Today is my onomastico, or name day, here in Italy. You didn’t know today was dedicated to Saint Laura? That’s just fine, because no one seems to know! St. Laura de Cordoba was a Spanish Christian living under Muslim rule in Spain in the 9th century. After she was widowed she became a nun at Cuteclara, but not much is known about her life or the cult that spread across Europe after her death. She was martyred by Muslims who scalded her to death in a vat of boiling lead on this day in 864. Ouch!
Here in Italy, especially in southern Italy, one’s onomastico is a day of celebration and warm wishes from family and friends, much like a birthday. Who can complain about having two days to celebrate during the year? Onomastico is a rather strange word that intrigued me when I first saw it on greeting cards here on the Amalfi Coast. Now you know what it means if you hear people wishing one another a “Buon onomastico” during your travels in Italy.
The other day while doing dishes, I was interrupted by a loud and persistent cat meowing outside. I live on the second level of a house, so it was a little strange to hear a meow from outside so clearly. I opened the window to find one of our outdoor cats named Broke looking at me from next door. (Why Broke? It’s a long story, but let’s just say it has something to do with the fact that I was a little concerned to find him peering over the edge of a second level window. “Grace” is not Broke’s middle name.) He seemed quite pleased to discover that he could talk to me from the new window he had just discovered in his explorations next door.
I know the cats spend a lot of time poking around what we call “the red house” next door. One day in the garden I saw Puffy on the roof! A proposito (by the way), if you know anyone looking for a dream property on the Amalfi Coast with un sacco di soldi (boatloads of money) to spend on a restoration, I know just the house for them. Just make sure they like cats first!
When I arrived here in Italy fresh out of graduate school, I have to admit that at first it was a relief. Walking in the mountains, sitting in the sun, reading, cooking, enjoying life without the looming deadlines, papers to write, and the ever present mound of books and articles to read. I needed that break. But I needed that break primarily because I loved studying art history so much that I threw myself entirely into my work. There were always more questions to try to answer, yet another way to turn my head and look at something, and, of course, something else to read. Over the past year being away from my studies and the academic setting I loved so much, I’ve realized that my love for art history is an integral part of who I am. Perhaps I can take a break from it, but it is still there. I walk by a church and I wonder about the frieze surrounding the doorway, I stop and admire archways, windows, doors, and always with the nagging desire to know more.
City Gate, Sessa Aurunca (The Shock of the Old)
While I hope someday to have the time to work on answering some of those questions, for the moment I explore, take photos, wonder, and share as much as I can here on Ciao Amalfi. Imagine my delight and surprise when I happened across the blog The Shock of the Old written by not only an American expat blogger here in Campania, but a former art history professor to boot! My first thought was, “I’m not alone!” Since then I have been following Karen’s blog, and enjoying our nice discussions about art, architecture and daily life that have gone from comments and on into emails. (We art historians like to talk once you get us going … ) Karen describes her blog in these words,
I divide my time among exploring the historic center of the town where we live, trying to figure out the culture of my adopted country, trying to figure out what makes toddlers tick, and writing about it all here.
Sessa Aurunca, Campania (The Shock of the Old)
Karen and family, husband N and daughter Pata, live in the town of Sessa Aurunca located in the province of Caserta in northwestern Campania. On the map below you can see Sessa Aurunca marked with the letter A, and this should help you place it in relation to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast (just west of where you see Salerno).
Campania is a large region, with so much to explore outside the most popular spots centered around Napoli. One of the pleasures for me of following The Shock of the Old has been seeing life in another part of Campania. While I’ve never visited Sessa Aurunca, I feel as if I have already explored the small streets and important historic sites in the medieval center of the town with Karen. This is something I hope to do in person some day! But in the meantime, when Karen writes her regular Sessa Saturday and Medieval Bestiary features, I sometime imagine I am along with her and Pata on their walks through town, as Karen points out an interesting door handle or window, and Pata enjoys the fountains.
Adorable Pata (The Shock of the Old)
I invite you all to head over to The Shock of the Old to follow along on Karen’s inspiring journey. And I have to give an extra shout-out to Karen for helping me understand the part of me that is an art historian and always will be, how to learn that it is only a part of who I am, and for reminding me to keep looking at those small details and keep asking questions. Whether I answer those questions for myself, for a classroom, or for a larger audience, Karen has taught me that it is the process of answering those questions that is the important part, the part that satisfies the ever-inquisitive aspect of my nature. Karen, sei una bravissima insegnante! Tante grazie!!
When I wake up tomorrow morning, it is going to be a different sort of day. Inspired by Cherrye at My Bella Vita and Benny at Fluent in 3 Months, I have decided to kick my Italian studies into full gear starting September 1st (hey, isn’t it back to school time?). I have decided to make the much needed jump into the Italian language by speaking only in Italian this month, except for when talking with family and friends in America. Similar to Cherrye’s story, I have learned a lot of Italian over the past two and a half years, but I still find speaking quite a challenge. It is often easier to just speak in English even though I understand what is going on in Italian. Now I often find myself in the awkward position of being mute and frustrated, because I can understand what people say and I can’t respond. Enough of this already!
I know it is going to be a tough month, but I am excited already thinking about how much my Italian will have improved by the end of the month. And after this first month it will only get easier. One of the hardest parts will be breaking my habit of speaking in English, and gently reminding others to only speak to me in Italian. Oh, and finding the right words and remembering verb conjugations . . . It will be worth it! I will keep you all updated on my progress, as well as sharing any interesting language learning links I come across during my studies. Thanks for the inspiration Cherrye!
Italian immersion month begins in… tre… due… uno!