I have started taking Italian lessons with a teacher in our San Pietro neighbourhood. Italian is a complicated language and one of the few I know of which has six different determinate articles signifying ‘the’ and another six signifying ‘a’ or ‘some’! My teacher tells me that the name of something is not a word in Italian unless it has its appropriate article. Then of course everything has a masculine or feminine designation. Many are straightforward enough with masculine nouns ending in ‘o’ and feminine ending in ‘a’ though, of course, one has to remember which is which and to make sure that one doesn’t use the wrong ending. Given the sacerdotal surroundings, my teacher has several priests and nuns as students. By way of explaining the importance of remembering the correct gender for things, she recounted an incident that involved one of her students, a Polish priest. He went into a gelateria with two colleagues attending a Papal conference and ordered fig ice-cream, which he referred to as “gelato alla fica”, because “they didn’t have this in Poland”. There was much smirking and giggling behind the counter and he couldn’t figure out why. Next day, he asked the teacher what he had said that caused such amusement. She explained that the word for fig is masculine ‘il fico’ whereas he had used the feminine ‘la fica’ which is common slang for female genitalia!
Back home after my lesson, I was learning my colours. ‘Marrone’ is a confusing one for me as I think it should mean maroon whereas in fact, its brown. Fidz hastened to tell me to be careful how I pronounced it as if you add an ‘i’ to the end instead of an ‘e’, it means large chestnuts or in colloquial terms “balls”.
Well, enough learning for one day! We decided to visit St. Peter’s as we had heard that there was a Mass at 5pm sung in Latin with a full choir. On arriving there, the main altar was cordoned off as Mass had already started and of course there were hordes of people behind the cordon taking photos etc. I went up to the security guard and told him in my best Italian that I wished to attend Mass. To our amazement, he undid the ropes and waved us through. I wanted to sit quietly at the back but Fidz demonstrating “marroni”, marched up to the front and sat in the very first pew! There we were, surrounded by prayers in Latin and singing, with light from the setting sun pouring through the stained glass window above the altar. It was truly a divine moment.