My love affair with the Mediterranean didn’t start with Spain.
Many years ago, I fell head over heels for Italia, infatuated by its people, its culture, its beauty, its romance. And in September 2017, the Mayor of the small town of Varenna in Lago di Como commenced the formalities of our nuptials as we said, “I do” in one of the most beautiful places on earth. That’s amore!
Why Italy? Why the Med? What is there not to love?
The words on a Dolce & Gabbana perfume sample I tried sold one idea – claiming the colourful, adventurous, fresh and fruity scent “reflected the sexiness of the Mediterranean lifestyle”. You only need to see the advert for their ‘Light Blue’ fragrance to know what they mean. The perfectly bronzed models David Gandy and Bianca Balti lounging on a boat in their matching white swimwear are supposed to capture the “essence of a sunny Sicilian summer”.
Yet, when I thought of the Mediterranean, my mind conjured up less sexy (but equally appealing) images of really old people resting on benches, shaded by olive trees in hard to reach mountain villages, or of large families at meal times, sharing food that has been grown with care and cooked with love.
Because it isn’t all about yachts on glistening seas and tanned models in barely-there swimwear. It is more than that.
It is life.
And whichever Mediterranean shore you land on, you are sure to feel life. The fundamentals of the traditional healthy lifestyle which include: a good diet with fresh local produce, lots of time outdoors, gentle exercise, socialising and a few glasses of wine – have helped shape an identity of people over generations (and has helped keep them alive longer too)!
It is a way of life that is aspired to around the world, even the UK’s NHS promotes the benefits of the diet and healthy habits. It may be easy to follow but almost impossible to replicate entirely unless you are blessed with the environmental factors too, such as 300+ days of sunshine per year, rich soil and a place to live that has been designed with walking for convenience in mind.
And I think the language is also a big (and beautiful) part of what helps shape identity. In Italy, I think it is a recognisable characteristic of its passionate people and just one more factor that helped formed my love of the country – as if I needed another!
If there was any greater motivation to quickly improve my Spanish, it is so I can move on to learning Italian ASAP. It is the next logical step on my way to achieving polyglot status, because the two languages are “more similar than not” – I am told. Both are Romance languages, deriving from Latin, and have around 80% lexical similarity and I’m recognising more of this shared vocab by the day: sí, no, uno, libro, luna, arte, casa…
Some say that to the ear of an untrained linguist, the languages also sound very similar. But the differences lie mainly in the pronunciation, and to me (an untrained linguist), the Español I hear in Madrid sounds a bit monotone (albeit rápido), in comparison to melodic Italiano.
Another clue lies in the letter “z”. In European Spanish, the “z” in “chorizo” or “Ibiza” sounds like “th” whereas in Italian, “grazie” or “piazza” are pronounced with a “tz” sound. (Is it even possible to say the latter without an accent)?!
A friend here told me that if a Spanish person and an Italian person had a very slow conversation (which seems an unlikely scenario), then they would be able to understand each other, more or less. And I love that! Although I do wonder how much of the conversation would be spoken with their hands…
Of course, I’m being very general and not taking into account the other official languages and regional dialects within each country – of which there are so many!
But what has always amazed me about Europe is that for such a tiny place (in the grand scheme of the word), every single country is so unique. Cross a border in a matter of hours and you find yourself immersed in a new culture, with different food, different traditions…and different languages.
And in the Southern European countries of Spain and Italy, it can only be advantageous to have knowledge of both languages, and I can’t wait to embark on an adventure of comparisons between the two – any excuse to go back to Italy really!
And when I do make that romantic return trip to bella Italia, it will be as a self-proclaimed linguistic geek. But as I sip a perfectly chilled limoncello after a long day of swooning over the famous food and fashion, I will be swept away once more, and not even the lure of comparing grammar systems or identifying identical vocab could bring me back to earth…
They say you need a clear motivation for learning a language. What is mine for learning Italian? Well, other than being able to declare my undying love for the country that holds such an immovable place in my heart, it would also be great to finally translate our wedding certificate!
But I’m getting ahead of myself – I must be patient.
After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day…