Monday, November 28, 2005

Milo falls in love…

We spent the weekend with friends in the Belgian Ardeens, a lovely hilly area, with fairy tale forests, horses, and romantic views. We rented a house and we camped around the fireplace with the kids, while chatting away. It was the second time Milo was meeting 5 year old Flemish Minne, a cutie with very long blond hair and blue eyes, and very sweet manners. This time it was love!

I was quite impressed with his seducing techniques: big smiles and an obvious attraction…but instead of drooling over her and following her around, he would tease her and then run off to his own business, playing with his helicopter or trying to steal the crayons from Dilara…and just when Minne would start wondering about him, he’d be back with a funny face, to wonder off again few seconds later!

I was in charge of a babysitting slot in the afternoon while the others went hiking in the icy forest, and stayed home with Minne and Milo. I was a little concerned since Minne only speaks Dutch, which I barely understand, let alone speak…but we managed to understand each other very well! We danced, we played train, Minne taught me and Milo how to count in Dutch, we took silly pictures, et. Then Minne proposed enthusiastically to play "Stoppeke"…I looked at her in dismay…she proceeded to explain, and I still did not get what in the world stoppeke was, until she said something along the lines of "I will start" and she went to the wall and begun counting: that’s when I got that she meant Hide and Seek! So I ran behind the couch, finding in no time a perfect spot, although Milo gave me away as soon as Minne finished counting!

This morning, when he woke up back at home in Paris, he called out for his new friend « Minne?… Minne…? »…I think I amgoing to print some pictures of the weekend for him!

Milo, Minne & Dilara (2005)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Errata Corrige

I had an enlightment in the middle of the night on something I am truly grateful for, so I'd like to withdraw from my list the #5 item (French sense of humor) and subsitute it with the following:

Number 5: Epideural

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Thrill of Being a Foreigner

On a business trip to Madrid a few years back, I met an old Spanish girlfriend who attended my same graduate school in California, and had, in the meantime, returned to her native Spain.
"You did it again: you’re living abroad!" said Ruth, referring to the fact that I had returned to Europe, but settling in France instead of my native Italy.

There is definitely something thrilling about "being a foreigner." Loads of articles describe the difficulties that expats experience, but I mostly see the thrill and advantages of never being bored by constantly learning new ways to think and doing things, being surrounded by a landscape which is different, and certainly having to speak different languages. Which brings me to...

...The Thrill of Switching Languages

I learnt most of my languages as an adult, therefore this is something I have enjoyed fully and mostly in the last 10 years, in other words, I didn't grow up with it, as Milo will.

I took English in middle and high-school. The teaching methods of the 80’s in Italy were purely theoretical and hardly stimulating: we were submerged by a great deal of grammar rules and British literature (there is nothing exciting about Beowolf when you are 16…) and impractical examples (such as "The pencil is on the table," or "The cat is under the table"), which I never, ever got to use once I become fluent in English! Moreover, the teacher had never stepped foot outside of Italy…my main use of the language at the time was to decrypt the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen!

My first live encounter with the English language took place when I was 18 and I attended a summer volleyball camp in upstate New York. At the camp I got to meet American girls my age who shared my passion for volleyball. The struggle to communicate was immense, especially on the court, but after the 3 weeks spent there, I could finally handle a conversation…I felt powerful! The girls were moved by my accent and often corrected me, sometime made fun of me too… which became a motivator to learn the language properly, finally with a purpose.

During college in the US I took Russian as a foreign language. I loved its sound and the challenge of having to master a different alphabet. I did not go further than a year, unfortunately, but I love renting Russian movies from time to time, and bathe in its sweet musicality.

Iin the US I became friends with several Spaniards and fell in love with Spanish. I took a few courses in a community college, and practiced it during the summer and business trips to Spain. As an Italian native, it is not so difficult, I must admit. I am far from being fluent, but I can get by and understand 80% of what I hear and read.

