I lived abroad in Palermo, Sicily for three and a half months, one summer in college. I was traveling to be a nanny, and was paired with a host family: Parents, Marino and Angela and their three year old boy, Aldo; also known as the spawn of Satan. (Yes, he was that bad! Another story for another time.) In retrospect, my host family was phenomenal. They were kind to me, treated me well and made sure I had anything I needed. For instance, the first full day I was there, Marino made sure that I had a map of the city, and we sat together and found the house, marking it in a big red circle so I could always find it.
My host family also fed me very well, naturally, with local Italian cuisine and I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I’d end up looking as big as a blue whale by the time I got back to the States! The best way I could thwart this on my own, without refusing food (because who in their right mind would refuse food when everything was so fresh and it all tasted so wonderful?) was to do some sort of cardio exercise every day.
(Keep in mind, I’m not a cardio type of girl… Throw me in a pool, and I’m all about it. There have been a handful of times in my life when I think to myself, “You know what sounds great? A run!” So I strap my shoes on, and plug my earbuds in, and set out for a run. Inevitably within three blocks, I always approach the brink of death and chide myself, “WHAT ON EARTH WAS I THINKING?! This was quite possibly the worst idea I’ve ever had, in my entire life!” and I won’t run again for years.)
About four or five days into my stay, and umpteen courses later, I strapped my running shoes on, and told myself this was my only option. And informed Marino & Angela that I would be back before dinner. They looked perplexed but didn’t ask any questions. We weren’t comfortable enough with each other that they felt they could question me yet. I had studied the map, and made sure that the route was etched into my brain, and set off for what was my first run in Sicily.
I’m quite certain it was the idea of running in a completely unfamiliar place, with an enormous language barrier that kept my adrenaline up, and allowed me to complete the course I had selected that day without any issues. (It still baffles me when I think back to it.)
I returned to our 7th floor apartment that we all shared about thirty minutes later, sweaty, beat red in the face, and an altogether mess, having completed my first 5k, or so. I cleaned myself up, and made it into the kitchen in time to help set the table, and serve.
I repeated this process nearly every night and within a week, Marino finally got up the guts to ask me about it during dinner:
“Angela, dove vai, appena prima di cena, ogni sera?” Where do you go, just before dinner, every night? The curiosity in his voice was evident, and my host mom Angela also stopped cooing at Aldo to listen for an answer from me. Evidently there had been talk about this routine in my absence. I excused myself from the table, indicating I just needed a moment to answer the question.
I returned to the table, laid out the map Marino had purchased for me and and traced my finger along my route, to show them both that I went around Teatro Massimo down Via Ruggierro Settimo all the way to Teatro Politeama, and through the piazza there. From there, I swung back up Via Carini and around Palermo Cathedral, and back down Via Vittorio Emanuele to Via Maqueda and back to our apartment.
They both followed my finger, as I traced. When I was through, they looked at each other, back at the map, at each other again, and then at me.
Angela finally broke the silence and asked, “Angela, avete visto tutti questi posti stasera, quando te ne sei andato prima di cena?” you saw all those places tonight, while you were gone before dinner?
Both their eyes were wide, awaiting my response.
I smiled broadly, and responded as best I could in my Italian and said, “Si, corro a tutti quei posti, e poi tornare qui.” Yes, I run to all of those places, and then I come back here.”
They looked at each other again. Marino confirmed, “Tu corri? (You run?) Piu veloce che puoi? (As fast as you can?) A tutti quei posti? (To all those places?) Per divertimento? (For fun?)”
Again, I smiled, and nodded, “Si!” Yes!
“But, Angela… Why?”
What could I do but laugh? I’m not sure they would have understood my answer no matter what language I said it in. Can you say “Lost in translation”?