Friday, February 02, 2007

Prego

Definition: "you're welcome," "please," "take this," "can I help you?"
Not tomato sauce.


I love words that have multiple meanings. The word becomes more than verbal communication; it brings with it an idea, an essence. It rolls hospitality off of the the "r" and welcomes you with the sweet "go" at the end. Almost reflex-like, "prego" perpetually leaves the lips of Italians daily. And it is always sincere.

While Jon and I were riding a train from Rome to Florence we sat across from an older Italian couple who spoke no english, but were happy to point and grunt us into our seats. They spoke very little during the trip, so our most profound interaction came when the husband (a man who was dressed very nicely in a blazer and turtle neck and who obviously had a sweet tooth) opened a transparent plastic box of cookies. Jon and I both knew, as we witnessed this new additon to the group, that we would be offered a few buttery, golden morsels (called "cat's tongues" the cookies were exactly like "Milano" cookies, but without the chocolate between them), and we were correct. The box was hopefully held out toward us and the magic word was spoken: "Prego."

With many "grazie" we each took a cookie. But one was not enough. Both hunsband and wife were now concerned about our cookie intake and insisted, with that same beautiful word, that we take more. We took more. We were obliged to take at least three more throughout the last 15 minutes of our train ride. The cookies were delicious, and we were happy to be taken care of by such hospitable natives.
As we stood in the aisle, holding our bags and preparing for a new adventure, we said "thank you" once again to our train-mates. They replied, with satisfied smiles, "prego."

Jon and I heard this word a thousand more times during our travels; in restaurants, in shops, on the street...everywhere. Italian people seemed to be very welcoming and kind, and the countryside was beautiful. And there was some art too.

I just wanted to say a few things about the museums we went to and the incredible things we saw, because there were many. The Vatican museums were wonderful; Laoco├Ân, the Raphael rooms, the Sistine chapel. We walked through the Roman Forum on a sunny, clear day and made it up to the Capitoline Hill. In Florence we made pilgrimages to the Uffizi, the Accademia and the Bargello to see the Davids, Botticellis and Giottos. We climbed over 400 stairs to the top of the Duomo to see an incredible view of the church, its frescoes and much of surrounding Tuscany.
And of course there was pizza and pasta. Prego.

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