ROME, ITALY – Br. Scottston Brentwood, O. de M. shares with us the newest installment of his reflections from Eternal City…
I realize I have been rather silent lately, but with the changing weather my sinuses etc have been in open rebellion, I find I’m constantly tired from thinking in two languages simultaneously, and I have been racking my brain with the various past tenses in preparation for my exams. On Friday, I had my exam to determine if I move up to the next level, and I am happy to say that when the grade was given out afterward, I was told I was “optimal.” Thus, all IS truly well in the “Eternal City.” I will strive to be more attentive to writing you – forgive my silence.
I thought I’d share something I did for school with you. The following is my thoughts on the Italian Language as well as some examples of the differences between English and Italian. For those who know Italian, I’m sure this will bring back some memories.
I will write more as time allows.
Google Translators and my Thoughts on Italian…(in English)
One of my Italian friends who is learning English enjoys typing various English sentences that he understands into the online translators and makes fun of the translations that are made in Italian. I did not comprehend this until I tried it myself. WOW! I was honestly surprised at the MISTAKES. Some I could understand, but in some cases, you would type something like, “I went to the store,” and the translation said, “I did NOT go to the store.” Now I see why a human translator is indispensable for inter-lingual communications. I can only presume how pathetic English speakers appear in the eyes of those who employ translations from these “online tools.” Such is life.
When I studied Anthropology I learned that language is a reflection of the culture from which it derives. If you truly wish to understand the outlook of a culture, you MUST learn the language AS they use it. I can attest that with Italian this is true. I submit as my evidence Italian traffic. In Italy, everything is a suggestion – traffic lights, traffic lanes, stop signs, even parking places. There are more exceptions to the rules than there are applications OF the rules. The same holds true for the language.
So what is unique about the Italian Language? Personally, I think it is almost impossible to learn it! The grammar is a THOUSAND times more difficult than English, and though most think, “Italian is like Spanish or French,” it is the Spanish speakers who have the hardest time in class (I have had many Spanish speaking classmates). One teacher became frustrated with one Spanish student and finally said, “Remember, when you use ‘Se’ in Spanish, it is ‘Si’ in Italian, and when you use ‘Si’ in Spanish, it is ‘Se’ in Italian, unless it is a combined pronoun with an indirect object or…” the list continued. The student(s) continued to make the same mistakes, however.
Some other things to consider with Italian: When we say things like “I am taking a class” in English, in Italian it is, “I am making a class.” When we say, “It is cold today,” in Italian it is, “It makes cold today.” If you want to say, “I am cold,” in Italian you MUST say, “I have cold.” If you say the literal “I am cold,” it means your personality is reticent and few people like you. The same principle pertains to the verb, “finished.” To say the English equivalent of “I am finished working,” you MUST say, “I have finished working.” To say “I am finished” means you are physically deceased.
In English we use the present and future tenses a LOT. In Italian, they use the present and PAST. To say, “yes, yes, I underSTAND” (present tense – si, si, io copisco), in Italian you MUST say, “yes, yes, I underSTOOD” (past tense – si, si, ho copito). One Italian friend said once, “You could never be Italian.” When I asked why, he retorted, “Because you use the future tense, and Italians do not.” In speaking, Italians NEVER use the future tense. It is found only in books (if its found at all). For example, “Today I am going to class (present tense), and tomorrow I WILL go to class (future tense)” in SPOKEN Italian would be, “Today I am going to class (present tense), and tomorrow I am going to class (present tense).”
For me, the past tense in Italian is the bane of my studies. English has four past tenses, but Italian has five. I now understand and use four of the five, but the fifth (passato remoto) is hardly ever used in North or Central Italy…only in the South of Italy is it used, so I will not worry about it at the moment. Still, for school, I have to know it.
In Italian, the word meaning, “to like something” does not exist as it does in English. In Italian, to “like” something is worded as an INDIRECT object. For example, “I like books” in Italian would be, “To me, the books are pleasing.”
My litany could continue, but I will spare you the rambling. My point to all of this is merely that Italian as a language is VASTLY diverse when contrasted with English (or any language for that matter). Also, in order to understand where the Italians (or any other culture) are coming from, you must learn the language – the way in which they think, is the way in which they speak. You cannot understand where they are coming from if you cannot think in the same manner as they do. Grammar is one ASPECT of a language, but I am confident if you looked at our own language you would see that what the grammar says we should say and what we ACTUALLY say are usually different. Therefore, I will keep studying this language, as futile as it may seem. I said before it is ALMOST impossible to learn…I did not say it WAS impossible…
Just a note to say hi…and let you know that not only am I still alive, but that I am also doing well on this side of the Atlantic.
