The education of my mind
I am particularly fond of those years when I managed to educate my mind.
I don’t know if I educated only my mind or shaped my whole personality but, after my trips to England during the High School years, two longer stays in the USA definitely created a substantial change in me.
I honestly can say that the real, inner part of me was a discovery.
Essentially a discovery for me.
I am not even sure that most people realized that.
It was during the years of my University and the year after my graduation, that I realized that I managed to shape my personality and built up the confidence I always lacked of.
Not here, in my own Country, but in America.
After my dream to visit England was satisfied, because of the influence of American movies, series, literature, not sure about that but I think movies and books played a significant role in this, I became obsessed with this new dream.
I had no intention of studying in a college, I have never done that; I did not want to take the chance to speak my language with other Italian students. I only wished to live with an American family and improve my English.
I must admit that this happened beyond any expectations.
My first stay in the USA was in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Prof. Aeschliman, an outstanding scholar, professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia.
My second stay was with my dearest friend Elaine, that I met in Villefranche-sur-mer, during a similar experience to improve my French, and with her husband Michael.
But this will be my next chapter, too much to tell and two different experiences.
I can’t forget to mention that I did several stays in Paris, attending translations courses at the Sorbonne University and in the South of France, I also lived three years in France when I got married. The difference between my stays and my years in France from those in the USA is absolutely clear to me.
France and Italy are too similar, I did not have to adapt or change or improve. In France, as I will explain in a further chapter, I had other issues but I did not shape my personality.
In the USA I was forced to.
It was indeed another world, another culture and another mentality.
The most incredible discovery during the first year I was back home, in my Po Valley, was to fully understand that I was not only an Italian citizen, I had become a world citizen and from that time on, I would not have been the same anymore.
These stays, the hundreds of new people I met and the emotional experiences I had shaped my personality and gave me the confidence I never felt to have.
My departure to Virginia was an incredible coincidence, because in the spring of 1984 I met by absolute chance, at a meeting I did not want to attend at all, a lady who was teaching Italian at the American School of Switzerland whose owner was Prof. Aeschliman. In less than a month, we exchanged letters and we managed to agree that I would study with him 5 hours per day and also visit some different areas and places of interest.
It would have been a linguistic and cultural stay, not to mention it would have been the greatest fun for me!
I left in 1984, I was 21 years old. It was the 4thof July and many flights were cancelled, and I was not aware of it.
I had the most adventurous flight, and it was my first international flight!
I was stopped at the customs at JFK for several hours, and because of that, I missed my correspondence flight to Washington D.C.
I remember my hours of despair at the airport trying to find another connection. I had never been in such a huge, enormous airport! I had no clue. I did not know what to do. I do remember so well I sat on the floor crying and trying to recuperate my energies. A lady, an extraordinary young lady approached me and explained not to worry. She asked me what was happening and answered it was not a big issue, I just had to switch from Pan Am to TWA or vice versa, frankly I don’t remember.
She explained in details what I was supposed to do, which I did later, and was real an angel, giving me not only the information I needed but the confidence I totally lacked of.
I explained her that my parents gave me only traveller’s checks, they were so scared I could have been robbed!
I had no coins to call the Aeschliman family informing them I would arrive at a different time and at a different airport. She said, in her reassuring tone:
“ Don’t worry. It’s not a big deal. I will give you a dime and you will do a return call”
Gosh, if only I was told what a dime and a collect call were.
So many new words for me.
She opened her wallet and put a coin into my hand saying that it was the dime I needed. She told me which number to dial explaining that a collect call would have charged the cost of my phone to Prof. Aeschliman.
That seemed so easy and it was.
I was overwhelmed by her kindness and generosity and decided, without even thinking about it, to offer the young lady my watch to pay for all of that.
She did not take it, smiled at me and telling me once again not to worry, she left.
One of the extraordinary moments of my life. Some may seem insignificant to many of you, but I could and still can see the extraordinary power these moments had on my life.
I learned not to panic and trust the human beings. Among many selfish people, there are always some special and generous souls who are always willing to help.
I managed to get to Washington D.C. and spend a few unforgettable months in Charlottesville, Virginia studying very hard but absolutely adoring and treasuring forever each instant spent with the Aeschliman Family. His wife was an architect and was always out working, rather unfriendly and snob with me, but to be honest, I did not care because I saw her very rarely.
Her husband was one of the highlights of my life, I will be eternally grateful to him for what I learned and for the cultural approach towards the learning and the teaching processes.
I learned so many elegant expressions, rules, words and he taught me English by studying the American revolution and geography.
That was such a new and interesting approach that I have followed, maybe without fully realizing it, in my career teaching English to adults. I have always followed his theory to use a subject, a common subject to teach new rules and new words.
