Written by Margo Sorenson, an ILF Contributory Writer. Author of over thirty traditionally-published books for young readers. Margo Sorenson spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy, devouring books, Italian food and still speaks (or tries!) her childhood languages. Her most recent Adult novel, SECRETS IN TRANSLATION (Fitzroy Books, October 2018), takes place in Positano, with plenty of Italian historical sidelights. www.margosorenson.com
All I have to do is hear a few spoken words of Italian, and I smile. The melodic, warm sounds take me back to my childhood in Napoli and Bari the wonderful experiences I had growing up there for four years.
One of my first memories is of the stunning view of the Bay of Napoli from our family’s apartment in Posillipo, Vesuvius looming in the background. Because we were U.S. Diplomatic Corps (that’s why I’m so polite), we had many U.S. visitors to the consulate for business. While my father dealt with them, my mother escorted their families to Pompeii and Vesuvius. I was drafted to come along, because my parents knew we were living in a unique place and wanted me to remember as much as I could. Besides, the Americans got a kick out of a little four-year-old American girl who spoke Italian, and, looking back, I’m sure my parents wanted to show the Americans that an important way to respect another culture was to speak the language.
We would climb Vesuvius a short way up, and I vividly remember when a guide asked me to put my little hand into a “warm pocket,” where I could feel the heat of the volcano. He promised I wouldn’t burn my hand; he was right. Of course, he first spoke to me in English, (I must have looked American, right?), but when I answered in Italian, his smile broadened. The smiles were always there when we spoke Italian. A tour I dreaded was Solfatara, outside Puozzoli, a shallow crater whose fumes smelled exactly like rotten eggs. I would beg my mother to be allowed to stay home, but the answer was always “No”! Visits to Pompeii were many, and I was equally horrified and fascinated by the plaster casts of the dead in the museum, especially that of the dog with the loaf of raisin bread between his jaws. I could imagine the rivers of molten lava coursing down the ancient streets we walked, and those images affected me so powerfully that my childhood nightmare was of running through the streets of Pompeii, my precious dollhouse (from Sears, Roebuck catalog) in my arms, trying to outrun the lava that was hotly pursuing me! Fortunately, I outgrew that.
As an adult, returning to Pompeii and Vesuvius (not Solfatara) was amazing. Yes, Pompeii’s streets seemed strangely narrower! To this day, hearing spoken Italian links me to my treasured childhood in Italy, bringing a smile.