Running back from Italy

Hit and Miss #351


What a week. Since writing you last, T and I have returned from Italy, settled back in at home, and, mere hours ago, T again ran the Ottawa marathon. Congrats to T and T’s mom for accomplishing this another year in a row!

Italy was a lovely trip—we were there for a wedding and spent the whole time with family, from both here and there. It was soul-filling, and I was so glad to share it with T. A few brief observations from the trip:

  • The wedding was epic, as you’d expect. We ate for six hours straight, not counting the snacks before we left for the reception. My great uncle—a sunburnt Santa Claus type who I’d be glad to tell you more about whenever you’d like—spent the day systematically packing food away, from the antipasti to the dessert course, making periodic trips to the car to stow it in the cooler he brought along for the day.
  • In North America, you basically expect that cars will not stop and that drivers have accepted they may kill someone through their driving—it’s seen as inherently dangerous, but a right nonetheless. In Italy, the roads feel even more chaotic than in North America, yet somehow safer—that the drivers will pay attention and actively try not to hit you, even if that means only suddenly slowing or swerving! I also only saw two or three pick-up trucks the entire trip, and they were all some small-medium sized European version. My relatives could barely think of the word for pick-up as I tried to explain it to them.
  • The trip was a great escape from my office work, but a humbling and motivating window into the enormous domestic work that makes a country like Italy tick: the enormous twice-daily meals we had at my great-aunt’s, plus all the housework she did in between; inspired by her, I’ve been striving to just do things that need doing around the house (on which more below), which brings some satisfaction of its own.
  • It was also my first time in Italy being more or less able to fully converse with the people around me. My vocabulary isn’t hugely expansive when I’m speaking, but we could usually understand each other—it helps that Italian is such a non-verbal language, with so much said through gesture and context. By the end, I was thinking in Italian, which, while delightful, made my first few conversations in French upon returning via Montreal rough.

In the end, T and I were both deeply grateful for how accepting and generous everyone there was—and the huge shrugs they gave at our repeated statements of grazie, their responses of “you’re family!” It really felt like home.

Some links / observations from a time-zone-shifted, sleep-addled brain:

  • I read Watch With Me by Wendell Berry on this trip. In one passage, a character says, “I don’t have too much to do.” The way Berry wrote the sentence into its passage drove home to me that there’s a different meaning of “not too much to do”: interpreted as I normally do, it means “I have spare capacity, that I could take more work on”; Berry’s portrayal here reads more like “I have enough to do, my time is satisfactorily filled and I don’t need to take on more work”. A different interpretation worth turning to more often, I think.
  • Rach Smith’s advice to “start from a corner” echoed in my observations of domestic work this trip: seeking efficiency in productivity can be its own trap, preventing you from starting in the first place; the real secret to doing, sometimes, is simply to start doing. (Which all feels very relevant as I stare down a garden that has overgrown itself in the two weeks we’ve been away.)
  • Paul Robert Lloyd’s observations on “federated outrage”, how Mastodon’s mimicking of Twitter’s design can encourage similar pile-on behaviour, rang true with my experience of the platform. I haven’t really turned back to it after those first few post-Twitter months; still loving mostly just using RSS and email. (And, via that post, I came across the nearly-former community manager for Micro.Blog, Jean MacDonald, with a farewell post that generated so much heartfelt support and comments. There is goodness in this world!)
  • One of my least favourite parts of being in Italy are the clusters of men who sit on the sidewalk and ogle those who pass by, often cat-calling women and making public space generally less comfortable than it could be. I much prefer the delightful practice of the umarello, one “who pauses to observe work in progress”, which now has its own playful worldwide competition to observe and report on the built environment, Il campionato mondiale di umari.

All the best for the week ahead!


Bonus bit, an unedited journal entry I made during the trip reflecting on translation services vs. bilingual dictionaries:

Experience being in Italy, using first DeepL / Apple Translate / Google Translate for single-word translations, where these services sometimes return only a single word, maybe conjugated maybe not, often without indication of its type, tense, etc. Which makes sense, as these have been trained on large corpora, without necessarily annotations or supplementary human data wrangling to add meaning to the data. Vs a dictionary, generally the result of long processes of human effort, where seeking a single word returns a bevy of options, each with nuanced meaning (that ultimately help you learn the language better, making choices vs being given an answer). Translation services are helpful as a phrase grows longer, improving in accuracy as additional context becomes available—the same context you provide when making a choice from a dictionary, in other words.