While staying at one of the coziest B&B’s we’ve ever stayed at (thanks to my cousin, Nico for putting us in touch with them) I learned about Aperilingua- an event taking place at a bar every Thursday night, hosted by the wonderful ladies at BB Tecla- Vanna, Daniela and Brigitta.
One day over espresso and sfogliatelle, I hopped up and walked to the table with the activity brochures. “A pizza lesson! Ooooh, wine tasting! A tour of Pompeii!” I was so excited over the possibilities. Then I saw a little red card all by itself that said: “Aperilingua.” “What’s this one?” I asked Brigitta.
“Oh! We teach several languages at a bar near University. Some teach English, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, I teach Chinese,” Brigitta answered.
“Does anyone teach Italian Sign Language?” I asked. I’ve wanted to learn Italian Sign since I saw it on a video years ago. Before you ask, No. Sign Language is not universal.
“There is someone who was teaching that but I don’t know if she is coming this week,” she answered, pouring more espresso.
“I know American Sign Language, but I’d love to learn Italian Sign and spoken Italian,” I said looking at the red postcard.
“Maybe you could teach the American Sign!” She said smiling. Here I was thinking of learning a language and I was propositioned with the complete opposite. Teach.
There was more conversation, a bit of back and forth, and a bit went into encouraging me to teach ASL at a bar near the University but here’s the gist. I totally did it.
Before I knew it, Thursday rolled around and I was teaching Italians ASL. Hubbyface, Vanna and I were walking from Tecla to Piazza Universitia around 8pm when I wondered: what did I agree to?
In the Piazza, which is a Square (like Boston’s Harvard Square, Davis Square… etc.), there was a busy bar called Kesto and tables set up with mini country flags poking out of empty wine bottles, printed activity papers in various languages, and BB Tecla tee shirts being handed out to those teaching a language.
Approaching a table with Vanna, we were greeted by Daniela. “Ciao! Thank you for joining tonight! Here is your shirt. Do you need anything, do you have a game planned?”
“Ummm, I can.” A game? Fuck. No. As I pulled the BB Tecla tee over my striped shirt, I remembered an old game involving pretend elephant ears and trunk that I learned from my dad when he used to teach ASL at the Kingdom Hall.
“Can you cut these papers for me?” Daniela asked.
“Sure,” I began halving and cutting blank sheets of white paper and thought: what the hell do I even teach? I’ve never taught ASL formally, only standing in line at the airport with my husband, some with my step kids when they were younger and the random times at school growing up. Maybe no one will come to my table, I mean I don’t even have a mini flag, it’s not like ASL and Deaf culture have a country they hail from. Shit! I don’t have a flag!
I took one of the halved pieces of paper and did my best to draw a hand shape for the words “I Love You,” taped it to a plastic flagstick and stuck it in an empty Aperol bottle. There. While everyone was getting their tables set up, flags in place, this incredibly gregarious Australian made her way to my husband.
“So nice to see you again! I forget your name,” she said stretching out her hand.
He looked confused but played along, “Ron.” He said shaking her hand. She didn’t look at me once.
She began to recite his name with a myriad of pronunciations, “R-ah-n. I feel funny saying it that way. R-uh-n. How’s that? Roooon.” On and on she went. Mama Mia. Zip it, there’s gonna be enough talking and socializing tonight and my INFJ anxiety is starting to surface.
Hubbyface did what he always does in these situations: politely cuts the conversation short with body language. He moved slightly away from her and stood behind me. Ahhhh, introverts unite. She moved over to her table which was already mobbed with people wanting to learn English, I take it not many people understood my flag just yet.
I was fed appetizers and given a glass of wine as part of my payment. While nibbling on a hunk of cheese, hubby said, “Teach me more.” We reviewed some things I’d already taught him and played around with some vocabulary and sentence structure when my cousin, Nico, showed up. Little did I know this was the last night I’d see him.
Then a few more people showed up. I taught them some ASL, and they taught me some LIS. I was definitely an awkward teacher and that’s ok. It was last minute, after all. I’d like to think with enough time to develop a curriculum, I could do ok.
In an attempt to offset the awkward, I suggested we play the elephant game. That only made it more awkward and one dude left after that. I suspected he might jet after he shared his LIS sign name with me.
“The woman who taught us, gave me this sign name,” he said showing me what it was, “It means arrogant.” Rightly so.
The elephant game is a bit childish, but fun. It tests quickness and hand-eye coordination. Everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. The person who stands in the middle is tasked with pointing to a person in the circle. Once you’re pointed at, you quickly put two fists up to your nose- this is your trunk. The people on either side of you make a C-shape with their hand next to your ear- these are your elephant ears. If you’re too slow, you’re out. I thought it was cute, but perhaps some are too cool for school, or just not drunk enough yet.
As the evening came to a close, I got up to use the restroom. I took my time and wandered the bar looking at the old black and white photos on the walls of kids playing in the street, some of the Piazzas in their Hey-Days and a few of Sofia Loren at the port in Naples. Classic. As I made my way outside I had a crowd to fight. My husband and cousin looked at me and smiled, waving at me from the table. I waved back. Then I realized the mob I was fighting my way through, was waiting for me! Cazzo!
“Everyone is here for you, cousin!” Nico said laughing.
Ok, Bek. No need to panic. Know your audience… University + bar = dirty signs and swears. Dirty signs and swears! We went through the alphabet and damn did they catch on quick! Shit. Fill the awkward, fill the awkward! We went through “My name is…” as they finger spelled their names and finally I said, “You probably wanna know some swear words, huh?” They got excited. I had to lighten it up; it was late, there’d been drinks, we were at the University Square and my anxiety was somewhat high. When those things are combined, my default is humor and I didn’t think they’d mind, no one was getting graded.
There were some who were very interested in the interpreting process and how it is that I’m able to interpret things like advanced sciences and politics when there isn’t a sign for each word. My answer- ASL is its own language. Grammar also equals body language, facial expression, mouth movements, and palm orientation. There is body language for a comma. There is a specific face one makes, indicating a question. There’s a shit ton to consider. It is not just signed words arbitrarily thrown about in the air.
All in all it was a fun evening and one thing I realized (among many) is no matter what I do or where I go in the world, my heritage will continue to follow me. Not the Italian one. The Deaf/ASL/CODA one. The one I keep trying to escape in the hopes of finding a new career and a whole new me. Dammit, this is me. This is who I am and I accept it. *Deaf applause* Just wave your hands in the air, wave ’em like you just don’t care. Seriously, that’s how Deaf audiences applaud.
One other thing- I was not only fed, I was paid 13 euro. So, serious question: is this trip now tax deductible?