Friday, July 31, 2009

Musings on Italian shoes, Siena and a linquistic cautionary tale...

This article also appears on our Italian Journal page.

There was the time my friend Lena and I went to Siena. We walked all over that beautiful city, tracing the circular patterns of its narrow stone streets for hours. We marveled over how we were doing this in Italian shoes purchased only the day before...and neither one of us wearing socks. My shoes were medium heeled, black suede, square toe, adorned with silver and black metal shapes across the upper. Hers were low heeled, black suede loafers that were crafted so stylishly they made you forget that penny loafers ever existed. After hours of walking on stone surfaces, our feet still felt like they were encased in clouds. No blisters, bleeding or painful stepping. This, we decided, is why Italian women are always wearing beautiful shoes no matter what they're doing. Because they can. Because they are always comfortable. They have no reason to reach for shlubby sneakers ever. (Just to clarify, this was the mid 1990's, well before the stylish sneakers we now enjoy were available. But even now, the Italian ones look and feel better). This theory was reinforced later in the trip when we drove past an elderly, rather stout Italian woman walking up a hill in a pair of black pumps with narry a trace of discomfort on her serene face. This woman was walking up a hill in heels, and she was happy about it. Surely Italian shoemaking secrets can help bring about world peace.

But back to Siena. At this point, we had finished a wonderful dinner in one of the restaurants in il campo, the main piazza. We were trying to find our way back to the parking garage to get our car. I say "trying" because it wasn't easy. As I mentioned earlier, the streets of Siena are built in a kind of circular fashion. This leads to all kinds of interesting paths, whether you're trying to make sense out of a street sign or the directions a kind soul has just given you in rapid fire Italian, complete with at least 3 options to get to your destination. To give you an idea of what we were up against with the street signs, at one point we raised our weary eyes to a big sign screaming "Parking Garage" (Yes! in English!). We thought we were saved; all we had to do was follow the arrow. Make that 2 arrows. Each pointing in an opposite direction. Oh, the joys of circles.

By this time, the streets were dark and the stores were closed. Most of them had metal grates pulled across the windows so we couldn't see what they were selling. We kept walking and asking and reading and yawning and sitting. It was during one of these sit-downs that we read the sign over the store next to us that read "Morbidi". (Please keep in mind that this was only our first or second trip to Italy, so we knew very little Italian between us. I was still making the rookie mistake of thinking that if an Italian word sounded like an English word, it must mean the same thing). Morbidi? Morbid? What kind of a store is that? What on earth are they selling? Caskets? Cemetary supplies? Ewwww.

The following day we got ourselves an Italian-English dictionary because we had to figure out what that store was selling. We found morbido, the singular version of morbidi. It means "tender, soft". The store was probably selling lingerie, jewelry or any number of adorable things. Not caskets. We looked at each other in horror and then burst out laughing. We spent many happy hours since then singing "Love Me Morbidi" to the tune of "Love Me Tender". So it wasn't a total loss.

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