I’m starting to assume that things are settling down for me as I’m back to writing…a practice which proves that things are “back to normal.” As such, I thought I’d share this one…which in so many words describes how I’m doing…and what I’m thinking…
I hope you enjoy it, and know that I think of you often.
There is Something About Rome…
I remember that it was the airport. Yes, it was the airport. I remember it now – so many people…I’ve never seen this many people in one place before. Its so hot. So hot, and there are so many people. Which way do I go? Oh I see it now.
No – it was not the airport, it was the house. Everyone is so friendly, but I cannot understand them. Why can’t I understand?? Its simple, but it just doesn’t make any sense. This way? Yes, thank you. No, not the house, it was school…a classroom with other students. A classroom in a school with other students. Chat, chat try to learn, but no, that wasn’t this either.
Maybe it was the streets. Buildings only six stories high but so so close. The buildings aren’t tall, but they are so close they block out the sun. My ankles hurt. Wow, my ankles hurt. Its the cobblestone streets. The stones hurt your ankles after a while. Maybe the fountains that perpetually flow. Yes, that’s it – the flowing fountains. No, not the streets. It can’t be. Not the fountains…those are everywhere.
Maybe it is the art. Yes, its the art. Everywhere art, art, art. The art paralyzes my eyes. My eyes are overwhelmed by the cornucopia of statuary. No, art is nothing, it’s the architecture. Every building is different. So many different colors. So many different styles. Why are they so different? Where are the glass walls? No.
It was the lights. Every window is glowing with some light. The stores glow dimly in the evening twilight. No, not the light of the windows, it’s the light of the Christmas decorations hanging over the streets. Twinkle here, twinkle there…no…not those, it’s the music. The sound of instruments on the street. My ears filled with the sounds of ages past…music harking back to days of simple melodies when words were not important. WORDS MEAN NOTHING, its just the music. No, not the music, it’s the smell. The smell of fresh flowers. Fresh flowers and fresh fruit. No, not those – the smell of fresh pasta. No thank you, I’m not looking for anyone at this restaurant, but can I have your card?
Where is it? Where is it?? Oh now I see. Just around the corner and take a left. Brrrr…its starting to get cold. Why didn’t I wear a thicker jacket? You know it gets cold at night. You know it gets cold at night and yet you once again wore a thin jacket. Oh there it is.
Why didn’t I know this place before? Maybe I did…maybe it was here the whole time and I just didn’t see it. It had to have been here, but I didn’t see the sign. I didn’t see the sign nor the tables evenly spaced inside from the street. There they are – there are my friends…they were here the whole time and I didn’t know…I didn’t know…
It doesn’t matter now…I am where I’m suppose to be, and that’s all that matters now… I’m here, and I was always suppose to be here…
OK – so things have been busy lately, and I’ve slacked off on the “weekly” updates. haha. Not to overwhelm, this is the update up to Christmas. All is well here in the Eternal City, and I’m having a good time with the friars here. We’ve even had some fun with the others from the Generalate (I’ll put that in the next update)…and more roasting of foods over open fireplaces (still strange to me). Hope everyone is well!
On Saturday, December 5 I went downtown – MAJOR mistake! There was a massive Communist/Anti-Berlusconi demonstration that literally consumed the entire city. All of the streets were blocked off, the Carabinieri were EVERYWHERE (guarding important places in case violence breaks out), and there was even a communist concert right in front of St. John Lateran!!! On a side note, there is a wonderful place for tiramisu just south of St. John Lateran in Re de Roma.
The following few days were rather uneventful. On Wednesday I discovered a few pen stores. This in and of itself brought a smile. This inspired me to locate some art supply stores which I did the following day.
On Friday I finished the book I was reading – Oceano Mare by Alessandro Baricco (highly recommended) – took care of some errands, and went to the art supply store I had found the previous day.
Thus I ended Week 10.
On Sunday, December 13 I finished writing etc. a text on my experience of Rome – “Something about Rome” – which was a good reflection of my thoughts thus far.
Wednesday was yet ANOTHER strike/shut down of the entire public transportation from 8:30am-5pm. I did not go to school as my classes were from 9:30am-1pm.
Thursday I had an exam to determine if I move into the next level for my language classes. It was rather easy in parts, but I am still having problems with the passato prossimo, the reflexive, and the imperfect (this was discussed on the day of the strike). The future tense and the imperative were a breeze. The following day was our last day of class, so after a celebration at school with all the students for the end of the year/Christmas, we went for coffee and gelato. On Saturday I went for another goodbye party with some friends of mine.
