Note: The Italian alphabet contains twenty-one letters: j, k, w, x and y are absent.
A is for Andiamo
Pronounced: [Ahn-D’YAH-Moe] Translation: Let’s go. Verb, plural. Italian.
Yet in the Molisan dialect I have spoken my whole life we say yammacheen. There is a great margin for error then, for confusion and class system to enter into casual conversations, trip up the tongue. I have this problem in two languages. Witness the time I pronounced acquiesce as aqua-size, making my roommate think a new class had been added to the schedule at the nearby YMCA. Or when I said trapezing but meant traipsing. “You can’t come trapezing through here whenever you feel like it,” I say, accusing my boyfriend of being a Barnum and Bailey’s acrobat, casually back-flipping and sailing through my apartment.
I have an intense connection to the expression “Let’s go,” an attachment to the idea of: leave this place, go elsewhere, come with me. I borrowed Eliot’s famous beginning from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky—to use as a caption under my high school grad photo, summing up my farewell thoughts in the yearbook’s allotted twenty-five words or less. No “Keep in touch!” No “THANKS to A.H, J.K. & G.T - YOU GUYS ROCK!!!” More a poetic invitation, let’s blow this popsicle stand.
B is for Bonefro
Pronounced: [Bone- NAY-fro] noun. A village in Southern Italy, region of Molise.
Bonefro is our beginning. According to my mother, this place gave birth to our fierce, proud, better-than-everybody-else’s bloodline.
We go back to the village for a summer the year I turn eleven. My mother’s health is deteriorating and she is convinced the climate of her youth will offer the best environment for convalescence. She wants to be close to her own mother.
Bonefro is tiny, chiseled out of the hillside, with buildings covered in cool rock tile that offer some relief from the unforgiving Mediterranean sun.
My Italian cousins find me curious. They find it difficult to follow the conversation as my parents and I flip between Italian dialect and mangled English in the same breath. Our speech is fragmented and sentences are splintered over forgotten words or incorrect translations. No one notices the problem until I ask Luisa to accompany me:
“Lu, yammacheen u – Papa, come si dice store in Italian?”
My father doesn’t hesitate to reply, “Store è…is store.”
Luisa frowns. Store is clearly not how one says store in Italian.
“Wait minute…u sach è…I know is…” My father is annoyed, frustrated that he cannot remember. He stares at the hand he has just been dealt in the card game Scopa and asks my mother to assist. She doesn’t know, doesn’t care. The word is gone, replaced. It’s not even on the tip of their tongues.
My grandfather wins the round while my dad is distracted. Nonno shakes his head at the floor and again curses Columbus for discovering America.