Full Immersion

This Italian learning malarky is taking over my life. I believe in full immersion in anything that I do and I’m the kind of person that if I don’t keep at it every single day I forget things really fast.  I live in England so of course most things are English and you have to work hard to make sure you’re coming across your learner language on a regular basis.

My language exchange group has broken up for the summer, so a bunch of us have migrated over to Whatsapp. So there’s 7 conversations going on already.

I joined Hello Talk this week. I’ve steered clear of the chat apps so far because they take up so much time. But I thought I’d give this one a go. Day one and I’m already having 6 separate conversations. Ironing out my issues with getting ‘sto’ and ‘io sono’ correct (something I was doing fine with but suddenly seems to have slipped) and mastering my sentence structure is coming along nicely thanks to the vigilence of the users there but I am reminded how far I still have to go.

I am rarely corrected on Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter so I’m guessing readers are just being polite and are understanding what I’m on about. Impatience is a major personality hangup of mine. So 6 months in to my Italian language learning and I just don’t think I’m good enough. I’m also obsessed with getting the grammar right. The basic present tense is fine for holiday ‘conversazione’ but I want to write blogs and comment on important Facebook groups and get it right.

I am a perfectionist and whilst this isn’t a bad trait it can get in the way of your enjoyment of something when all you want is to talk like a native – which of course I will never be – 5 generations removed as I am from my Italian roots. The Italian blood is still obviously there but I don’t find languages easy. I gave up French as soon as I could in school and its been 27 years since I’ve tried a languge again. And here we are.

But I have the added positive trait of being one of those people that if I really want something I don’t stop until I’ve got it. I’m also slightly comforted that in the 42 years my g-g-g-grandfather (that’s bis-bis-bis-nonno to my Italian readers) lived in England he never fully mastered English.

Venezia – 3 Giorno – On This Day In Venice

Lunedi 8 maggio

On this day in 1798 on the island of Murano, my great great great grandfather, probably best known as Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard, was born. The fact that I am in Venice this week was not a part of my plan, it’s just the way the dates fell on my AirBNB booking.

After breakfast at Goppion, where I met two tourists (one of whom teaches English on mainland Italy), I headed off to Fondamenta Nove to catch the vaporetto to Murano to meet my new cousin.

Paola Falcier is a writer and Murano resident whom I met on the internet a couple of months back. We were both researching our Murano Falcier ancestors and there was a reasonable chance we were related. As it happens, we’re not directly, but we’ve stayed in touch and she’s been a willing victim via Whatsapp as I improve my Italian. We’re still hopeful of finding a connection somewhere. The research continues.

We did a huge circuit of Murano taking in the Fondamenta Venier, which used to be the Fondamenta degli Angoli which is where my Falcieri family lived and where Tita and his siblings were all born.

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We also visited all the churches, a glass factory, the cemetery and I was introduced to a whole host of friends and relatives who had all heard of my impending arrival.

My ancestors on Murano (Falcier, Nichetti, Gaggio and Caurlin) were liberally spread across the southern part of the island and were hanging out around San Stefano, San Pietro and San Ciprioni but there are also connections to San Donato. Between  1814 and 1818 Tita’s father, who had drifted between being a wine seller and a boatman, had picked up his wife and children and decamped to Venice where they had taken up residence at the Palazzo Mocenigo Casa Nuova as ‘gondolieri de casada’ to Lucia Mocenigo, famous of Andrea di Robliant’s books, and later residence for 3 years of Lord Byron after he left the Frezzeria. Why they moved I have no idea. I am guessing they had contacts, probably a family member, already there.

After we parted I headed off to Al Timon. I had found a language exchange group via ‘Meet Up’ and, even though I had spent all day with Paola speaking almost nothing but very broken Italian, I had the chance over cichetti and Aperol to give it another go with my host Michele.

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After this I cut the day short. Paola reckons we clocked up about 8 miles today and tomorrow is another full day. My visit is now half way through. This makes me a bit sad, but I have plenty left to do.

For now, Tita, wherever you are, Buon Compleanno.

What Did I Spend?

Today was quite a cheap day. Breakfast at Goppion was 2.60 Euros and I only picked at cake and cappuccino during the day. Water is freely available throughout Venice at the various fountains so you have no excuse for dehydrating here. Cichetti and two Aperol at Al Timon cost me 10 Euros.

The vaporetto return to Murano Colonna from Fondamenta Nove in Cannaregio cost 10 Euros.

Di Venezia Con Amore

Forgive the impersonal nature of this blog post. Today I arrive in Venice – actually I’ll be somewhere over mainland Europe when this drops onto your timeline. I don’t know when I will get internet access so this is damage limitation, by way of a quick pre-published introduction to say hello from here. If you are in Venice, drop me a line. I am open to all sort of interesting liasons over prosecco, cichetti and anywhere else dreamy and romantic as ever Venice is.