End of Week 11.
On Sunday, December 20 I went with Bros. Sergio and Carmine downtown with the youth of the parish. We went to St. Peters for confessions and the Pope’s Angelus Address then headed to downtown for food. Next we headed to the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona (I was apparently the walking, human map who had to navigate the twisting streets) where after some time with all the temp. vendors, we headed to the Piazza di Spagna for photos and headed home.
On Tuesday, December 22 I went with Fr. Eligio and Bro. Sergio to Orvieto. We stopped to pick up some flowers for the church before heading to our house there. The house there is VERY old, but very beautiful. After heading to the cathedral (one block away) and some shops nearby, Bro. Sergio and I headed back home to Rome via our parish in Orvieto.
The following day I spent with Fr. Stefano doing various errands.
Christmas Eve – Midnight Mass in the parish – literally standing room only.
Christmas – surprisingly the normal routine, but pranzo was yet again a large, many-plated affair.
At the beginning of October, Br. Scottston Brentwood was transferred to the Mercedarian student community in Rome for further ecclesiastical studies. Br. Scottston agreed to send us a periodic journal to help keep us in close communion with him. To date, Br. Scottston has sent four installments. We shall post the first four together and then update the installments as they arrive. Please keep Br. Scottston in your prayers and enjoy his journal.
I thought I would let everyone know all the happenings here in Rome. I’ve only been here for a week, but MUCH has happened! I have to admit, it is truly a wonderful experience, and I have to thank all the brothers/priests here in Italy for all the kindness they have shown toward me. Even with the present language barrier, we are having a great time with many laughs and a truly remarkable, communitarian life.
Thus, here is a summary of many of the things I’ve done this last week. By no means is it comprehensive, but it does give you a flavor of the fun I have had.
I arrived early Saturday morning at the Da Vinci Airport in Rome. I was overwhelmed not so much with being in the city of Rome itself as much as the shear number of people there! So many people, and the tragedy was that everyone was headed to the same location – baggage claim. As sad as it might sound, I literally watched my bags go by at least twice as I was unable to get close enough to them to pull them off the carousel. I met the other brothers who picked me up, and we went to what would be my home for the next few years.
I spent the next couple of days doing various things. I went from unpacking to liturgical functions to processions etc. As I did not speak the native language (and few if anyone here shares my language) I can assure you it was rather interesting trying to figure out what exactly I was suppose to be doing. In the end, it all worked out, that is, until they asked me to lead the rosary in Italian.
On Sunday I went with one of the other brothers – Bro. Petrus – to downtown Rome. We visited the Vatican (i.e. St. Peters) and stopped for a gelato at a nearby shop. On our way home we visited the “Holy Stairs” and St. John Lateran.
On Tuesday I went with Fr. Stefano to register at one of the Language Institutes. Afterward we walked to the Gregorian University where he teaches via the Trevi Fountain before returning home for ponzo. After the meal we headed out for the sacred and highly coveted Metrobus Card that will allow me to take the Metro without the hassle of purchasing a ticket with every trip.
On Thursday I decided to take in some sights while at the same time taking the opportunity to travel to my new school alone to see if I could remember how to get there. I found it with no difficulties. I traveled back toward the Trevi Fountain and continued on to the more ancient parts (i.e. the area around the Monument to Victor Emanuele) I took some photos, relished in the past grandeur of the Roman Empire, and headed back home.
Friday came, and I thought it wise to find a location for confession in English. Fr. Ricci suggested I go to St. Mary Major, so I asked Bro. Petrus which stop on the Metro would be the closest. He told me the Termini stop is best, and when I looked at a map, St. Mary Major was between Termini and Victor Emanuele stops. I opted for the Termini stop – major mistake. The shear number of people there is enough to detract my attention, and when I emerged from the station I was completely lost. Note to self – a map alone is useless without a compass. I asked some Sisters for directions and easily found the Basilica. The experience of the Basilica was different – very pleasant. I found the beauty of the Basilica to be a true reflection of the beauty of God’s creation. I think of all the places I have been in Rome, St. Mary Major was my favorite.
To return home I opted for the other Metro stop – Victor Emanuele. Note to self – take this stop if you are going to St. Mary Major: its on the same street, and there are no people there.
Thus, I finished my first week in Italy.
So I had to spend some time preparing for my exam to move to the next level in my study of Italian, so I was unable to give a written version of week 2 here in Italy. SO, here is weeks 2 and 3 all at once. Most likely you will not find it as interesting as the first week, but it is what it is right?