French is a language I always flirted with; being from the Romance language tree, it is very easy for Italian natives to understand it and pick it up. Furthermore, I am from the Piedmont region, and our dialect has the same roots as French. I bought a grammar book when I was in college and in my spare time I would try to learn it. It wasn’t until I was offered a job in Paris that I applied myself seriously to its sticky grammar traps. But I love to be able to watch French movies in OV and finally have access to its rich literature.

Dutch is a serious challenge: since I met my Flemish companion, I felt obliged to try to learn it, but I was discouraged by the guttural sounds, incomprehensible long words filled with harsh sounds never pronounced before! Since Milo’s birth, however, I hear it every day and I am inevitably picking up a few words and the sentence structure. When I hear my companion speaking on the phone I understand the gist of the conversation and sometimes I decrypt full sentences. Little by little…

I work in an international environment, surrounded mostly by Europeans. Every day I get to speak English, Italian and French at work. At home it’s English with my man, Italian with my son and French with the nanny. It’s only recently that I realized that I was addicted to this, that I consider it a luxury.

Why do I like it so much? Perhaps because each language brings out a different nuance of our soul, it allows my chamaleon personality to play out its game…Each language has its rhythm and pace, its semantic weight and its idiomatic expressions.

There are days when I don’t find my words in any of the three…or, often, when I speak with my man I throw in a word in French and it takes me a while to find the English equivalent. The first days after Milo’s birth we were so overwhelmed that we were mixing everything! I would take Italian worlds and anglicize them…I was a mess!

But in general I think it’s great mental gymnastics and it allows for a wider range of linguistic expression. And, above all, it allows me to reach out to and communicate with a much wider number of people…that’s the real thrill!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Learning bad words!

Last night a friend from San Francisco who’s in town this week came over for dinner, with her three-year-old son Enzo. He’s the son of a French man and an American woman of Nicaraguan origins. His dad is no longer alive, unfortunately, and so his mum speaks to him in French, while thematernal grand parents speak to him in Spanish. He learns English from school and the environment. At this point he expresses himself primarily in English.

Milo and Enzo hit it off immediately and spent the whole evening running around, playing hide and seek and with the cars, communicating in the international language of play! Until little Enzo decided it was time to show he was a big boy and knew forbidden things: he started pointing randomly at things, shouting proudly:


His mum and I, caught by surprise, couldn’t hold back our laughter! It was, unfortunately, the breaching of the dyke.. from that moment on, he knew he got our attention: it was cacca all over the wall!

Milo at first looked puzzled, then rather amused, and decided that it was probably a very cool thing if it had made mum laugh. And so, inevitably, he followed his new friend, shouting all night the new stinky word!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Milo’s vocabulary at 18 months

Papá (dad)
Nonno (grandpa)
Nonna (grandma)
Anto (Antoine)
Bibe (milk bottle)
Pappa (food)
Ace, for grazie (thank you)
Nano, for naso (nose)
Nanna (to sleep)
Tenda (curtain)
Pesce (fish)
Uva (grapes)
Ape (bee)
Bambino (kid)
Ciao Ciao
Vasca (tub)
Doccia (shower)
Etto, for cubetto (little cube)
Mela (apple)
Torta (cake)
Barca (boat)
Due (two)

Bye bye
Op (finished)
Ashblee, for alsjellieft (please)
Ja (yes)
Noc (again)
Batch, for bard (beard)
Kat (cat)

Au revoir

A boir (to drink)
Nounou (nanny)
Doudou (staffed animal)

Balle (ball)
Bateaux (boat)
Anco (encore)
Dodo (to sleep)

Other onomatopoeic sounds:

  • PAA-POO-PAA-POO (to indicate the sound of the fire tracks siren)
  • BAU (the bark of a dog in Italian)
  • MIAO (the cat noise)
  • Cucú!
  • Tuuu-Tuuuu (train noise)
  • NNNNNoooooooooo!
  • A-ta-tá (to call his friend Antoine)
  • TA-TA (to call his nanny Tamou)
  • MMMHWA! (To blow kisses)
  • A-bu-bu (?)
  • Wroom wroom (make the car noise)
  • Peeh Peeh (to imitate the car horn)
  • AAAM! (to imitate a lion eating)
  • Imitates the rocket ascending in the sky