The aim over the next six days is to document my time here with observations, the kinds of photographs you don’t normally see (I promise no Grande Canale panoramics), thoughts on prices, where to eat, artesans, people and the history I see as I trace my ancestors back and forth. I will also be tracking my spending, to see just how true it is that Venice is an overpriced tourist trap. I am very budget conscious so this will be an interesting exercise.

Ciao. Ci vediamo dopo…from somewhere over Europe.

My Venice Review – Countdown!

This post is written mostly in English but with a bit of Italian as well. I’m still learning so translating takes agggeeesssss! But it is good practice!

When I first went to Venice 15 years ago, I was oblivious to the problems. I went five more times, still unaware of what was going on. This year I have returned after a 10 year gap. I am now educated and aware of the problems, the pros and cons. Largely this is also because I know so much more about my personal connection to the city. It is my ancestry. It is my family history. It is my past and it has also been a huge part of my life and my future.

To record my return and my new awareness of the city, I am going to write, research, visit, eat, drink and photograph my six days and blog here. I will be blogging in both Italian and English which I hope will have some accuracy! Excuse my errors!

Please follow my posts. I don’t like to be considered a tourist, but I suppose I am and I hope some of what I say will be of use to other tourists who want more than the tourist experience, and of course for those who live in and care for the city in a small way.

Quando mi primo andare a Venezia 15 anni fa, ero non consapevole dei problemi. Ho ritornato cinque volte, ancora non consapevole. Questo anno ho ritorno dopo 10 anni. Sto più istruito e più conscio dei problemi  – la buona e le male. In gran parte, questo è anche perchè conosco molte di più riguardante la mia connessione personale della città. E il mio antenati. E la mia storica famiglia. E il mio passato. È stato una parte enorme della mia vita e della mia futura.

A ricordo il mio ritorno a Venezia e della mia consapevolezza nuova della città, scriverò, ricerca, visita, mangia, beve e fotografia il mio sei giorni e blog qui. Sarò blogging in Inglese e Italiano quale spero è accurato. Scusa il mio errori! Io sono una studente nuova della lingua Italiana (quattro mesi).

Per favore seguito il mio posti. Non piace le persone pensare io sono una turista, ma io sono suppongo e spero che cosa dico sarà utile per oltre turisti che vogliano più che la turista esperienza, e naturalmente per le persone che vivono e occuparsi della città nel un piccolo modo.

And now for more English because I’m all out of Italian words for today…

My two primary guides on this, my first trip as a solo traveller, are Venezia Autentica and Her Grand Tour. Most of the recommendations are for food and drink because Venice is a minefield of tourist hotspots that I really don’t want to repeat. I hope to add to their recommendations but I’ve pretty much included everything they have to offer on my Google Map (I was writing it all down but it’s turning into a novel on its own). There is no way I am going to manage everything in six days. Thankfully my next trip is just four months away so here’s to multiple returns to the most beautiful city in the world.

Ciao ciao!

Conquering Your Duolingo Tree

On 12th April after 97 days I completed my tree on Duolingo and my owl got his Italian scarf. But this is just the beginning and you can’t learn in isolation. I don’t believe in learning one lesson by heart and then moving on to the next one. I can’t learn by rote and certainly you can’t make sense of one set of words without understanding their context. In Italian many words change not one, depending on the context.

And so I ploughed through the whole lot with a basic understanding, memorising as I went. I’ve managed to implement a lot of it and I can now read basic Italian across social media, understand most of the articles I read and I can get most of my own basic sentence construction right. Italian is now a part of every day life.

But the tree doesn’t end there. You constantly need to update and refresh. Italian is far more complicated than English. And there are far more words to learn because each word has singulars, plurals, are gender sensitive, and have various past, present and future tenses. Quite simply you need to combine Duolingo with a whole bunch of other learning techniques if you’re to master it.

There are a multitude of things you can do. If you want to get good you’ll have to spend a lot longer than a few months. In fact, unless you have a photographic memory, language learning takes a lifetime. But it’s been liberating and I intend to press on.

What I have noticed is how much more advanced my reading and writing is compared to my spoken skills. Talking to an app is one thing, doing it in the real world and with native speakers is quite another and I don’t have many opportunities for that here in Manchester.

And so I joined some language exchange groups on Facebook. I am going to be meeting Italian people. Also, I get randomly messaged by Italians hoping to improve their English so I am constantly having to think on my feet.