I began my Italian classes on Monday, October 12. I have class five days a week for three hours each day. As of now, the classes are in the afternoon, so I have the mornings to study. The class is small which helps facilitate the “learning process,” and the teacher is a nice guy – Italian, but he knows some English which helps. The other students are American. As I actually have to do homework (it is checked every day and there are MANY exercises to complete), the general rule for me is thus – every morning is occupied with books, paper, pens, and DICTIONARIES.
I had my first run-in with a “quasi-gypsy” the following Tuesday. As I was at the Spanish Steps, this guy approaches and (in less than 30 seconds) ties this string bracelet around my wrist. He then asks me for 5 euros! I told him I had nothing, he of course did not believe me as I am an American, and I actually demonstrated that my pockets were empty and the sound he was hearing was my KEYS! Fortunately I do not carry money with me, so if they ask for it, I cannot give that which I do not possess myself. Ultimately he came to the obvious realization that I was not going to give him anything (as I had nothing to give), so he told me to accept it as a gift, “welcome to Italy” he said to me, and walked away. Note to anyone walking in Rome – keep your hands in your pockets so as to prevent the gypsies from putting something in them and wanting money for something you neither wanted nor asked for.
On Thursday I headed to the more ancient parts of the city. I saw the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine, took some photos, and found my way home via another route. The purpose of this exercise is so that I become more familiar with the city, and you never know – I might find some interesting places in my travels.
The following day I wanted to see if there were any bookstores close to my school, and as I arrived early (the METRO is sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes on strike…so you never know what to expect), I went looking. I stopped to ask a man for directions, asked him if he spoke English (I asked in Italian), he told me (in Italian) that he neither spoke nor understood English, so I proceeded to put my Italian courses to work and asked for directions to a bookstore with books in English (in Italian). His response (in ENGLISH) was, “go two blocks down the street, take a left, and it will be right there.” Hmmmmm…. As a side note, books in English are easy to find, but the cost is more than double the price of the same book in Italian.
Thus I finished my second week in Italy.
I went on Saturday (October 17) downtown to find another bookstore…something larger maybe? I found one online close to St. Mary Major, so I figured I could head out for a weekly confession, visit the bookstore which was three blocks away, and head home by the METRO which is a block away from the bookstore. It was raining, so I bought an umbrella from the perpetual venders walking around outside the tourist places (if you speak in Italian you get things at a cheaper rate), confessed, and as I exited the church was overwhelmed by a Communist Party demonstration which was literally marching around St. Mary Major! Personally, I think I would have chosen a more political venue for a political demonstration, but whatever. I found the bookstore with no difficulty and it was ENORMOUS – 4 floors of books of every kind (some even in English…but at a “normal” price).
Saturday night was spent in front of the all-powerful plasma TV…literally transfixed to the glowing edifice as the Genoa / Inter game was screening. I was supporting Inter, and I was in luck as they won. I somehow surprised the Italians with my knowledge of the different teams, their uniform colors, and the cities they are from. Every American knows these things…right?
On Sunday I spent some time with the youth of our parish – Bro. Sergio coordinates a soccer game every week, and the youth wanted to demonstrate to me their soccer skills. To my surprise, even the younger ones were really, really good.
That evening, Bro. Petrus brought wood into the refectory and started a fire in the fireplace there. I jokingly asked Fr. Stefano if he was going to cook over the fire, and to my surprise, he said yes! I had never seen steak prepared using a fireplace before, but it was tasty so I cannot complain. Somehow thoughts of Fr. Matthew Phelan grilling in the refectory fireplace of the Monastery made me laugh. All I can say is, “do not try this at home, we are professionals.”
Monday = back to class and the regular routine. Nothing really new there, but on Thursday I had to take a test to see if I was ready to move onto the next level at the language institute. I was rather worried about it during our review – I did not remember many things, but when I took the exam, I was the first one to finish. Ultimately I did very well, and begin the next level on Monday morning.
End of week three.
Saturday, October 24 – We had our first formation class in the morning…in Italian of course. I understood what was being said, took some notes, but did not really offer much input; I did afterwards when I was alone with Fr. Ricci. After the sacred pranzo, the students and Fr. Ricci went to Fr.’s hometown to visit his sister. Next we went up the mountains that surround the town – VERY nice, but different than the mountains I am use to in Virginia. Finally, we headed to Nemi to see the house/community there. The city is beautiful, and the house is located next to Lake Nemi. We saw the renovations that are taking place there – MANY – and headed back home. On a side note, I saw my first Roman sunset…over Lake Nemi.
