Sooner or later, you learn that ultimatums aren’t good for relationships. You realize after painful trial and error that your life in a couple isn’t helped by a Bushian sense of axes, “you’re either with me or against me,” or anything resembling an all-or-nothing stance. And yet it is precisely all-or-nothing that tripped me up early on in my Italian adventure. More specifically, it was the Italian word for “all” that did it—tutto.
I was still in Amsterdam preparing for my romantic leap into the Milanese void. I was trying to teach myself Italian from a book. Italian for Dummies would have been an apt title. I was practicing the innocent little word tutto, and to impress my then-boyfriend/husband-to-be (though I didn’t know it yet), I concocted some sentence using it. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, because it’s fairly close to the truth at the time: Voglio tutto. “I want everything.”
Instead of saying, “My darling, you’ve spoken your first words! Congratulations! I love you! Our future is indeed bright,” he said in response, “That’s not how you pronounce tutto.” Then he pronounced it properly. I repeated the word. He said, “No. Like this…” If you’ve seen the “monkey”/”minkey” scene in The Return of the Pink Panther, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Long (repetitive) story, short. I was livid. I was hurt. I was discouraged. I felt misunderstood and mocked, when in actual fact, all he was trying to do was to help me. And I almost gave up the whole thing—affair, idea, plan, love, project—right then and there. I was this close to turning that tutto into absolutely nothing. Because I was incapable of laughing. Incapable of accepting that I wasn’t fluent-in-a-day. Incapable of so many things. Thank God, my primate brain was capable—though just barely—of seeing that it would be a mistake to give up so much over so very little.