end of month 5!

June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

I realize that I forgot to write a recap last month. I guess I was busy planning for vacation. This month I will reflect on some of the things that have not gone quite as planned since the weeks that I tried them.


Compton had a short-lived life. After only having him less than a month, he split in two and I had to take him back to the store & exchange him. Bamboo is not a good material for dry climates like Colorado.

He was a good composting bin while he lasted.

Sadly he’s been replaced by a much less attractive ceramic composting bin who’ve I’ve decided will go nameless for now.

Aside from the Compton casualty I am still composting and it has significantly reduced the trash that goes out each week. I actually find it easier and more enjoyable than recycling because I imagine it ending up in someone’s garden.

I’m mad at myself for this one. I’ve been known to procrastinate from time to time and instead of joining right away, I put it off with excuses. I’m conflicted because I think it is a very worthwhile thing to invest in but for some reason I kept putting it off. I think I wanted to save the $ for our vacation at the time and then I started thinking about the fact we would be gone a number of weeks this Summer. I wondered whether it was worth it ultimately for us. I’ve decided in lieu of a CSA this year, we’ll make a trip to the farmer’s market each week to support our local farmers. If we are traveling less next year, then I’ll revisit whether a CSA makes sense.


I did not learn as much Italian as I had hoped before going on vacation to Italy. While I would love to speak multiple languages other than English, I think I need to be honest with myself that I should be investing in my Spanish. I used to be fluent and now I struggle to have casual conversations with people. Trying to learn Italian was really just making my Spanish that much worse. At least when I was over there I was able to understand a bit more than I would have but speaking is an entirely different thing that takes a lot of time & dedication. It’s time to get my Spanish back up to snuff because it’s something I’ll actually use here in the US.

I think those are enough confessions for now. It’s easy to want everything I spend time and energy on to work out perfectly but it’s no big deal when they don’t sometimes. For the things that don’t work out from this project, there are 5x as many things that do, so that’s worth it to me. The things that don’t work out also sometimes push me towards the things I’d rather do anyway, like brushing up on my Spanish vs trying to learn a whole other language.

I guess the important lesson I’ve learned so far is that it’s more worthwhile to have something fail when you’ve actually tried it or looked into it than when you’ve just made an excuse not to try in the first place.

closing the week with great Italian film

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

One great way of learning language is to watch movies and listen to music in that language. I think it helps you understand not just what to say but how to say it.

I was surprised after only getting to the first level of four with RosettaStone that I could understand some of what I learned in the movies I watched.

Not only was it helpful to reinforce a bit of what I learned, but Italian film is just beautiful. It’s probably why Martin Scorcese  has gone to so much trouble to preserve some of the great films and get them out so people can see them. I was pretty impressed with how many you can find through Netflix. Another reason why I love Apple TV over cable.

The first film I saw was La Strada, a neorealist film by Federico Fellini which was also the first film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It was one of the films to put Fellini on the map. He has since influenced just about every major director out there. When asked what his top 10 favorite films were, Stanley Kubrick cited Il Vitelloni as number 1. La Strada is like entering into another world or a dream that is still filled with relatable human emotion. It draws you in with the characters despite their difficult interactions.

The next film I checked out was Ladri di bicicleta (The Bicycle Thieves), a film by esteemed Italian director Vittorio de Sica. This film received the Academy Honorary Award, given to achievements that did not fit a category (foreign film category had not been added yet). This award has also been given to Walt Disney for the creation of Mickey Mouse, Gene Kelly for his versatility as an actor & director & choreography, and Robert Redford for his creation of Sundance.

The film gives great insight into post-WWII in Rome, showing the frustration with finding work and getting by. It is again another beautiful film that draws you in with the characters and their plight.

I spent a lot of time talking about bicycles with RosettaStone, so I was definitely picking up on a lot of the vocabulary in this film. It was also fun to notice the gestures I had learned about earlier in the week.

There are other films I want to check out before heading over to Italy on vacation, Cinema Paradiso being one. I plan to continue practicing a bit each day between now and when we leave in May.

I wish I could have written this whole post in Italian, but I’ll have to work up to that. I’m definitely hooked on the language and excited to learn more!

from sommelier to Italian tutor

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Learning Italian from RosettaStone and textbooks helps get the grammar down, but I found with Spanish that it can make you sound pretty formal in how you’re speaking to people. That’s good in some cases, but in cultures like Italy, it can also make you seem pretty stuffy & formal.

Enter Grant, my new friend from sommelier-ing week, who also happens to speak fluent Italian. He’s becoming sort of a blog mentor at this point. Not bad for a 22 year old to already have such rich life experience!

Grant offered to help me out with some of the more conversational stuff, so I met up with him and practiced with some questions I had prepared. He also helped me learn how to phrase those correctly.

Come ti chiami? (what’s your name) sono Grant. I’m Grant

Di dove sei? (where are you from?) Sono di Nuevo York ma non la citta. I’m from NY but not the city

Quanti anni hai? (how old are you?) venti due anni. 22 years old.

Che fai? (what do you do?) Sono un studante di molti cose. I’m studying many things.

Here he also taught me a phrase I’ll likely hear in Italy a lot. Che cosa fai qui? (what brings you here). I said I wanted a witty reply other than “I’m here on vacation”, so he taught me: per provare L’Italiana (to try out living like an Italian) and mi piace mangiare e bere spesso e bene (I’d like to eat and drink often and well).

