Friday, November 16


Yes. My name is Claudia and I talk with my hands- all the time. I admit it, I cannot talk well without my hands. I'm not alone, of course- I don't know any Italians who do not talk with their hands. I remember once we dared my mom to talk without her hands- she sat on them and actually couldn't get her thoughts out!

We need our hands to punctuate and give what we are saying that little extra meaning that our simple words cannot. I put my cell phone on speaker a lot since my hand surgery because my hand cramps up. It is very handy (ha, ha) because I can gesticulate with both hands while I am on the phone, even though the effect is lost on the listener who cannot enjoy my gestures. And trust me, people say I talk fast, but I can move my hands just as quickly. And when I get angry, my hands and arms actually flail around.

Of course, being an Italian has its dangers when it comes to gesticulation. I once put my hand through a picture frame hanging on the wall in college when I was dramatically (of course) illustrating a point to a sorority sister. The glass went flying everywhere. My sorority sister ducked and I somehow managed to not slice my hand. Thank God- how would I have spoken? One can also get injured standing too close to an Italian speaking animatedly- a scratch or a poke in the face, for example.

Standing front of teenagers all day long means that I find out things about myself that I wasn't really aware of. Once a student asked me why I stood in third (ballet) position, which I did not realize I did when I taught. More than once, and in fact, several times a year, some student who is not paying attention to my lesson asks me why I use my hands when I talk. My answer is simple: "I'm Italian." They dared me to try to teach without using my hands, just like my sister and I did to my mom. Impossible. I made it through about 5 words and then gave up.

I think Italians have to use their hands because the volume when we are all together gets to such high levels that sometimes the person across from us needs some help to understand because he can't actually HEAR.

Don't confuse what I am saying with actual meaningful gestures that Italians use to convey such phrases as the brusque wave of the hand under the chin for "Me ne frego." (I don't give a damn) or the clasped hands, look to the heavens "Ayudame" (help me) gesture which I do frequently in class. (Note: "Ayudame" was the first Italian "word" I ever said when I was a little kid- I got stuck in the toilet and called for help. But that's another story)

Once when friends from Italy came over we all went out to dinner. I was a teenager at the time and Paolo, one of our friend's sons, was about 18. Everyone ordered wine at dinner and so did he. My dad told him he couldn't. He did not understand because they drink wine all the time in Italy, even at his age. He launched into a little description of when he and his friends go out to the club:
"But in Italy, we go to the club (points), we eat a little (pretends to put food in his mouth), we dance a little (does a little dance), we drink a little (takes an imaginary drink), we don't have these rules (frustrated gestures). My family and I recall this fondly usually whenever someone says "eat a little" and we still imitate Paolo twenty-something years later.

My gestures aren't really sign language, per se. They are just disconnected movements that sometimes relate to what I am saying and involve a lot of waving, pointing and jabbing. Think of a maestro on crack.

No other culture has earned the hand-speak reputation quite like Italians. Sure, some other countries gesticulate, but the constant and sometimes wild gesticulations of an Italian trying to make a point are pretty much incomparable. We don't get a prize or anything but it's fun to watch us.

Sunday, November 11

"MADONNA" (MADON), explained.

No, not the singer. The exclamation. "MADONNA!" or "MADONNA MIA." When butchered properly, they sound like "MADON!" and "MADONAMI" and sometimes "MARON." The "d" sound formed when your tongue hits the back of your front teeth is different from the "d" sound in English where your tongue hits further back in the roof of your mouth. And then of course, being Italian-Americans, we chop off the end of the word.

So why do we feel the need to call upon the blessed virgin mother so much? Gosh, you got me. I do it about 20 times a day, even to myself. Examples:

Now that it's cold in the morning, I step outside and say out loud: "MADON it's cold!" Do I actually need intervention from Mary? Naw, I'm just giving her a shout out to let her know I'm not so happy about the impending winter.

My husband came home one day and said "I put in a transfer to Florida." I said "MADON! Are you nuts?" Here I was calling on Mary to alert her to a possible manslaughter charge that could be brought against me, asking her to look out for me. And my husband.

We have Christmas dinner at my parents' house every year. My mom makes enough food for 20 people and we are only 9. She heaps the food on my plate and I say "MADON! Not so much!" Here I am actually thanking Mary and God for the good food and for my mom's ability to cook it in abundance.

I get up every morning at 5:45 to get ready for work. I am not, nor have I ever been, a morning person. This is a problem since I am very much a night owl. So every morning when that alarm goes off, since my mouth is not working yet, I say to myself without fail: "MADON! It's early!" or "MADON! Is nighttime over already?" What I really mean to say is "Madonna, please tell God I am thankful for waking up this morning and grateful to have a job to go to."

Doing laundry is my kryptonite. I'd rather clean the bathrooms. In college, I used to pay my sister to do it for me. I despise it. I hide from it. I pretend I don't see it. But it is there and it accumulates. When my husband takes pity on me at the end of the week and hauls my baskets downstairs to the laundry room and I see them, of course I say: "MADON!" That's usually all I can muster when I see giant piles of laundry staring at me. In this instance I am actually desperately pleading with the BVM to make a few phone calls and cause some seismic event in my laundry room and have the dirty clothes just get swallowed up. I find that she does not hear me.

Yesterday I was at the gym and it was my first day back to lifting weights since my carpal tunnel surgery. Actually, it was the lat pulldown machine so I was pulling, not lifting since I don't have enough strength in my hand to lift over 1 pound yet, nor can I grip very well. So, after 6 weeks of no upper body weight-training, I slide the 30 pound pin in, which is where I was pre-surgery, and I pull. Unprepared to not be able to pull down the bars nor to experience the pain through my upper back, I yelled without thinking: "MADON!" The guy next to me laughed. (He must have heard it on the Sopranos.) I was unabashedly calling upon Mary to make me come to my senses and to make the pain stop.

So there you have the various insightful ways this particular person uses the word "MADON!"

This has been your butchered Italian word for the day.

Thursday, November 1

Birthday CANOOLS!

Today after I taught my first two classes I went to the faculty room where I go to correct my papers when I am not in class. At the place where I usually sit was a bakery box, addressed to ME. I saw Pec's writing on it and I was very it was a box of cannoli (aka canool.) It was! Then I was sure that her husband Joe ova der made them just for me, as today I turned 23. (On each leg.) However, Joe did not make those himself. (Though the other night he had a craving for sausage at around 9:00 and ground the meat and brought out the casing and made homemade sausage. What a guy!) I broke out the canools and shared them with Pec and the medagons. Even though Joe ova der didn't make them they were still very good. Anyway, Pec, you are so sweet and thank you so much for remembering my birthday! I'll be thanking you for that extra mile I need to do on the treadmill tonight, too :-\