(from 2013...) In my younger days I took a bit of French in elementary school, and in junior high school Spanish from Miss Do, but at The Ohio State University it was Italian. My professor was a non-Italian named Ollie Moore and each morning he would walk into class, shoulders hunched over, head down, and greeted us with the usual “Buon Giorno”.
He was my instructor for two years and very easy-going. Each year there were about 25 students in class mostly non-Italians and my best recollection is that they received the highest grades. The Sicilian I used from listening at home didn’t go well in the classroom (that’s when my parents would talk when they didn’t want me and my sister to know something). The first year dealt mostly with vocabulary and grammar lessons. The second year was a very pleasant experience; dealing with Italian literature and the great novels: Alessandro Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), Boccaccio’s Il Decameron and Dante’s Inferno.
Unlike the first year blue book tests, the final exams were one-on-one sessions with Professor Moore who raised questions about the themes of these excellent novels. Promessi Sposi was my favorite. It was about a love affair between Renzo and Lucia who were all set to marry in a town outside Lake Como when the marrying priest backed down. On the eve of the wedding the priest was threatened by a couple of thugs into not performing the wedding and he cowardly came up with a phony excuse for the postponement. But in the long run, the unwavering strength of the love of Renzo and Lucia conquered all and they finally married.
Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron is a series of short stories (100), each of which began with a day: Day One, Day Two, etc. Reading through these chapters, I came to understand that the Renaissance period was not an easy period for women. Those that didn’t marry usually wound up in the convent. Those that married had no rights. Certainly no political rights and they were the legal subjects of their husband and ordered to perform all expected duties of a housewife. Whatever the husband said went, and unveiled revelations reflected the heartaches of these ladies.
I remember telling Professor Moore that I thought Dante’s Inferno (Hell), the first part of Divine Comedy, was the scariest. The Italian poet wrote about his guided trip with the Roman poet Virgil through the nine circles of Inferno. After all, sinners were going to be punished for eternity in a fashion fitting their misdeeds on earth. An example was the fortune-tellers whose heads were on backwards. Thus they were always looking backward, never able to tell the future. An easy question at the time was to name the nine circles. Today, I remember a few. Violence, Greed, Anger, Fraud and Lust were some of the levels and no one ever forgets the most famous phrase of entering Inferno (Hell) “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’intrate” (Abandon All Hope, Ye who enter here).
I must admit, I never received an A in Italian but B’s were okay with me. My dad and mom could still talk secretly in their Sicilian dialect; my Italian classes didn’t help.