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How I became an Italophile

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I will start with a story that I have told many times over the years–so often that I sometimes wonder if I’ve accidentally embellished it and turned it into more of a personal myth than a true account of a random day at primary school. I sometimes think we all have a tendency to invent stories for ourselves to explain significant events in our lives: why we met the partners we did, why we chose certain subjects at university, why we decided to move to a certain city, or how we landed our jobs. Often we base these stories on real memories but with the details left out, keys parts emphasised, and sometimes outright exaggerations (lies?) introduced. I dare say this is only human.

Still, I digress. Back to an afternoon at Primary 4 in a small Scottish town near Falkirk (in between Glasgow and Edinburgh). Our class was going to be doing a project on different European countries and the teacher had decided to divide us into four groups–one each for France, Spain, Italy and Germany. She gathered us all around one of the big tables in the classroom and explained to us what we would be doing, before proceeding to put us into groups.

“So, who would like to do France?”

I put up my hand, as did many others. I’m not sure why I thought I’d like to do the project on France–perhaps it was because we’d already done some reading on France the previous term (I can’t remember what it was about), or perhaps just because it was a familiar sounding country. I’m not sure. In any case, it’s a moot point, as the teacher didn’t pick me. Oh well, onto Spain. Again, I put up my hand, and again I wasn’t picked.

Now I was getting worried. I’d been doing some reading on the Second World War and didn’t want to end up doing the project on Germany (unreserved apologies to German readers!). So, when the teacher said “Italy?”, I shot up my hand in front of her.

…I became interested in this strange and exotic country…

Needless to say, I got picked. From there, our team of five or six had to do various bits of the project. From what I remember, we made posters, wrote small essays, and learnt simple words in Italian. For some reason that I still don’t fully understand, I became interested in this strange and exotic country that seemed so different from my everyday life in Scotland. Even after the project ended, I continued to borrow books about Italy from the library and learn as many words as I could. In 1994, I supported Italy in the football World Cup and was devastated when they lost in the final!

Now, if what happened next had not in fact happened, who knows if my interest would simply have petered out after a while. Quite unexpectedly (at least to my knowledge), my father received an opportunity to work for a year or two in, of all places, Florence. Thinking about it now, it seems like an amazing coincidence of sorts, as far as I was concerned personally. What is really frustrating is that I simply cannot remember the first time that my parents told me that we would be going to live there. It’s funny that something as significant as that hasn’t stuck in my memory.

However, I certainly do remember other things–leaving my primary school for what I knew would be the last time, my teacher (funnily enough the same one who’d picked me for the Italy group three years before) asking if I wanted to say a proper goodbye in front of the class (I said no!), and of course, the night we arrived at our new apartment in Florence. There is far too much to write about here, and this introductory post is, I dare say, already too long. But it’s probably relevant to add that even if there had been a chance that I would have eventually lost my interest in Italy, the two years in Florence put paid to that possibility.

Here I am, all these years later, putting up my own little spot on the blogosphere dedicated to sharing that interest. I hope you will enjoy it.

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