In May, Jordan called me and asked if I wanted to spend Christmas in Turin with him. When I recovered from the shock, I hedged, because I’d just have been in Europe on the Haute Route, and having left my job, was a little worried about cash flow. I explained this, and in mince-no-words Jordan style, he said, “I’ll pay.” I almost fell off my chair. At first I wondered if he had some incurable disease, or shocking news he needed to tell me in person. But no, just inviting his mother on a Christmas trip. Well, this is a new stage of parenthood!
I accepted graciously.
The cheapest flight was through Istanbul and added an extra week, but with my new open schedule, I could accommodate that and always wanted to see that city. So sure! What the heck! And even adding the extra week and paying for hotels it was cheaper than getting here a week later. Crazy travel deals.
My father’s family is from Turin. They immigrated to the United States just before he was born. The youngest of four children, he was the only one born in America. English was his second language but he never taught his children Italian. In fact, after his mother died, I never heard him speak it again. I’m so sorry about that. I so wish I had grown up bilingual. But he had endured scarring discrimination for his Italian heritage and did not want his children to to suffer that. We were to be strictly American. My father’s English was perfect. He had a vocabulary similar to Webster. He had no accent. But with his family, they all spoke Italian together. Funny that my cousins, siblings, and I thought nothing of this.
I learned French in school, our only option aside from Latin. I pick up a few words of Italian when I’m in Italy, and I’ve been here many times. I love it here. This is my first time in the north and to the city of my ancestors. I feel terrible that I can’t communicate better. People are wonderful, and many speak French, so I’ve gotten by while waiting for Jordan to arrive, but I fantasize about really being able to converse. No one here speaks English. It seems tourism in Torino is for the Turks and Italians.
I worried Jordan wouldn’t find the hotel. I emailed him the complicated way to get into the city from the airport. I didn’t hear back from him. I know he’s traveled in far more remote places than this and knew he’d be fine, I was just being mom. I tried explaining to the proprietor of the hotel that my son was coming. Confused expression for three days. I tried in French. Ah! Si! Bambino!
I waited for him in the reception area checking my clock every two minutes. The hotel is not in the nicest part of town and I had a hard time finding it. He arrived, and señora explains to him that his mother is sitting just over there. She points. He responds to her IN ITALIAN! I’m stunned! “When did you learn Italian?”, I asked.
“This year”, he replied. “I want to speak Italian well enough to read The Divine Comedy, Russian well enough to read The Master and Margarita, and Spanish well enough to speak better than Antonio’s girlfriend.”
I asked if he had trouble finding the hotel. Well, no. Of course not. He downloaded some app and found it no problem, whereas I had been walking miles in sketchy neighborhoods asking immigrants in a combination of broken Italian, French, and English where the main road was. As a good mom, I was trying to spare him that. But no, he strolls in, all multilingual like he lives here. I love it.
We walked miles through the city I’ve gotten to know and love over the past few days. We caught up on things, we ate and drank. We shared travel stories. He taught me a new app that makes learning a new language like a game. As we walked, we stopped into lit churches, window shopped, and watched how people here deal with the homeless. A young mother pushing a stroller reaches over and takes a small pizza out of her child’s bag. She hands it to a man sitting in the cold with his dog. He thanks her politely, and eats the pizza.