NYR 1904: “Learn A New Language.” Part 1 – Mi Dispiace…

“Mi dispiace…Non posso pagare,” I said to the gray-haired gentleman standing in front of me.

“Perche no?” he asked.

Good question. But first, let’s rewind a little bit.

It was a beautiful afternoon in Rome. My wife and I had just finished touring the Colosseum, and on our way back to the hotel we noticed a quiet little restaurant called Ristorante Mario’s. We were both hungry, and I’ve always had a penchant for the plumber of the same name. We decided to stop, have a late lunch, and split a bottle of wine.

I don’t actually have a picture from that day, but here’s a snapshot of the restaurant from Google Maps:


Google Maps is amazing, by the way.

We sat down at the table on the far right of the picture, her back to the street. The wine came out immediately; after a few minutes sipping and chatting about the places we’d been and the pictures we’d taken, my wife reached underneath her chair to retrieve the phone from her bag.

And her bag was gone.

We snapped into panic mode, frantically searching in places that made progressively less sense. I checked under my chair, then under our table, then under the other tables, then behind the plants next to our table… I could feel people starting to stare.

When I finally came to grips with the idea that we’d been robbed, I ran out into the street, glaring up and down the Piazza Del Grillo at the dozens of people walking by. Even now I’m not sure what the plan was if I actually saw somebody holding my wife’s bag. It was just something to do, in a moment where I felt frustrated and completely powerless.

Our waitress came back out with our plates. All I could think to say was “no no no” as she started to place them on the table. She gave me a confused look, set the plates down and went back inside.

The gray-haired man came out soon after. I gathered that he was the manager, or perhaps the owner. I said,

Mi dispiace… non posso pagare.”

I was apologizing, and explaining that we couldn’t pay for anything (including the wine we’d already started on).

When he asked why, I gestured toward my wife.

Mia moglie… la sua borsa e stato rubato.

His eyes softened, and his tone changed from annoyance to concern. As he spoke, I picked up “Dov’era” and responded,

“Sotto la sedia.

He nodded, then began speaking very quickly, gesturing toward the street, then toward our seats. He asked us to sit down and finish our meal, on the house. And I think he also suggested that the thieves were probably French, not Italian.

“No, grazie,” I replied.

After all, my wife’s bag had contained a lot more than just her phone. At this point, it was looking like the rest of our short time in Rome was going to be spent in a hotel business center, making calls, cancelling credit cards and wiping away tears.

Thankfully it didn’t take as long as I thought. Within an hour we were back at the hotel and had cancelled all of her credit cards over the phone. The silver lining was that we didn’t lose her passport, thanks to these little guys:

But the worst part wasn’t the cards or the bag or the cash that we lost. It was the phone. Because with it, we lost every picture she’d taken on the trip so far.

After a (completely understandable) period of moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves, we came up with a plan. We were going to:

  1. Buy a cheap bottle of wine,
  2. Take it to the roof of our hotel, and
  3. Finish it while we came up with a new plan.

The new plan turned out to be even better than the first one.

It was dusk, and at that moment we vowed to revisit every site we’d been to that day, taking a new picture together at each one. I opened my own Instagram account, and made my first post:

(Russell Crowe and I have lost touch since then)

We stumbled through dark cobblestone streets, recreating old memories and making new ones. We worked up an appetite, and at that point we both knew there was only one place to go: back to Ristorante Mario’s. 

As we approached the restaurant we noticed a long line of people waiting outside. A little dismayed, we started discussing other options. Just then, the same waitress who served us before came out and immediately recognized us. Delighted (and a little surprised) by our return, she ushered us toward the exact same table we sat at the first time, where we proceeded to have the best meal I’ve ever had in my life.

Not just because we were there for almost three hours, or because we ate all the food and drank all the wine and I ordered a cappuccino at the end and the waitress rolled her eyes because apparently that’s frowned upon in Italy.

It’s the best meal I’ve ever had because of what it stood for. We had bounced back. We took a crisis that easily could have been the worst memory of our trip to Italy, and turned it into one of the best.

And to cap it all off, when we got back to the hotel and started to upload the pictures I took, we noticed something amazing: through some miracle of science involving iPhones and Google and Clouds, almost all of Liz’s photos had been uploaded! To this day I have no idea how this happened.

And I’d spoken Italian!!!

I’d been studying for the better part of a year in preparation for our trip, and this was just one of many times when I’d been able to speak, clearly and correctly, in the native tongue of a foreign country.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and so I wasn’t surprised to find it was near the top of many people’s lists for New Years Resolutions.

In this series, I will be going over my various approaches to language learning over the years, as well as the new language I’m studying in 2019.

Next week I’ll talk about the lessons I learned during the rocky start of my language journey: highschool Latin class.

See you then!

5 thoughts on “NYR 1904: “Learn A New Language.” Part 1 – Mi Dispiace…

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