A Crash Course

August 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 29 Comments
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A “Crash” Course: How To Learn Italian in Just Eight Days

1. Plan a weekend getaway to Tuscany with your husband. Copiously thank your in-laws, who have agreed to babysit for part of their two-week visit to Romania. Brush up on the basics by learning words like grazie, buongiorno, and arrivederci.

2. Leave your apartment (and sick baby) at dawn. Board your plane. Pop your Xanax. Fall asleep until the plane touches down in Pisa. Learn words like autobus, treno, biglietto, cambiare, and centro.

3. Walk around Pisa before the crowds wake up. Watch the souvenir vendors set up their stands. Watch Italians walking their dogs in front of the Leaning Tower. Watch the closed gelato shops and check the time often to see when they’ll be open. Learn words like americana, protezione solare, cartolina, and acqua.

Easy Italian: gelato

4. Take the train to Florence. Walk through the city listening to free audio tours courtesy of Rick Steves. Decide you love him even more when he suggests you stop for gelato near Florence’s Duomo. Choose scoops of coffee and Nutella on a giant cone. Swoon at its deliciousness. Learn words like buon appetito, cono gelato, and cucchiaio.

5. Check into your hotel and immediately fall asleep in the air-conditioned darkness. Wake up and venture out for dinner at a restaurant that serves the best pasta you’ve ever eaten. Have more gelato. Learn words like gnocchi, orecchiette, vino della casa, and delizioso.

6. The next morning, head to the meeting point of your pre-booked guided Vespa tour of the Tuscan countryside. Ignore your nerves. Hop on a van with your fellow tourists. Ignore your nerves. Drive to the Vespa garage at a nearby campground. Ignore your nerves. Learn words like andare, stop, motocicletta, and facile.

Easy Italian: gnocchi e chianti

7. Sign the waiver. Ignore your nerves. Buy the optional insurance. Ignore your nerves. Choose a helmet. Ignore your nerves. Complete the 15-minute “Vespa Driving for Beginners” course. Ignore your nerves (and the guide who curses at you for not keeping up). Learn words like assicurazione, lento, and va bene.

8. Begin your tour. Drive for 10 minutes. Hit a pothole. Crash into a wall. Have your husband remove your Vespa from on top of you. Realize you cannot get up off the pavement. Learn words like ambulanza, paramedico, ospedale, and tranquillo.

9. Spend hours and hours in the ER getting blood dawn, having X-rays made, screaming in pain, and trying not to cry. Realize it’s pretty bad when the doctor says they’re going to give you anesthesia so they can put a cast on your leg. Wake up with plaster from your ankle to your thigh. Learn words like ginocchio, rotto, radiografia, and anestesia.

10. Talk to the doctor, who says that you’ll need surgery. And that you’ll be in the hospital until then. And for a few days after the surgery. And you won’t see your kids for many, many days. And visiting hours are only from 12:30 to 3:30 and 6:30 to 8. Cry. A lot. Learn words like operazione, dolore, and medicina.

11. Get transferred from the ER to the hospital wing. Realize you’ll be in a room with four other women. With no curtains. And no TV. And no wi-fi. And no one who speaks English. Say goodbye to your husband, who has to leave because it’s not visiting hours. Cry. A lot. Learn words like forte, coraggio, marito, and triste.

12. Spend most of the night crying. And begging for pain medicine. And crying. And begging. And listening to the women in the room with you do the same thing. Learn words like male, non può dormire, caldo, and freddo.

13. Spend the next three days waiting. Waiting for visiting hours. Waiting to talk with one of the doctors who speaks English. Waiting to see what the mystery meat at dinner will be. Add infermiera, dottore, bidet (fun!), and mamma mia (in proper context) to your ever-expanding vocabulary.

Easy Italian: paramedici

14. Have your surgery. Hurt a lot. Cry a lot. Run a fever. Sleep a little. Have some really freaky dreams. Learn words like febbre, temperatura, and circolazione.

15. Get kicked out of the hospital two days later, just after the doctor removes your bandages and puts on your post-operative brace. Which your husband acquired by traipsing across the city. Twice. In 100-degree heat. Since you still have a fever and nearly pass out when you stand up, convince them to let you stay a day or two more, with some coaching on how to be “non dolce” by your Italian roommate. Learn words like sangue, testa, stampelle, and non pronto.

