Thursday, 26 February 2009

Road rage

Given the use of Leopardi's poem Silvia in The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, I should've probably made an attempt to learn Italian a while ago. However, it's finally happening. I bought a Learn In Your Car CD package a couple of months back and am ploughing through the lessons on my way to and from work each day. Well, 'ploughing' might not be the right word. 'Harrowing' is probably a more appropriate word, if I'm going to stick to agricultural metaphors; not only does it suggest breaking down, but has the added implication of lacerating and doing serious damage. Which, despite my good intentions, might well sum up my approach to learning other languages.

I've confessed elsewhere at other times that I drive my way through the French language with the aplomb of a driver at the wheel of a Chieftain tank: a reckless confidence that I really can't be doing too much damage because I can't feel the damage. I used this strategy deliberately the last time I was in France with my daughter. It was several years ago and, at that time, while she could actually converse fluently, she didn't have the confidence too... until I steered myself into conversations I stood no chance of ever reversing out of again, let alone being able to understand the response I
elicited. Time and time again, she came to my rescue, taking the wheel to deftly steer the tank from between whatever aisle of chinaware I'd parked it and making it handle like a nippy little vélomoteur.

Many years before, when I was 17 and refining my Chieftain tank approach, I was at a nightclub in Rennes. Some friends and myself had been taken there by a very friendly couple who lived opposite the house we were staying in, and I thought I was doing well telling the woman how much I liked the music. Stunned silence comes very loud at times, and the stunned silence that followed my comment let me know (along with a quick translation) that I'd just told her how much I loved her. She and her partner were friendly, but I suspect they both thought I was moving a tad too fast. "Get out of that Chieftain tank and learn to walk instead," they might have told me.

And so I'm beginning to wonder what sort of response my Learn In Your Car Italian might provoke.

At the moment, and without even leaving the country, I'm waiting to see how long it is before I become a victim of road rage. How many drivers might think I'm swearing at them as I spit my phrases at the windscreen, waiting for the lights to change, sitting at a junction, leaping into the roundabout flow?

God knows what "Vorrei una camera con bagno e una doccia" looks like to someone reading my lips. And, by the time I've massacred the pronunciation, god knows what I've really said.


Jon Haylett said...

No, Paul - if you're talking about Italian, stick to the driving metaphors, because that's what the Italians do best. I've emailing you one of my favourite photos, taken on a busy Florentine street corner, of a lovely girl on her Lambretta shooting the traffic lights - and talking on her mobile phone. Trouble is, she was going so fast she's almost out of shot.

Jane Turley said...

Hee, hee, hee I love the story from the night club!

Look, if you're learning Italian the only phrase you need to know is "How do I reverse?" That will get you out of every situation!

Never mind Paul, I'm no good at foriegn languages either. I gave up French at 14 and I failed my German O Level. I guess they were like a foriegn language to me!

gary davison said...

Having just had a go at French and tried to get one step ahead by listening to a CD in the car, I sympathize! do you ever wonder what a tape of yourself would sound like if the car was bugged? Made me laugh a few times I'm so bad.

Paul said...

Great photo, Jon. Thanks. Haven't got to the lesson on hospitals and ambulances, but it may be worth knowing!

I'm fluent in double-Dutch, Jane -- or so I've been told. Does that count as a language?

I'd pity whoever was listening in, Gary. The repetition would drive 'em nuts!