Day 19 – Rome


Our first full day in Rome was another R&R day, though we spent most of the day doing laundry.  We hung around our friends’ apartment and Chris caught up on some work while I read.  

I haven’t gotten quite as much opportunity to sit around and read as I did last year.  Our trip this year is a week shorter than last and we visited significantly fewer sites, which meant that Chris didn’t have to run around and work so much but also meant that I didn’t get to sit around and read while he did.  But, I have finished two books while we’ve been on the road.  I read Mozart in the Jungle initially because I really like the show (a successful show about classical music and musicians?!  Yes, please!! ), but the book is so much more interesting than just an narrative of one player’s experience in various musical groups.  The author, Blair Tindall, gives a ton of info about the development of orchestras and interest in classical music in the United States and it is fascinating!  She also goes really in depth into the financial side of things, and that is also really interesting.  If you like the show and also want to learn more about how classical music really works in America, I highly recommend it. (It comes with a really long bibliography, too, which means I might be reading more on the subject!)

I also just recently finished In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  She also wrote The Namesake, which is about a boy growing up in America with immigrant parents.  I loved that book and was excited to read In Other Words.  It’s about her journey to learn Italian and was actually written in and published originally in Italian.  It seems sort of strange for an American born woman of Indian descent who is a successful novelist in English to want to write a book in Italian, but the finished product is sublime.  She narrates the story of her love affair with Italian, and I felt such a kinship with every sentence it was almost as if I had written it myself (not in Italian, though; and I also read the English translation, which had its own fascinating explanation). 

In the book, Lahiri talks a lot about her own relationship with languages – how she grew up speaking Bengali at home but English at school, and how she felt false in both languages.  For her, Italian was something purely of her own choice, and almost more real for her than the other two.  I feel like my language experience is very similar – my mother is an immigrant who grew up speaking a language different from English and who tried to instill a bit of her own culture in her children through that language.  I never truly learned to speak Thai, though.  My father, an American who never bothered to learn his wife’s first language, told my mother to stop speaking to us in Thai because he couldn’t understand what she was saying to us.  Due to his ridiculous insecurities, I do not have access to certain parts of my mother’s – and therefore my – heritage.  Later, when I was in my teens, he scolded me for not being able to speak to my cousins or grandparents and all I felt was confusion, frustration, and anger – wasn’t it because of him that I could not?  And now I have to figure out for myself – can I embrace the Thai side of me without knowing the language?  How?

Language is such a funny, fickle thing and I wonder if it can ever truly be mastered. I admire Lahiri’s journey ardently – she has done what I do desperately want to do.  People always seem to think I know Rome and Italy very well because I have spent a large part of my life traveling here.  On the one hand, it’s true – I have visited more ancient sites than most people realize exist –  but on the other hand, I can’t necessarily recommend specific places to eat or stay.  People always ask me what my favorite restaurant in Rome is and I have no answer; I’m always discovering new places.  

So every time I return, I feel that need that Lahiri must have felt – that deep desire to throw yourself headlong into this city and learn every inch of it, to become as familiar with it as you are with yourself.  I long for Chris to have the opportunity to live here for a year or two so that I can finally start, but in the meantime, these brief summer visits and DuoLingo will have to do.  


One thought on “Day 19 – Rome

  1. Thanks for this, Ploy. The books both sound intriguing and I may follow your lead. I also appreciate your talking about the experience of hearing your mother speak Thai and the attendant difficulties. You and Mary should talk sometime. Her parents were refugees from Ukraine during WW2 and they spoke Ukrainian at home in Ontario a lot. Her Ukrainian is still OK, though she says otherwise. She spoke it to her mother almost exclusively in the last ten years of her mother’s life.


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