I was in my thirties when I began studying Italian—far too old, I realized, to achieve the easy fluency of a youngster. But my goal wasn’t absolute mastery of a foreign tongue. During my first journey to Italy, I had been so intrigued by the vivacious Italians chatting around me that I longed to communicate with them—not perfectly, but well enough to understand and be understood.
On my slow trek to comprehension, something unexpected happened: I fell madly, gladly, giddily in love with Italian — its innate musicality, its rich history, its playful expressions, its poetic depths. Although I was repeatedly humbled by all that I did not know, I was enthralled by what I was discovering.
The culmination of years of study was LA BELLA LINGUA, my best-selling biography of the world’s most enchanting language—a book that has changed my life and touched the lives of many others. Even five years after its publication, I continue to hear from readers who say it inspired them to learn Italian, travel to Italy, trace their Italian roots or even write books of their own.
Why study Italian? Consider these reasons:
*Italian is “beautiful, fun and sexy,” according to a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who adds, “I can’t see anything wrong with that.” Neither can I.
*No other language is more romantic. All the Romance languages evolved from the volgare (vernacular) of ancient Rome, yet none has so many seductive ways of expressing amore.
*Everything sounds better in Italian. An ordinary towel becomes an asciugamano; a handkerchief, a fazzoletto; a dog leash, a guinzaglio; mere garbage, spazzatura.
*You’ll keep your brain young. Groping for words in a different language sparks new clusters of neurons and synapses—which may help stave off dementia..
*You never know where Italian may lead you. In my case, it led me to the dark, dank lane in Florence where the real woman we know as Mona Lisa was born. Startled by the contrast between this fetid street and the iconic symbol of Western civilization that Leonardo’s portrait has become, I set out to learn everything I could about this daughter of the Renaissance, merchant’s wife, loving mother, artist’s muse and, in her husband’s words, “noble spirit.” Somehow it seemed only natural to go from a passion for la bella lingua to a quest for una bella donna. Once again, along the way, I lost my heart to an Italian treasure–and wrote a book about it.
This fall the Italian Cultural Institute of New York and the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE) have chosen the name “La Bella Lingua” for a new program of morning courses for adult learners of all levels—from complete beginners to advanced students. I am honored to participate in introducing two new enterprises in New York: the La Bella Lingua program and my new book, MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.
Please join us for a lecture and reception:
Saturday, September 13
5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Italian Cultural Institute
686 Park Avenue
New York City
(RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Come celebrate la bella lingua and la bella donna with us on September 13! I look forward to seeing you nella Grande Mela (in the Big Apple)!
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.