Mostly whimsical reflections on life
You don’t realize how understated and undemonstrative your surroundings are until you go to Italy. Here, seemingly anything and everything is a cause for exclamation.
People in Texas may be tall talkers, but Italians talk large. They throw in their bodies, hands and faces to achieve full-court communication, whether it’s talking about the weather or the latest political imbroglio.
Don’t get me wrong, this Italian trait is totally charming, even though it must be exhausting. My wife says I don’t get excited about anything. Italians seem to get excited about everything.
From outward appearances, life is a cause for exclamation, whether it’s a botched espresso order or new plumbing that doesn’t work. Street-corner conversations can sound like political conventions, even if they are just talking about the weather or what they ate for breakfast.
People everywhere stare into their smartphones, but Italians actually talk on theirs – a lot. Watching them talk and gesture is like watching an opera without scenery.
Over dinner at Cammillo Trattoria in Florence, we saw two waiters bump into each other, sending plates flying in all directions. One of the waiters grew extremely agitated, to the point of making a fist and shouting. The other waiter reacted more calmly, but not much. The ruckus didn’t faze the locals in the restaurant a bit. Apparently it is what you expect when you bungle the ballet of serving dinner.
We ate lunch at a small café near Museo Galileo where the guy manning the espresso machine greeted everyone warmly – and loudly – as he immediately launched into an animated conversations, with hands and arms flailing. His guests reciprocated.
At the Florence Leather School, we talked to a young craftsman who put down his stitching needle to gesticulate about his short time in Los Angeles. He literally showed us he loved LA.
In Positano, after encountering what appeared to be a sports car club rally, we saw grown men driving Ferraris shouting and waving their arms wildly, which is what any sane person should do driving a Ferrari. However, the men driving Porsches, Alfa-Romeos and Triumphs were shouting and waving just as energetically.
Exclamation is a total body sport. Facial expressions, hand motions, body postures and strutting all contribute to the overall effect of language in motion. Italian may be the only spoken sign language.
Italians have a reputation for exuberant volubility, but you can’t fully appreciate their passion for talking until you are immersed in their culture. Even with earplugs, you could tell where you were by watching Italians speak.
I walked part way up the hill in Positano with a shop owner I met earlier in the day near the beach. I greeted him and his dog, Lucky. His reply was perfect Italian. “It was a slow, slow day,” he said as he trudged along slowly. “But it was a beautiful day.”
He is truly a citizen of the land of exclamation.