My Literacy Journey

Reading the World: Rome, Italy

Posted on: May 1, 2010

Cherries In The Snow

The pounding in my chest clogged my ears.  All I could hear was my heart beating like thunder.  I wiped my clammy hands on the back of my jeans before I dared to enter.  I moved closer to the door handle.  “Breathe”, I thought.  I grabbed the cold iron door handle with one hand while I held my purse tightly with the other.  As the heavy door creaked open, an abundance of aromas instantly bombarded my nose.  “There must be hundreds of different cheeses in here”, I thought.  As the door closed behind me, I began to survey the oddly crowded, yet organized shop. How did the elements of harmony prevail over the chaotic displays?

Looking up, I was captivated by the canopy of meats and cheeses that hung like Christmas ornaments from the ceiling.  The netting that held these palatable treasures seemed to keep them safe as if they were newborns cradled in their carefully crafted basinets.  I looked to the left and then to the right.  In the dim of the light I saw the two figures. Their voices were muffled.  I listened closer as I heard, “Grazie mille, Senor. Ciao!”  The melodic words sung by this man made me long for the ability to share his talent.  Our eyes met as he turned on his heel to leave.  The emerald green of his eyes stung me for a moment while his thick black lashes drew me in like a magnet. I comforted myself. “Just smile”.  His gaze softened though I could feel his stare as he continued out into the ancient city. I shivered as I was left with his eyes piercing through my veins and for a moment forgot where I was.

“Buongiorno, Bella”, a voice bellowed as I attempted to gather myself.  “Buon..giorrrrno”, I said in my most exaggerated Italian accent.  The character began to speak to me in what sounded like Italian overdrive.  What was he saying? Why was I having such trouble understanding him? Wait…” preferiscono”..I know what that means but oh G-d, which way did I turn after I crossed the piazza? These thoughts polluted my mind as the passionate man continued to indulge me with questions and beautiful sounds.  I stood silently for a moment, staring.  “Who cares if you get lost, you’ll find your way back home eventually”, I heard running through my head.  My hands began to relax.  My breathing steadied.  The dampness on my back started to evaporate.  “Mi dispiace, Senor.  Repete, per favore?” I said apologetically.  “Prego, Bella”, he responded in turn.

Our conversation continued with words I cannot exactly recall. He scurried behind the counter with my eyes following him closely. “Prego”, he said and nodded with an outstretched hand dangling a delicate piece of cheese.  “Grazie”, I said and placed the crumbling cheese into my mouth.  “umm” was all I could say.  He laughed as he sliced another piece from what looked like a cross between a giant marshmallow and a small cumulous cloud.  I graciously took the next sampling and swiftly popped it into my mouth.  It melted as its delicate flavorings rushed to all the buds on my tongue.  “delizioso!” I remarked to the man.  “Ah, un momento” he chirped as he held up one finger.  “Si”, I said waiting patiently.

I peered over the counter and watched him slowly open a refrigerated compartment below. Eventually, he revealed what he had in store for me.  He lifted the tiny wrapped package and placed it onto the counter top.  Methodically, he dipped a dull knife into the mound and scooped up a creamy substance.  He then spread it onto a cracker, which he took out from the container beside him. He reached to his left and gathered a dollop of another substance.  The dark red preserves on the cheese reminded me of cherries in the snow.  My mouth began to tingle.  I was already anticipating the taste that hadn’t yet reached my tongue.  “Prego”, the man gestured as I reached for the delicacy.  At that moment, I felt like I was transported to somewhere else.  “Umm.” Heaven was all I could think as I licked my fingers clean.

The cheese guru began to speak rapidly again.  This time I didn’t care that I could not keep up.  I responded in a way that seemed only natural.  Whether what I had interpreted was what he had meant or not, I instantly pointed to the still-opened package lying on the counter top.  “Senor, per una persona per favore”, I responded with vigor.  His eyes lit up as he said “Perrr-fect” in his best American accent.

It was that moment when I realized I had made my peace in a place that I once wanted to run away from. I was no longer a stranger in a strange land.  Rome: A home to thousands of years of history, and a home to me.  “How great is this?” I thought.  “I am truly blessed”.  I rummaged through my tote for my wallet. I handed the man ten Euros but politely refused any change.   “Okay” I finally agreed as he pressed the coins into my hand.  “Grazie mille, Senor. Ciao!” I said as I left the conservare il formaggio.

As the cobblestone glistened before me, I was forced to squint so not to be blinded.  For a moment I thought, “hmm, which way home”?  I chuckled and said aloud, “Who cares? I am home.”


Just as my journey as a literacy leader has truly signified a change in me, so did this experience of studying abroad in Rome.  As I note through this personal narrative, I went from being fearful and feeling quite alone to venturing out into the open world and embracing it.  This is very much how I feel about my journey in this program. At first I was intimidated and unsure of what to expect.  Would I be able to keep up? Was this for me? But as time went by and I accepted new things and tried them out, I quickly learned that my fear had been a reflection of my uncertainty and experience with the unknown.  As I continue on my journey, I realize that I need to continue to accept the unknown with openness and try things out before I judge and come to any conclusions. This goes for whether it is a new neighborhood, a new student in the classroom, a new text I am reading, and beyond the classroom.


1 Response to "Reading the World: Rome, Italy"

This can be the greatest lesson of all to take into your career as a teacher!

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  • Marjorie Siegel: This can be the greatest lesson of all to take into your career as a teacher!
  • Marjorie Siegel: This is such a powerful way to make critical literacy work meaningful in local settings and to focus on deconstruction, reconstruction, and social act
  • Marjorie Siegel: Another book that offers an excellent guild to critical literacy in a primary grade classroom is Vivian Vasquez's exploration of her own teaching with



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