“Such an honourable man, and so honest…”
The heroine cracks into a laughter just as I am pouring hot water onto Nescafè Gold powder inside my favourite mug. What will happen now? But it’s already five to two and no time left to indulge in further listening. I switch the podcast off, grab my silenced mobile and mug and get back to my desk. When I cook or have lunch I usually tune in to Radio24 news feed but for a change today I have picked up an audio drama. Fact is Supermario has saved Italy today – he has just sworn in – and everybody’s happy now, the bad thing’s gone away. “Such an honourable man, and so honest…” I find myself wondering and pondering on the endless hide & seek game imagination plays with reality.
For sure, these days I am quite busy at any possible level. Since we have got trapped in the amber of pandemia I have joined the global herds of those who work online. I teach Italian as a foreign language and except for J. who is an American teacher who plans to learn Italian to apply for her Italian citizenship, all my students are Ukrainians. A few of the youngest need the language to apply for Italian universities, most of the elder – except for D. who is a businessman who owns his chain of jewelery shops across the country, N. who describes herself as a latinist and T. who is a bass opera singer – most of them are studying the language for sheer escapism and out of their love for anything Italian.
The task of effectively communicating my language and culture to so many different learners both thrills and challenges me. It certainly forces me to reconsider the way I look at my cultural heritage. Other two of my students take private lessons. The youngest one is six-year-old. I teach her only face-to-face three days a week, actually on daily basis over the past winter holidays, including on the Orthodox Christmas day. She lives in a secluded estate in Koncha-Zaspa, a historic neighbourhood in the Holosiivsky Raion. The area is known for being the place where Ukraine’s political elite live. Located in the Southern part of the city, in the 1920s the territory was the first state preserve in the Ukrainian SSR. A driver comes to pick me up at a midway point between there and my place.
D. is actually already fluent and my task is to play the language guardian and teach her reading and writing, alongside her home schooling process in Ukrainian. Apparently she has learned Italian in two months’ time over her last summer holidays spent in Southern Italy. There, on daily basis, two dedicated teachers alternated in engaging her with la dolce lingua, here back home, cartoon watching has kept her Italian alive, till the arrival of Pani Lucia. In fact, D. is the only one who speaks Italian in her household – “with no accent!” – excitedly informs me her mom who had learned that from her Italian friends who spoke to D. over the phone. Kids her age are sponges, their sinapsis creating immediate connections by the minute, not like mine more and more engaged in their trench warfare against the ghosts of permanent oblivion.
In a way, D. teaches me something too. One day in the garden we were building our snowman and she proved quite skilful. As I congratulated she revealed her secret: “when I was little my dad taught me how to build them”. Another time, before New Year, we were picking up dry leaves from the ground to decorate a yolka, a christmas tree, already equipped with elegant electric festoons. All along a squirrel had been perching on a branch above our heads, biting nuts and monitoring our delicate manouvers. I made her notice that and there she goes, “I know! He is always looking for me!”. It was ages since I felt so light inside, a simple being in a quiet wood, the very place where the tiny mouse dares to venture against all odds, finally succeeding in taming the Gruffalo. D. keeps asking me to read the Italian version of that story again and again, and each time her renewed final surprise takes me by surprise too.
Other minor scenes also stay with me. Some weeks after new year, her parents had flown to Italy and I had arrived a bit earlier than usual. She protested that no, Pani Lucia, we could not start our lesson yet, as busy as she still was overseeing the dismantling of the gigantic yolka placed at the base of the large staircase in the main lobby. I conceded that she continued to supervise the operations for few more minutes and so we went back there following the upstream growing sound of a singing nightingale, its cage placed in a corner of the large lobby. There, two silent service ladies in white cotton gloves were busy unplucking from the yolka – one by one – large red and green blown glass spheres. The whole floor around the tree was scattered with open immaculate cardboard boxes filled with polystyrene: the winter season decoration campaign was officially over and all its delicate armaments were being retrieved back into their peaceful arsenal. We only stayed for a few minutes there but the scene stays with me: her lightly jumping from side to side – she almost dancing – amid the Murano ammunitions, high-pichted notes from a wooden cage filling up the scented air.
Two o’clock, I have got to go now, my online lesson with my other private student is starting. I meet V. offline once a week and twice online. She is thirteen and unlike D. she started from scratch and now, after her thirtieth-something lesson, she has started to articulate basic sentences: I let her be, above all grab what she can from our lessons which she seems to love. In fact it was out of her love for Adriano Celentano that she decided to learn Italian. She knows all his songs by heart and despite I have been proposing her Jovanotti and other more recent singers, she persists. For her birthday, amid a number of presents she had received, she showed me her favourite one: a life-size silhouette of Adriano Celentano handing out a red rose in his half-romantic smile. Last week she came to my house for a free lesson where I taught her how to prepare Carneval sweets which afterwards she would bring home. “Lies, lies and more lies! Lies are so yummy!” Yes, these Carneval sweets we call bugie, lies in English.
Now, really, I have to go.