16. Hobble 3 meters around the bed on your crutches. Even though you’re dripping sweat and panting, smile when the crowd in the room (nurses, patients, and their family members) applaud. Buoyed by your latest success, become determined to blow this joint within 24 hours. Learn words like bellissima and meraviglioso.

17. Wake up and ask to be wire-free — no catheter, no IV, and no analgesic epidural. Feel only joy as the needles, medical tape, and various-sized colorful tubes are extracted from your body. First stop: the bathroom. It takes 10 minutes to get there and even longer to figure out how to sit down. But the closed door and privacy? Glorious! Learn words like toilette, padella, and da solo.

18. Say goodbye to your roommates, their families, and your favorite nurses. Snap a few pictures. Share a few cheek kisses. Sign absolutely no papers and pay absolutely no Euros. Shrug your shoulders when everyone says this is normal. Learn words like foto, e-mail, Facebook, and ciao.

19. Get to the hotel. Climb 28 stairs with one leg, two crutches, and your husband’s hands hoisting you up. Wish you were back in the hospital with your deluxe reclining bed, nurse call button, and morphine drip. Learn words like maledizioni, affaticato, and scala.

20. Spend the day shoring up your strength for the journey back to Romania. Leave your Florence hotel at midnight. Pay 12 Euros to take a 200-meter taxi ride to the train station. Consider it some of the best money you’ve ever spent since you avoided cobblestones, stairs, and prolonged exposure to the city’s bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Learn words like sedia a rotelle, ascensore, and zanzare.

Easy Italian: ospedale vista

21. Take a train to Pisa. Curse the broken elevator. Hobble down more stairs. Bless an Albanian teenager who helps your husband carry you up the stairs on the other side of the platform.”Rest” on a concrete bench for two hours. When the feeling returns to your butt, take a taxi to the airport. Find a wheelchair. A wheelchair! Gladly let yourself be escorted through the check-in line, through security, and right up to the plane aisle. Learn words like disabile, assistenza, and imbarco presto.

22. There’s one seat for you, one seat for your husband, and one seat for your knee. Buckle up. Try to get comfortable. Take off. Try to get comfortable. Give Italy a certain globally understood hand gesture. Try to get comfortable. Land. Watch everyone else disembark. Try to get comfortable. Learn words like aspettare, pazienza, and mi scusi.

23. Get yourself hoisted off the plane and down the runway stairs by two beefy Romanian airport workers. Get yourself hoisted into the car by your husband and his boss. Get yourself hoisted up the stairs at your apartment by your husband and father-in-law. Hobble in your front door and get hysterical in front of your mother-in-law. Don’t feel quite so embarrassed when she cries a little, too.

24. Hug your kids. Take your pain meds. Hug your kids again. Mamma mia! Home, sweet home.

And presto! You now know about 100 Italian words and phrases. Brava!

Have you ever taken a crash course in a foreign language? Ever totally lost it in front of your mother-in-law? Ever been as glad as I was to get out of a country?



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  1. Stacia, I was wondering how you are doing. So sorry…what a journey you have gone through 😦 I hope that you feel better and that things will get back to normal. I am sure the kisses and embraces from the kids help 🙂

  2. That is sure an adventure. OMG. I am so glad that there was family with your kids when that all happened. I am sure you were so freaked out.

    My biggest question is…no tv, no wifi…what did you do all day in that hospital??

    • After my husband finally found a hotel with decent wi-fi, he loaded some books on my Kindle and some music on my iPod. Before that, though, I was actually writing in an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned journal. It felt so … prehistoric! =>

  3. Gosh, I hope you’re feeling so much better now. Wishing you a very quick recovery. (((hugs)))

  4. Oh, Stacia…. You know, you really don’t have to go to such extremes for a good blog post. You do realize that, right? I mean, your blog is lovely without all of the sad humor you found in the horrible situation you were in. No more hospital stays in foreign countries, m’kay?

    I am so glad you’re back in Romania! And that your in-laws are there to help. Though, had they not been visiting, you wouldn’t have gone to Italy and this never would have happened… so… Hmmm. That’s a bit of a paradox.

