined in.

"Say something, Daphne. Ask for an ice-cream."

But I could not speak. I wished the earth would open and swallow me. I felt I was letting my beloved parents down big-time.

"Go on! I know there's lots you can say. Go on. Uno gelato - - "

No. I could not speak. No way.

Everyone looked at me for what seemed like an hour. The feeling of failure was unbearable. And yet I could not speak.

My mother, eventually, learned not to do that kind of thing to me: no good ever came of it.

But The Communist never did learn. Every restaurant, all my life, with foreign waiters. Daphne knows some Italian. Daphne speaks French. Daphne's learning German. Speak Italian, Daphne.

And yet I always knew he meant no harm. It was a cross between showing me off and heavy-handed humour.

The last time it happened was only a couple of years ago and I actually got up and fled the restaurant.

So, now, which is more sad? Pick an option:

The fact that he always did it, always joked about my reaction, never seemed to learn and never seemed to take on board how much it upset me?


The fact that he'll never be able to do it again, because it's most unlikely that he'll ever be in that kind of restaurant any more.


The fact that I never grew out of this kind of shyness, like everyone said I would? I'm nearly hiding under the desk just writing about it. Bonkers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest I can empathise. My parents were like that with me, especially my dad. Even now (32) I still get it... They mean well.

10:23 pm  

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