Aside from school & his family I also asked him Che voi fare con la vita? (what do you want to do with your life?) He started with an answer about enjoying art & wine as well as having a family but then went on to share an Italian phrase: crescere fino che mi giro la testa. (I want to grow until I lose my mind). I’d say that’s a great goal.

Trying to have a conversation in Italian made me realize how much Spanish I’ve actually learned to speak. It was really hard to recall what I’ve learned this week since it is so basic. I think I may still be a bit far from having a conversation, but I was happy that I could understand a good bit.

Hopefully between now and May I can learn even more to be able to talk with the Italianos.

learning to speak with my hands

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Gli Italiani parlono con le mani. Italians speak with their hands. When I was looking for Italian language resources, I kept coming across the book Speak Italian by Italian artist, Bruno Munari. It’s a compilation of a series photographs depicting Italian gestures along with the explanation of what they mean.

I also came across an English-speaking Italian newspaper article talking about Italian gestures: “In this country, speaking without gestures is like writing without punctuation. Hands are commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Words are stale without them.”

The author goes on to capture an exchange with a native speaker: “Are you capable of talking without your hands?” I teased. She put her floury palms on her hips, and answered me, peppery as usual. “Why would I want to? To be like English speakers and lack conviction? They speak from their mouths only. Italians don’t just talk with our hands, we talk with our whole bodies. We step into speech.”

It’s hard to have a lot of conviction when you’re first learning how to speak a language. You say a lot of really bizarre, idiotic things. I remember in Argentina I was asking someone in a store to show me a pair of sandals and used the word for watermelon instead since they sound similar. You just have to laugh at yourself when you’re learning a language.

I suppose in Italian it doesn’t matter so much what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. If you’re going to bother to say something then say it with conviction!

And your hands.

è facile come uno due tre

March 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

I can’t believe how much easier it’s gotten to learn a language than when I learned Spanish. I studied Spanish in high school & college as a requisite but didn’t really feel like I was learning to speak it. When I went to business school, you were expected to become fluent in a language as part of the program. I spent a summer in Spanish classes from 9-5 mon-fri completing language drills, conversation classes, doing presentations in Spanish and any other sort of activity you could imagine. It was like boot camp. I continued with additional Spanish classes in Fall & Spring, then studying in Mexico for a little over a month to understand business terminology.  I ended up on internship in Spain for 6 months and by the end of all of it, I was fluent, even if I spoke with a bit of a Castillian lisp. I remember in Spain, my boss wouldn’t answer me sometimes because he told me I sounded Mexican, even though he could understand me perfectly well. It wasn’t easy learning Spanish from professors who were Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Chilean, Argentinian, Spanish and Cuban among others. All of them felt their Spanish was superior and therefore the correct one you should learn. You not only had to learn a language but you had to understand the differences between the various dialects as well.

When I was looking into resources for Italian, it really struck me how much better language resources have gotten from the days of endless textbook exercises & verb conjugation drills. I always wanted to try out RosettaStone to see if it was worth the hype but always found it a bit pricey. Now they not only have the box sets you can buy (which are still pretty expensive) but they also have a program called Totale, a 3-month online program for $179.

Totale gives you online access to all of their language resources as well as online support and a community of other people you can practice with who are also learning. They even offer online 50-minute classes which I’m going to take part in later today.

It’s a pretty cool way of learning a language because it’s visual and interactive. When I was learning Spanish it often felt forced & removed from how you typically speak a language. Lots of exercises filling in blanks and notecards of verb conjugations. So far this program is great in that it connects pronunciation with visuals, so it’s almost as though you’re a kid learning language naturally by mimicking vs just memorizing.

I also found a pretty great dictionary/verb conjugation app for my iPad I can use as a reference as I’m going along. Not to mention it’s way better than lugging around a dictionary and verb conjugation book.

The one thing RossettaStone doesn’t do is to explain the grammatical rules, so this is a helpful thing to use alongside it. It also has tons of other examples of how to use the vocabulary I’m learning.

It definitely helps to already know some Spanish since so far the languages share a lot of the same words & structure of masculine/feminine.

It’s fun being a student again.

learning to speak Italian

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The first time I went to Italy was in 1998 with my college buddy, Chad. He was getting ready to go to med school and I was heading to business school, so we both took a couple of months off beforehand and went backpacking around Europe. The whole trip was amazing, but Italy was my favorite country of the bunch. We even, randomly, got to take communion in St. Peter’s Basilica from Pope John Paul II (don’t tell my catholic friends):

Neither Chad nor I knew how to speak Italian, but we got along anyway. I went on to learn Spanish instead, eventually working in Spain and Mexico. I’ve always loved meeting people from different places and learning about different cultures. It think it was a combination of my grandparents always talking about their travels around the world and a really great high school Spanish teacher. I always knew I wanted to travel as much as possible and I wanted to learn to speak other languages. For me, it always felt like you were a bit removed when you couldn’t really communicate.

In May, John & I are going back to Italy on vacation for a week in Venice & then up the coast to Trieste. This time I’d like to speak a little more Italian when we go, especially since we’ll be off the beaten track visiting some of the vineyards I learned about during my sommelier week.

Italian has always been a fascinating language to me because it’s so expressive. It seems to be such a mirror of Italian culture in its emphatic nature. It doesn’t often seem like Italians say things just to say them but rather have an important point of view to convey. It’s more of an engaging debate than a conversation.

Hopefully as I learn some Italian this week I can break out of my monotone way of speaking and pick it up the pace a bit.


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