Although I started learning Italian shortly after I got here (Beginner’s Italian and Fig Gelato), I have not attained a great degree of fluency. My frequent trips back to Toronto combined with the fact we speak English at home have not done much to further my skills. In an effort to improve, I signed up for a semi-intensive course at the school run by the Societa di Dante Alighieri.
The school is in a beautiful building, the Palazzo Firenze in the area between the Tiber and the Spanish Steps. There are about 10 of us in the class all from different parts of the world which is a good thing as we are forced to speak to each other in Italian during ‘la pausa’. We have two teachers who alternate classes. One is a mature woman who looks over her glasses at us and gives us long lectures on how we must do our homework diligently and not only do our homework (which there is a lot of) but write something every day. All excellent advice as many of the students in class are learning the language in preparation for going to university in Rome and need to be able to write well. However, since half the class don’t understand a word she’s saying, she may be wasting her breath! The other teacher is a young fellow who bursts into class and launches into teaching with a lot of energy. At his first lesson, he brought in a guitar and made us join him in a well-known (not to us!) folk song. He sometimes forgets to take attendance and never tells us to write anything or if he does, he leaves it to the other teacher to correct which she always complains about. However, he has a gift for explaining grammar and he’s a good teacher. In fact both of them are good in different ways.
What I really enjoy is the physical space we are in. The building dates back to 1516 and was originally built by an apostolic official to house his large family. After a series of subsequent ownerships and further building, it became the property of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Firenze which is how it got its name. The Medici family in keeping with their status, turned it into a sumptuous Palazzo. It was ceded to the Italian State in 1867 and became the Ministry of Mercy, Justice and Religion. Only in Italy could such a title for a government ministry exist! Since 1928, it has housed the Societa Dante Alighieri and its language school.
The finer rooms of the Palazzi in Rome were always on the first floor (piano nobile) so that they escaped flooding from the Tiber and allowed space for a courtyard on the ground floor that carriages could drive into. Our classrooms which are small and plain are on the second floor. Only some of the rooms survive in their original state today or I should say, I’ve only been able to gain access to two original rooms, the Auditorio and the Biblioteca. Nobody ever seems to go into the Biblioteca except for the librarian. If I’m early for class, I go in there and admire the frescoes on the ceiling done by Jacopo Zucchi, a student of Vasari’s. The auditorium is only for special events and overlooks a gorgeous garden in an internal courtyard. I wish we could do our lessons there but perhaps it is better to be in what I can only describe as an ugly classroom as I’m sure my mind would wander if we were in one of these fine rooms.