Après la pluie, le beau temps

July 24, 2020

“A different language is a different vision of life.”
~ Federico Fellini


Our world has become more connected over the last few decades and the populations of individual countries increasingly varied, as more frequent travel and technology blur the old boundaries between places. Temporary limitations due to COVID-19 aside, this worldwide amalgamation of cultures and peoples is likely to continue.

The population in my home country, the United States of America, has traditionally been made up of folks from all over the world, many of whom came here speaking a native language other than English. Those are in addition to the Native North American languages that were a part of this land before English or Spanish arrived and continue to be spoken here. Our country is also rich with various regional as well as cultural dialects, sayings and slang.

The title of this week’s post is a French proverb, meaning “After the rain, the good weather”. Like the English proverb “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, the phrase is a hopeful one, reminding us that circumstances often seem most difficult right before they improve.

Our current challenges compare to the rain in that French proverb, although we are in a summer rain. Now, more than ever, I hope that we all can find a way to a more empathetic vision of life. Learning the language of another country or culture can help widen one’s circle of understanding. So, I thought I might share how I have been gradually teaching myself Italian and offer some tips on how you might add the knowledge of a second or third language to your toolbox.

I taught myself to write in Italian by necessity, having to translate documents for my Italian citizenship several years ago, and have since improved my fluency by watching YouTube videos and films, listening to music and podcasts and occasionally communicating with native speakers.

There are teachers posting videos on YouTube for just about any language you might wish to study. Simply type the name of the language into the YouTube search bar. Find videos that cover a subject you are already interested in. Cartoons, usually made for children and with a simpler vocabulary than adult programs, are a good introduction to a language. I watch cooking shows, comedy skits and interviews, a few each night. Many are only a few minutes each, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge time commitment, just be persistent and, in time, you will notice results.

You can also search for music videos in your language of interest. Most artists these days will produce a lyric video, typing out the lyrics as the song plays, in addition to the official music video. Learning to sing along with a song in your language of interest is a fun way to learn to both speak and comprehend, and also to add colloquialisms and slang to your body of knowledge.

Two sites that are very helpful in understanding nuance and context (which you cannot get from AI translations), are WordReference.com and Reverso Context. Native speakers of multiple languages contribute to these sites. Word Reference is good for understanding individual words and their usage and Reverso Context better for phrases.

The search engine DuckDuckGo, which does not track you online, is not only good for your privacy, but also for finding search results in a specific country of the world. Input a subject such as “ricette con salmone” or “recettes de saumon” (recipes with salmon). When the results load, click the “All Regions” option near the top left and select your desired country from the drop down menu. This can be a valuable tool for finding articles to read and examples of authentic usage in a particular language.

Another way to improve your reading skills is by changing the setting on one of your email accounts to the language you are studying. I suggest doing this on an account other than one you use for important transactions or communication. If you are already used to seeing the page layout in English, your mind will be able translate the words you see in the new layout for the language you are studying.

Not having very many domestic opportunities to practice speaking Italian, I have begun talking to myself and my kitty Sofia in Italian here at home, which means I am mainly improving my pronunciation of “Andiamo a fare colazione” (let’s go do breakfast), “Sei pronta per treats?” (are you ready for treats?), “Stai zitta!” (Be quiet!) and, of course, “Daje!”, pronounced Dah-yeh, which is a  quintessentially Roman expression that can be used for encouragement, approval or frustration (think of cheering on a sports team “Go Seahawks!”, congratulating a friend “You go girl!”, or giving an exasperated “Come on!” to someone or something that’s moving more slowly than you would like).

It has recently become trendy for Italians, especially younger ones, to sprinkle in English words among the native ones in their informal, everyday speech and writing. The ability to speak “Italish” has given me more confidence and less fear of making a mistake. Now, rather than my vocabulary appearing to be lacking, I just sound like a hipster. Although, at times, my accent sounds more like that of Jeff Spicoli than Sophia Loren.

Easy French is a fun channel if français is your language of interest. Their videos feature subtitles in both French and English, so you can follow along with pronunciation and learn meaning at the same time. It’s a good strategy when you are first learning:


No translation is needed to hear the frustration in her voice as Lucrezia Oddone clears up the correct pronunciation for Bruschetta. A short, hilarious and helpful video from Learn Italian with Lucrezia, one of my favorite Italian language teachers:

Lucrezia also has a podcast, where she has posted short recordings of various topics of interest, spoken slowly, to help improve comprehension. The podcast can be found here. Her blog website, with additional resources is here.

If you’ve always wanted to study another language and were intimidated to begin, or if you thought it was too late for you to learn, I hope these tips and resources will inspire you to give yourself the gift of a second or third way of looking at, interpreting and connecting with our big, crazy and beautiful world.


Spaghetti alla Carbonara, made the authentic way: Guanciale, eggs, spaghetti, black pepper and pecorino, is Roman comfort food.

From comedian Leonardo Bocci, an ASMR meditation on Spaghetti alla carbonara, the Roman comfort food that soothes the tummy, delights the mouth and makes everything better. My recipe is below:

Spaghetti alla carbonara
To make it the Roman way, one should use guanciale (pork cheek) in this recipe. Having made it with guanciale, with pancetta and with American bacon, I can say that guanciale is my first choice. However, since that particular cut is difficult to find in the US, my second choice is to use a thick-cut, high quality, humanely-raised bacon, such as Pederson’s or Nimon Ranch. Pancetta from Framani would also be a good choice. La Quercia has a humanely-raised, authentic guanciale.

Also make sure to use very fresh, organic or pasture-raised eggs in this recipe.


For 2 servings:

8oz spaghetti, fusilli or rigatoni
3 to 3.5 ounces of guanciale or thick-cut bacon
1 large egg, plus 1 yolk (or 3 yolks)
Course salt for pasta water
Cracked or coarsely-ground pepper for sauce
1/4 cup finely-grated Pecorino Romano cheese (approx)
(you could also use half Parmesan and half Pecorino)

If using guanciale, cut away the dark outer layer (skin/rind) and cut into small cubes. If using bacon, cut into small rectangles. Cook in a large skillet over medium-low heat until bacon/guanciale becomes crisp and oil has cooked/melted. Remove some of the cooked bacon pieces from the pan and set aside, keeping the remaining bacon and fat warm on a low flame.

Cook your pasta al dente, according to package directions, in well-salted water.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks/egg with 3/4 of the cheese. Grind in some black pepper to taste (eyeball it – I like black pepper, but if you enjoy less spiciness, be conservative).

When your pasta is close to ready, stir a spoonful of the pasta water into the egg/cheese mixture. Stir in one or two spoonfuls more, mixing each completely before adding more, until you achieve a creamy sauce. This is important because it will temper your egg sauce so that you won’t end up with scrambled eggs when you toss it with the hot pasta.

When your pasta is just al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the bacon, tossing to coat the pasta evenly with the fat. Turn off the flame and slowly add the tempered cheese mixture, tossing and stirring constantly so that the hot pasta evenly cooks the egg, but the egg stays in liquid form.

Top with reserved bacon, a bit more cheese and some more freshly-ground pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy heaven!


Note: if you have any leftovers, do not reheat Carbonara. Instead, combine the leftover pasta and sauce with chicken broth and some arugula or spinach. Slowly heat while stirring everything together and using a rubber spatula to get all the sauce in the pan. It will make a nice, creamy soup to enjoy the next day.



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