If you didn't know from my blog post about speaking French, I am a bit of a language buff. I like to roll new words and phrases around on my tongue and let the accent slip out from between my teeth. I like the way that you can only say some things in sign language, or in Portuguese, or in Finnish. That languages, far from translating each other, really translate us.
And today I leave for a whirlwind trip to Italy. Seven hours of air travel and one stuffed carry-on (did you know that, if packed properly, a carry-on bag can contain three pairs of pants, a skirt, at least four sweaters, pajamas, another pair of shoes, and six shirts?) later, I will land in Roma... and suddenly have nothing to say.
I speak no Italian. I can mimic the sounds of "scusi" or "por favore" the words sound parroted and hollow. I can smile broadly and nod. I can gesture with my hands. But I can't conjugate verbs, use adjectives and gendered nouns, and I certainly can't pick up an Italian newspaper and tell you what is going on in the world.
And this is perhaps the most humbling way to begin 2011. I am so accustomed, on this blog, in Washington, at my college, in France - to being understood, to speaking the language and expressing myself in it. And rather than a ten day trip to France or back to 8th St, I am beginning in a place where I am a stranger, and a place where I will be asked to be a lot quieter than I am in Massachusetts.
I am so filled with words, words, words sometimes I think I will simply burst with them. But in these next ten days, as I wander far from computers, cell phones, iPods and into ruins, the Church of the Caravita, the silence of the San Paolo monastery after curfew, and the crevices of Orvieto corners, Rome streets and Florentine gelateries - I will quiet my voice, quiet my mind, quiet my heart. I will live in the place of quiet - begin the year without any linguistic trapezes, sit at a table in a caffe and simply float on the sounds of the words I don't know. My eyes will become more watchful, my ears more attentive - and blessedly, my words less.
Readers, the land of Italy beckons this morning, a siren song in the cold between my sheets, a shiver up my spine and through the hardwood floors of this ramshackle colonial house. I want to take you with me - so I will be "blogging" by journaling, and when I return, I will get to share some of the tastes and smells and sights with you. Stay tuned for the experience of the silence.