I am using a range of elements to improve my language and make sure every day is a new learning and practicing experience. To sum up here’s what I use every day:

  • Facebook and Twitter articles and status updates – I read, write and respond
  • Read a book – someone lent me an Italian book. It’s hard work but handy for dipping in
  • Meet Up – I’ve just joined a language exchange group which meets in Manchester
  • Whatsapp – I have Italian friends in Manchester and Venice I chat to.
  • Duolingo – lesson plans are still set to ‘insane’, you never truly finish your tree
  • Learnitalianpod.com  – spoken lessons only, handy for not using the written word as a prompt
  • Italiano Automatico – Facebook and Youtube – Alberto specialises in teaching Italian. He has slow podcasts – I drop them on to my player for the car.
  • Weila Tom – Youtube – easy explanations about all aspects of the Italian language. This has been my saving grace on so many occasions when I’m struggling to understand structure and variables
  • I back everything up with the vidulingua.com app for checking individual words or checking my sentences before I post to social media
  • I converted all my gadgets to Italian
  • Post it notes – I put them up in strategic places I look every day like my bathroom mirror – I use this mostly for words I struggle to remember – subliminal learning does work
  • podclub.ch – advanced but just hearing the language is beneficial – I drop them on to my player for the car
  • RadioVenezia – or any Italian radio station. Again, just hearing the language is beneficial and that this station is based in my favourite city encourages me
  • Try and think in Italian, I talk to myself a lot. I try to do it in Italian and practice imaginary conversations that I would use regularly such as talking about what I do, or where I am going. It becomes second nature, believe me.
  • Films with or without subtitles – my favourite is ‘Venezia, la luna e tu’ – if you watch it you’ll understand why

In a nutshell SURROUND yourself with it.

#IfVeniceDies

If something lives, it can die. If it was built, it can fall down. In that respect Venice is like anywhere else.

But our perception of Venice’s fragility is largely down to its uniqueness and the passion its people has for preserving it. Where else can you walk amongst 900 year old buildings that are still in daily use. Here in the UK, we just knock them down and build ugly ghosts in their place or they house museum collections. We have no passion for preserving cities or towns in this way.

Venice, being bordered as it is by water, has an insular community which makes it ripe for preservation. The community is hardened to the problems, it isn’t complacent. It’s had to stand up to itself for centuries. Why should now be any different.

The population of Manchester, where I currently live, is 9 times that of Venice. Just think about that for one moment.

If Venice Dies is not just about Venice, although in this instance, it is. It applies to all our historical cities – those which have anything left to show as historical. Venice’s design is it’s biggest ally and also it’s biggest downfall – depending on how you look at it. As someone who has always lived in the UK, I have observed the slow erosion of our architectural and cultural history. Venice represents a paradise. I can go here and walk quite literally in the footsteps of my ancestors and know that they would probably recognise a large proportion of what Venice is now.

But I can appreciate it is not for everyone, and for those that live and have to make a living there it must be hard. Tourism is eating away at solid jobs, at tradition, at artesan crafts, at inherited trades. But Venice has a friend and that is the inhabitants. Venice has survived and it’s down to Venice to pull itself through. And it can do it because it makes a passionate stand. 54,000 people afterall, isn’t nothing.

Artisans

The more I read about artisans, true crafters, trying to survive in a world of imports and ‘tat’, the more passionate I become about it. I have always been unwavering in my defence of home grown and traditional crafts and how paying more for something hand made is an investment.

Never was I more passionate than when I saw the artisans of Venice working and trying to survive in our modern economy. You see, I am also an artisan. I am a writer, I am a published author. I am a Venicephile. BUT….

In England, in Manchester I also run my own business as a clothing designer. My name is my Venetian ancestry. I carry it proudly as the banner that shapes my life. My business is Falcieri Designs. I am part of a small and proud revolution. All my designs are one offs. Everything is made by me, in my studio, handmade only by me, handfinished, hand sold. It is me. It is only me. I am an artisan.

I truly understand what handmade means. I get the ethos. I realise the impact of buying something from a real artist and how important every sale is to that artist. It means keeping someone in business, keeping a craft alive, keeping people and tradition alive. It is an investment.

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The sort of thing I make

In my dream world, this is the business I would move to Venice. I cannot imagine anything more incredible than being able to transfer my little empire, that was born from a passion for artistan crafts and handmade and fabrics, and inspired by my Venetian ancestry, to the city where my family history began, the city that I love so much.

I am always impressed at how many artisan shops exist in Venice. It is a beautiful thing to behold and whilst a strong tourist trade should help keep it alive, the tourist mentality is for cheap. When hear how Venetian artisans are struggling to survive I know what they are going through. It is the same everywhere, but in Venice it is so keenly felt. The people who live there seem so very passionate about everything that affects them. And this is a good thing. Because without that passion, things cannot change, things do not happen.

I have been inspired by Monica Cesarato’s recent post and the Twitter hashtag #bethechange. I follow and adore some of the Venetian artisans I have found thanks to social media and I am constantly adding to the list. Plum Plum Creations, the work of Venezia Autentica to highlight authentic Venice, Piero Dri, to name just a few. And I want them to survive. I want them to be there every time I visit Venice. I want them to be able to pay their bills and keep running their studios and their shops and keep exercising their skills.

But however much we harp on about buying from local artisans, if we do not BUY from local artistans they will not survivie. If you advocate local artists but are always looking for the cheapest bargain you are invalidating your message.

Buying handcrafted is a way of life, not a tourist trap.