On Sunday, Fr. Provincial returned home. We had a very nice conversation (in Italian of course), and he was happy that I was progressing with the language. Though I made some grammatical mistakes, he at least understood what I was trying to say. That night many of the various superiors arrived as a gathering of the Italian superiors was going to begin on Monday and carry on through the week; some of them I had already met as they had been here for the various Secretariat meetings the previous week.
Monday proved to be an interesting day. I was under the impression class was to begin at 9:30am with a new instructor, but it was changed to 10:00am…and I thus arrived EARLY. I thought I would walk around the general vicinity to see what was new and exciting. I stumbled into a church that was near by that I had not visited yet – St. Andrea d. Fratte. Very nice. I did notice that even though Mass was going on, a confessional was available. As I did not have time to hit up St. Mary Major for confession during the weekend, I thought I would ask the priest if he spoke English. It turns out that he, in fact, did NOT (big surprise)…but he said that “Jesus understands all languages”…and he wanted to continue the confession with me attempting it in Italian. Ultimately (as I did not know the names of any sins in Italian) I described the sins, and the priest provided me with the Italian name for them. Confession done – my first in Italian – I went to school and followed the normal routine.
On Wednesday Bro. Petrus and I went to the Post Office to work on the documentation for the Promesso Soggorno. The office only has one person to handle everyone who is seeking this…and though the office opened at 8:30am, he did not arrive until 9:15am. LONG day, and there is still more that needs to be done to obtain this “important” document. Needless to say, I was late for class, but no worries. Bro. Petrus and I walked from the Vatican (where the Post Office is) to my school – the trip was very short and was equal in time to the public transportation fiasco. I was able to see the Castle Sant Angelo…and a few other things before I had a couple more hours of Italian.
Thursday was the final day for the gathering of superiors, and when I was returning home from school, I was greeted by Fr. General who welcomed me home from the balcony over the main entrance. In fact, he said he was “unhappy” with me because I did not write to him as soon as I had arrived in Italy, but I rectified the situation by mentioning that I thought he was OUTSIDE Italy at the time. I had a quick bite to eat – alone as everyone had literally just finished – but while I ate Fr. Nunzio spoke with me about the vocations situation of the Order within Italy. Once I finished, I sat and spoke with Fr. General. At our last meeting in Cleveland we spoke in English as I did not know Italian. This time, however, we used Italian. As we were speaking, Fr. Provincial joined us, and the two of them asked me many things about America and my thoughts on various topics.
On Friday my former teacher showed me the location of an international bookstore…not far from the large one I already knew of. EVERY language you could think of was present, but the English section was the largest…and the books were actually priced at a reasonable price.
Thus ended my fourth week…and my first month.
Editor’s note: In installment #4 we see, as Brother Scottston stated himself in the message that accompanied the journal, the “more spiritual side came out.”
My Dearest Friend,
It feels as though an eternity has passed since our last conversation… Perhaps it was my fault – I was too preoccupied dwelling on my own thoughts to perceive the fact you were present. I realize that no level of apology would be sufficient to account fully for my unremitting failures…a reality that I have reluctantly come to accept.
Why should today be any different?
I can see you…standing there…saying to me, “Why such baffled disposition? ‘Did you miss me?’ It is a normal question – I missed you. But what do I get back? Not an ounce of excitement, not a whisper of a thrill.” My only response would invariably be silence. It always is.
I see you further saying to me, “Scott at a loss for words? The man from whose lips fall ‘rapture’ and ‘fury’ and ‘enthrallment’ …all those admonitions about being ‘deliberately happy,’ … all the dispiriting advice you dispense in round, pear-shaped tones…?”
…again…the customary downcast sigh.
And yet the faint, sad uncertain smile, so often there, now seems to glimmer from its obscurity, and linger briefly on my lips. It could be a fool’s hope of that which is to be…or merely the delusion of a simple boy…who finds himself coming to the realization that all truly IS well.
My daily transformation takes place…my gradual coming to better understand you as I mature day by day into the person I was always meant to be. But you already knew that. I attempt to surprise you…even though I know that your knowledge of me is so superior to my expectations that there is nothing that would (or could) surprise you.
…yet you still pretend to be surprised to placate my child-like desire to please you. What impresses me most is that – though I never surprise you, you always respond in a way that ultimately elevates me.
How could you who know me so well…not feel disappointed by the knowledge that I do not recapitulate that same reciprocal knowledge of you? Is this merely further evidence of not only my failure to truly get to know you from the beginning, but also evidence of my focus on myself at the detriment of knowing you?
The possibilities are endless.
I rest, however, in the knowledge that ultimately it does not matter – all is made perfect in time…or that is the hope at least. Until then, I will rest in my complacency…knowing (and trusting) in that which is…and that which will be.