Every day we would read together a text from “The Book of America: inside fifty states today” by Neal R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom.
Two years later, when I graduated from University for Interpreters and Translators, my English Thesis was the translation into Italian of his book “C.S. Lewis: a case against scientism”. Somehow, I managed to honour him choosing to translate his latest book in 1986.
I did not only learn and improve my American culture and language, I extensively visited several States: Virginia with all the great historical places such as Monticello, Williamsburg, Monroe’s home, the most incredible sceneries such as Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I went to Washington D.C. on different occasions, visited the National Gallery but also the National Library, an absolute and unbelievable delight for our soul.
We drove from Charlottesville to New York City, we stopped in beautiful Philadelphia, spent time in a small town in Pennsylvania and stopped in new Jersey as well.
I stayed in New York City for two weeks with a Prof. of Aercheology from Columbia University, another friend of Prof. Aeschliman.
I did so many unusual things for me.
I attended a Sunday service in a church near Riverside Drive, by the Hudson River where I was staying, for the first time I heard the amazing voices and music of American Gospel Choirs.
One evening, on my own, I went to the Café Carlyle on the 76th Street to listen to Woody Allen who every Monday night played the clarinet, what an experience that was!
I was fascinated by the Guggenheim museum, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the huge Department Stores, but essentially by its skyline. I had never seen a skyline like that, when I went up, on top of the Twin Towers, I thought I would have never been more amazed in my entire life.
I also spent two weeks in Maine at Boothbay Harbour living with the family of another friend of Mr Aeschliman.
The Director of the Oceanographic museum and his family welcomed me as part of their family and with them I swam in the frozen ocean, wow, what an experience, being used to our warm Mediterranean waters.
I ate almost every night crabs, corn on the cob and lobsters and I did not even know how to eat them. I thought it was so funny to learn all of these little things which make life so interesting.
I travelled with them all along the longest coast of the US up to Canada, stayed in Monhegan island, the island where painters love to find their inspiration and which my grandmother Alda portrayed in stunning paintings she did after my return.
I was the young girl from the green rolling hills in the Po Valley, every day it was a new discovery.
Every day it was a special moment.
I will never forget my continuous excitement, my incredible enthusiasm, my energy and astonishment in admiring the incredible beauty of the little islands in Maine, the skyscrapers in New York City or the vastness of Shenandoah Valley.
Not to mention how fun it was to attend a real cow boy party in the countryside having the privilege to get to know the warmth of Real America.
Everything was amazing and incredible and I am convinced that I started changing, each day a little bit more, in those days in 1984.
I must admit I was a product of the bourgeoisie of the 60s in Northern Italy. I had a very open upbringing and my parents left me free to choose.
At any stage of my life.
I grew up free but nevertheless, I can’t deny it, I grew up in a family where I was the centre of their little world being an only child and only grandchild.
I decided, when I was really young, I would fight against all prejudices.
I would have acquired my independence as a human being on my own and would have forged my character without taking advantage of any privilege.
By living in the USA in Virginia in 1984 and later on, in 1987 and 1988, in Arizona, my Path became clear to me and I learned the fundamental Truth I try to abide by each day of my life.
We are all equals.
We are only different in the colours of our skin, the language we speak, the religion we preach or not, and the habits we were taught to have.
Our hearts are the same, though.
We all have the same qualities and issues; we, as individuals of one specific Country, we are not the centre of the world, on the contrary we are all part of the same world.
Discovering that, back in the 80s and deciding to follow this simple concept and make it the fundamental Path of my life shaped my own personality and attitude towards life and the human beings.
One of the several reasons, later in life, I decided to open a Bed and Breakfast in our own home, was to open my life and my family to the world, to all foreign human beings because the happiness that I obtain in this “human interaction” is what I love the most.
I have always thought that I had the biggest privilege and wealth being allowed to travel, learn several foreign languages and get to meet and live with people from all over the world.
My best friends in the USA later on in life were Chinese, Vietnamese, Jewish Americans from Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
It’s the diversity of the people I met, the different shades of upbringing and culture I was exposed to that created the person I am.
After this first stay in the USA, I went back to University and finished on December 1986 receiving the most important Diploma of my life.
The day I discussed my French thesis, my teacher, a very well-known French interpreter who worked also at the European Parliament, congratulated me for my Thesis and while we were shaking our hands, she said “ Anna, mi puoi dare del tu ora, siamo colleghe!”
That meant I could use the “TU” form instead the “VOUS” form when addressing me to her because, she said, we were colleagues.
Yes, I was an official and certified interpreter and translator in English and French.
That was one of the other extraordinary days in my life.