Monday, October 20, 2008

Fake it til you make it

My italian is not very good. In fact, I'd say that most of the time I barely squeak out more than two or three sentences in a row. But after three weeks in a pizzeria and another one at a language school, my comprehension has finally started to increase. As a result, I can understand more while remaining pretty frustrated with my ability to speak back. That all changed last friday when a Brazilian TV crew came to Pizzeria La Notizie and filmed a special program about Neapolitan pizza.
Enzo, the master pizzaiolo, had been in a bad mood all morning long. He was waiting for a call to tell him exactly when the TV crew was supposed to show up. He nervously peeled the stems from the fiori di zucca (zucchini flours) while barking off orders to me and Sam, the other canadian student. When they did arrive, Enzo's anxiety was lifted but in its place came a new problem. "Do you speak english?" asked the cameraman as he shook Enzo's hand, "we don't speak italian." A light must have gone off in Enzo's head because he immediately turned to me and said in italian, "I don't speak an english. But he does. He's from the US and speaks very good italian." This came as a shock to me. Not because Enzo was lying about my italian. He knew as well I did that my level of communication is on par with a 3 year old.  But rather,this came as a shock because he was entrusting me as the information guru, the almighty  translator. 
My first few translations were easy enough. It was mostly stuff I'd heard Enzo say two or three times before. 
"I run a pizza school here in the morning. That's why the pizzeria is closed for lunch. Every night we open up for the general public." 
When Enzo was finished he turned to me and aggressively nodded (which is something I've noticed only italians can do without making it look like a neck spasm). I went ahead and translated into english. A few Brazilian heads bobbed up and down in understanding. That was easy enough, I thought. Enzo continued.
"School goes for 4 hours every day and the students help out in the afternoon, preparing the food for the evening. I've taught students from all over the world"
Again I translated, this time even using a few of Enzo's hand gestures to illuminate his point. Again, more nodding. This translation thing is a piece of cake, I thought.  
"Italian italian italian italian italian italian italian italian italian il mare italian italian italian italian.
Enzo finished and turned towards me. The Brazilians turned towards me. It's true that comprehension follows comprehension. But what follows incomprehension? 
"Il mare?" I asked tentatively. Enzo stared at me.
"Si, il mare."
Il mare meant the sea. This much I knew. My problem was all the other italian words that came before and after. Why would Enzo be mentioning the sea? A half a dozen possibilities raced through my mind. None of which were very good. Crap. Better just say something.
I turned towards the cameraman and said "The sea is just up the road. You might want to go get a shot of it for the program. It's a beautiful view. And afterwards you can start filming." 
The cameraman looked at me. I somehow managed to smile back.  "Okay," the cameraman said, "we'll go have a look". I turned to Enzo and said, in very broken italian, "They are going to film outside first and come film in here afterwards." Enzo stared at me, the kind of stare that said if I could call you out on your shit I would but lucky for you I can't. After that things went relatively smoothly. As it turns out, Portuguese and Italian are quite similar, similar enough that an english translator is not really needed. I mostly stayed behind the counter and watched the filming, only occasionally answering specific questions. Like they say, fake it til you make it. 

Here's a video of Enzo making the dough "traditionally" in a big wooden box. What makes it traditional? My guess: the box was very, very old. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For your reading enjoyment

That's my city!
I apologize in advance for the lack of posts. Margaret and I recently moved into a  new apartment, a cave really, and we just discovered that our cave will not be able to get internet. So I'm sitting in the only wireless cafe in Naples in order to write this. A brief summary of the last few weeks: I've finished my course with Enzo "Mad dawg" Coccia and have been attending language classes in the city center. Tomorrow, however, old Mad dawg himself has invited me back to work on my pizza making skills again. I'll be at Pizzeria La Notizie for the rest of the week and will actually start working at a pizzeria in another two weeks. 
Stay tuned for: a review on the pizza that wasn't called a pizza diavola but still was the best pizza diavola I've ever had, a short history on the origins of Italian Sticky Finger Syndrome (also called I.S.F.S.), and photos of street garbage! 
For now, enjoy these videos:
The flame at Pizzeria La Notizie

In this video, Enzo explains how if you are not careful, a Neapolitan oven can eat your arm.