Thursday, September 15, 2022

Walking the dog to the sound of Italian news

I hear Mike chuckle as I grab my quilted LL Bean vest on my way out the door to walk the dog one morning last summer.

“You’re not going to need that. It’s already 80 degrees,” he sniggers.

Oh, I’ll need it, I think, as I slip my cell phone into one of the front pockets.

That's because often while walking our dog, I catch up on Italian news by tuning into RAI radio programs. Walking the dog, in other words, to the sound of Italian news streaming on my phone.

As I meander through the familiar streets of my neighborhood, I become embroiled in crises half a world away. I’m getting up to speed on the latest COVID precautions. I am hearing about the current crisis facing Mario Draghi or whoever has the misfortune of being Prime Minister. (The photo above is of Draghi as his administration was falling apart; he needed a quickie espresso right on the floor of Parliament to cope). 

The usual, in other words. 

Fact is, I’ve been embroiled (happily so!) in Italian news for more than two decades. Two decades of reluctant exile. 

All because of a study abroad program in Siena, Italy, too many years ago to specify.  

Once you've heard and understood Italians speaking their native language, I don't think you can go back to the English-only world. I couldn't. 

(I often counsel friends who are about to embark on an Italian vacation to study some Italian -- honestly, nothing beats understanding what the barista is saying to a local at the counter of a caffe while he/she gets the coffee orders ready).

So while Caramel tugs at her leash, I'm enjoying the program "Prima Pagina." Or "Il Libro del Giorno," (The Book of the Day). One day, there was the radio documentary on Lucio Battisti, one of my favorite Italian singer-songwriters. (My favorite song, and the song that initiated me into the joys of Italian pop music, is "La Canzone del Sole" by Battisti).

I've written about "Prima Pagina" before because it's one of the ways I keep in touch with Italy, and the daily radio show is both novel and thoroughly novecentesco (something out of the 1900s). A different journalist each week comes into the studio to read the headlines and summaries of stories on the front pages of ALL the major Italian newspapers. But not only: minor papers, too! Weeklies! 

He or she comments on the stories, compares the way the various publications play a particular news item and fills in back story in the event the reader may have forgotten (or her dog is tugging a bit too hard on the leash). Where he or she is a seasoned journalist -- it's like a guided tour of the Italian newsscape at any given moment, in the company of an expert.

I think it's brilliant! I am a committed newspaper-reader but I only read one newspaper whether I am in Italy or America, and yet sure, I wouldn't mind knowing how other newspapers tackled the big stories of the day. I also love that I can "read" the newspaper while walking the dog -- or doing the wash (hypothetical, that last one).

As a (part-time) journalist, I have the vague notion that it reinforces the value of journalism and of newspapers, even if I can also imagine many Italians might skip buying the paper after listening to the day's episode.

(It also reminds me that knowing a foreign language is the key to a secret world. Yes, I am walking my dog in the prosaic streets of suburban Connecticut but my mind has flown, is flying, is in ecstasy). 

Perhaps what's wonderful about it all is that it has a value and provides a service even if the return on the investment is dubious. That describes a lot of Italian life -- a service exists, a flourish is provided, the extra mile extended, whether it "pays off" in the near-term or not. Because in the long term, that bit of extra always pays dividends. 

(I am thinking of the work done especially by those bariste in Italy -- the personal touch extended to each patron with a nary a tip in sight such that the Italian coffee bar remains a beloved fixture in cities, big towns, small towns, train stations, shabby neighborhoods on the outskirts and anywhere else an Italian might need un caffe).

In my case, that extra bit takes the form of a giratina through my neighborhood, listening to a seasoned journalist in a RAI studio in Italy explaining at great length the news of the day to me while Caramel sniffs around (then sniffs again) without my spending a dime for it.

So yes, I'll take that quilted vest because it holds my cell phone, which helps transport me far, far away to Italian news land where all my various selves converge.


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