    Take care.

  5. Oh yes! I’ve lost it infront of my MIL, but she “took it well”. Glad you got away from it all? I was definitely a different kind of week, and something out of the ordinary everyday go go go.
    OUCH! on all the pain.

  6. Well done finding the humor in a pretty terrible situation! And yes, I’ve lost it in front of my MIL. There’s another rite of passage.

  7. I cringed for you when I read about the limited visiting hours. Poor you! That must have been so hard to go through so much of that alone. Wow… what an ordeal. I’m glad you’re finally home safely with your kids again!

  8. Oh, dear, Dear! Hope you’re on the mend, and I just know you were missing the kids so much! I’m only laughing with you, I promise. Goodies getting mailed this week come Hell or continued Hell-like temperatures.

    • Thanks, Leslie! Wishing you all rain and some relief from the heat!

  9. Oh this made me cry.
    I’m just glad you’re back with your kids.
    {sigh} I think I’ll go read about the first couple days again because those days made me happy.
    Oh and I think I may have eaten gelati at that very same spot.

  10. Stacia, OMG. I’m so sorry this happened. Glad you are back home with your kids & WIFI 🙂 Sending you wishes for a speedy recovery.

  11. Stacia, I am not a cryer (except Steel Magnolias) but this made me cry just thinking of all that you went thru. We love you guys.

  12. Ohh my goodness. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but this entry is bellissima!

    • This is waaaaaaaay too much information, but after what I’ve been through, I have lost all sense of modesty and American prudishness. When one of the patients would pee in the bedpan with no leaks, the nurses would say, “Bellissima!” It felt sort of odd to be praised for something like that, but after a couple of times, you kind of like it. I mean, you can’t walk or roll over, but dammit, you can pee in a bowl! =>

  13. This sounds awful! I have tears in my eyes reading it. Glad you’re on the healing end. And yes, I totally lost it one time in front of my MIL. I blame post-partum hormones. Feel better!

  14. OMG OMG OMG. Helluva way to learn 100 words. Let everyone take care of you, if that’s even remotely possible. (I know, right?)

    Sending hugs.

  15. Stacia, this had me on edge. The whole time. I am beyond relieved that you are reunited with your family in Romania. I’d give Italy the big bird too. Take care of yourself.

  16. Crash course. I didn’t really catch that until the end. I’m slow tonight. Your titles are always the best.

    Very impressed that you purchased the optional insurance for the Vespa tour. Did that get you anything once you needed it? Just curious.

    • Sadly, I think the optional insurance was for damage to my Vespa and the wall I ran into. I was on my own!!

  17. That is just terrible! I am so very, very sorry that you had to go through that! How will you ever look at Italy with any good feelings again? And it really is a nice country. Stupid Vespas. I am so very impressed with your amazing fortitude through it all. There is something really awful about being confined in a hospital. But to be stuck in a room with other women, all moaning pain, and no tv or wifi as a distraction?! I don’t know how you did it. True, true strength on that one. I am glad you are back “home” and safe with your babies.

    • Yes, if it weren’t for the heavenly gelato, Italy would be ruined for me forever. But I might, just might, go back one day a looooooong time from now for a taste of that cold, sweet, ice-cream-y goodness. I’m a sucker for a good dessert. =>

  18. LOL! Great job writing a funny piece out of your misfortune. I’ve written my share of humorous how-to’s and know how hard they are to pull off. Really good job!

  19. So I take it there won’t be an “Eat, Pray, Love” type novel coming out ouf your visit to Italy. 🙂 Bless you for your irony. Pain in the dark is really … dark. I’m here with a flashlight.

  20. So, I’m sorry I haven’t been by for awhile, but OH MY GOSH. You poor thing! I guess that’s one way to remember an Italian vacation.

  21. […]  She breaks her leg and manages to make me laugh and cry about it with […]

  22. I’m visiting from Rebecca’s Altared Spaces blog. Wow, what an ordeal. But you made it funny as hell. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  23. […]  She breaks her leg and manages to make me laugh and cry about it with […]

  24. […] One year ago, I couldn’t walk at all. […]

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