It doesn’t take long for a small village to get wind of a large international community of artists plunked down in their midst. My plunk came last Sunday, when I attended the local church of my host family. A tiny gem in the heart of the village, its ancient facade camouflaged a contemporary interior that had the sense to preserve stone walls and vaulted brickwork. The church quickly filled with about 50 people—not bad for a European church.
Though translation was offered, I respectfully declined. Translation can tie you up in knots after you reach a certain level with a language. It was time to ‘let go of the rope.’ If I was going to learn this language, I needed to cut off my own, even if only for 2 hours.
And two hours later…let’s just say language immersion can do a girl in! But I survived and earned points from those who understood what it is to endure immersion to learn a language. Others were convinced I understood Italian, a notion that quickly evaporated as they plunged into conversation and I had to call for a translator. Several languages were fractured that night, but I made progress—in both Italian and relationships.
Marco preached that night, in the absence of the pastor. He chose his words carefully and spoke slowly, making it relatively easy to follow him. Projecting a beautiful piece by Gauguin for our contemplation as he spoke—the beauty of the image speaking volumes into our right brains, while our left ones chugged along in language. Well done, Marco! I thought. Well done. Theresa leaned over and whispered that he was a great artist. I must meet him.
As Marco’s sermon ended, along with the service, there was a flurry of handshakes and kisses. All the artists in the church were pointed out or introduced to me, but when Marco approached, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. A volley of Italian burst out of him, his eyes piercing me as if searching my soul. I sensed the thirst of the isolated artist for connection, understanding, hope.
Marco’s story unfolded, through the translator: a master ceramic painter, he had worked as a professor at a local high school famed throughout Italy for its ceramics. Heads nodded as the translator tried to impress upon me the stature of the artist before me. I looked at Marco, who shrugged as if to say, “Whatever.” The crowd waited for my reaction and I summoned one of the few words I know, but which I delivered with the utmost Italian gusto: “Bravo!”
“Now I work in the local middle school, with children with special needs,” he replied through translation, with an air of resignation.
“Maybe you could speak at our school,” i suggested and his eyes lit up.
“Absolutely! Any time!” he responded, and the crowd nodded again, satisfied that I had offered an honor befitting the artist. The poor translator, sweating under the strain of resurrecting whatever English he knew, nearly fainted when my hosts (below) came to extricate me from the crowd.
Before I left, however, Marco invited me (and all our students) to visit the famous high school in the nearby mountaintop village of Castelli. The following Saturday was an open house.
“Absolutely!” I replied in return. And went home to recover.