On Monday, my normally very reliable, elderly German motorbike refused to start.
Probably the cold had got to the battery, I thought, while rushing to catch a passing bus – mask and Green Pass both now obligatory.
I got to my hospital appointment on time, but the bus had been heated and I was overdressed (for the motorbike: big thick coat, scarf, boots) so had suffered all the way to Hematology.
Buses are not fun. Yesterday, motorbike still not fixed for lack of time, I had to take one again, this time to get into Bologna’s medieval center for my lessons.
Unfortunately, it was that time of early afternoon when the high school kids crowd out of their zoos and squeeze, in vast numbers, onto passing buses.
At which point, amidst general hysteria, some cheeky lad let off the emergency fire-extinguisher, flooding the area I was sitting in with foam…
Today’s a bank holiday in Italy. Before sitting down to write this I resolved to get the BMW sorted out, so I’d be good for tomorrow, or at least Friday, when I have to go to a different hospital, through rush hour traffic, which would take twice as long by car (three times as long by bus…)
Charging a battery is a simple task, but not when the battery is hidden right in the middle of the motorbike.
First you remove the seats, then the fairing (the ‘skin’ of the motorbike, the part that looks sleek and sexy – unlike my own ageing ‘fairing’), being careful to retain the screws and place them on the floor, some place where they won’t be kicked into a dusty corner of the garage, in the order they will need to be put back.
Then we unclip the lid of the air filter, so as to remove the air filter intake tube, which otherwise would block access to the battery.
At this point the battery can be pulled slightly out, though not enough to charge it, as the red terminal is still concealed within the motorbike. Getting the whole thing out means locating a small enough spanner/wrench, as the bolt which locks the thick copper cable to the battery black terminal is so small I can barely see it.
Once that tiny bolt is off, the battery can be removed and stood on the cylinder block ready to be charged. See?
Unfortunately, at this point, my cold, dry, fumbly fingers dropped the miniscule piece of metal into the innards of the motorbike. Where it remains, invisible and impossible to recover.
I can charge the battery, sure, then put it back into the motorbike. But without a bolt to attach the cable to the battery black terminal, it won’t do any good.
And today’s a bank holiday, remember?
So I can’t buy another bolt or, plan B, an entire battery, given that all this palaver charging it up may not have fixed the problem, if the cold has permanently damaged it…
Buses aren’t so bad after all!
Frustrating as all this was, at least it gave me an idea for this article, which is to pass along some GOOD NEWS about learning Italian (or any language, for that matter).
The process I described above?
Take of the seats, remove the fairing, open the air filter, twist out the air filter intake tube, pull out the battery, use the very small wrench to loosen the bolt, then drop the damn thing and mess the whole job up?
Well languages don’t work like that.
It’s not that you have to do everything precisely right, the correct actions, in the correct sequence, without mislaying or confusing any of the pieces.
No indeedy, languages are much BETTER than motorbikes!
Even though they may seem very complex and intimidating at first.
For languages, unlike motorbikes, have a lot of REDUNDANCY.
A bit like how really large trucks seem to have lots of extra wheels (Why is that? What are those wheels that are sort of lifted up in the air FOR??)
To actually communicate in a foreign language, or your own, you don’t need to know how to say everything, and neither do you need to understand all that you hear.
For instance, you could get by talking about the past using a word like ‘ieri’ (yesterday) and skip the past tenses completely. That would work!
In fact, that’s more or less how Italians speak English. I’ve spent over twenty years, banging my head against the wall, trying to teach them English tenses. But they see the truth of it – teacher, surely they can’t all be NECESSARY?
Yes, you object, but I’d like to speak Italian ‘properly’, and understand ‘everything’.
Really? That would be like me saying I’d like to be able to fix any motorbike ever manufactured, no matter what the issue was.
What would be the point?
Languages are communication systems like, for example, codes or road signs.
If you were an old-time radio operator, you might get by with Morse, but no one would expect you to be perfect at it, especially if your ship had just hit an iceberg and was now at a 45 degree angle. Do the best you can, mate, while the rest of us head for the lifeboats!
Good enough is good enough.
Similarly, do you know every road sign? Every road marking? All the provisions of the ‘codice stradale’?
Of course you don’t. Speed limits maybe, stop signs probably, traffic lights hopefully, and not to drink and drive. But besides that? It’s just details.
In systems that contain enough redundancy, good enough is good enough, and will get the job done.
Unfortunately motorbikes don’t contain enough redundancy.
A venerdì, allora.
Don’t forget this week’s very Christmassy, half-price ‘eBook of the Week’, Natale a sorpresa. The level is B2 (upper-intermediate) and until Sunday night it costs just £3.99, instead of the usual £7.99.
Matteo’s supposed to be writing a book – he has a deadline coming up – but he’s suffering terribly from writers’ block. All he can do is stare at a blank computer screen. He’s recently out of a relationship, which hasn’t helped…
Worse, it’s December and Christmas is coming! Normally Matteo spends the festive season with his family, but this year they’re visiting relatives in Australia. So it looks as if he’ll be celebrating alone.
Natale a sorpresa | Free sample chapter (.pdf) | Catalog
Did you listen to and read yesterdays FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
Sharon Dias says
First of all, you made me laugh first thing this morning. It is dark and cold here on Vancouver Island. My husband feels like that about fixing anything to do with plumbing. I have been feeling overwhelmed by my German and Italian. My Italian is quasi intermediate and my German at beginner stage. Have a German pen friend, luckily she is fluent in English. She has started writing a paragraph in German. I feel too insecure about writing in German. Her advice, just write, don’t worry about grammar, as that will come later.
Have decided that, with your newsletter and her advice, am going to be more relaxed about it.
Liberating to say the least.
I always tell my students, on the topic of writing, that I do all the writing for our school, whether English or Italian, because EVERY, SINGLE ONE of my Italian colleagues and family members refused to.
I learnt to write, because no one else would (typical small business situation – I had to learn lots of other things as well…)
Conclusion? Most people never write even in their own language, let alone another. If you’re willing to, then no way should you feel insecure, about the grammar, or anything else.
Your teacher is right!
Thank you for your weekly musings on the study of the Italian language, and with it, immersion into Italy’s culture. After reading today’s letter, I was immediately brought back to my college days when Pirsig’s cult book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ was required reading if one wanted to sit with the smart nerds in the lunchroom. Perhaps some of the philosophy offered in the book could also be applied to the study of a new language. I hope your trusted steed will be back in fine form soon.
I remember that book well, Arlene. Though I was never a smart nerd…
Motorbike now fixed. It was Pirsig, actually, who gave me the push to try doing these things myself – I come from a very non-mechanical family!