Tuesday Mornings

Embracing one of the most beautiful languages in the world as a means to keep a loved one’s memory alive…

by: Matias Travieso-Diaz

At age 81, I have become a methodical sleeper. I lay my head on the pillow at 11:30 p.m. and, save for one or two bathroom breaks, wake up at about 6am the following morning. I set no alarms, instead something inside me cries out: “Time to get up!” and there I go. My day then proceeds along a well-oiled path. Coffee, news, breakfast, a thirty-minute walk with Maggie (my Coton de Tulear), some writing, lunch, a short siesta, more work, dinner, watch some Sci Fi on tv, and perhaps a movie. Before long, it is bedtime again.

Such is the luxury of retirement — no pressures, no surprises, no revelations. There are, of course, exceptions to the daily routine, singular chores to be accomplished, trips to be made. Otherwise, every day is like any other. Except Tuesdays.

The morning activities are compressed on Tuesdays to leave room for an important event. On this important day there are no Scrabble playing, no surfing for the day’s news. On Tuesdays, I go out with Maggie, have breakfast, shower, get dressed, and make sure that I am eady at precisely 9:53 a.m. to venture into the wilds of Zoom in the hope of getting a connection (which is not always available), until I am shown to be online, ready to join an Italian class about to start.

It did not use to be like this. Before the COVID pandemic, my Italian classes were held live, at a senior recreation center in a local library a twenty minute drive away from home. I enjoyed the live classes, but necessity and the convenience of virtual meetings has made returning to in-person lessons impractical.

What happens during these Tuesday Italian classes you might wonder. All of the participating students have ties to Italy — either through ancestry or by previous business or personal contacts — thus we have sound reasons for attending. Our volunteer teacher, a retired engineer with Italian roots named Bob, will attempt to goad the pupils (a variable number, nowadays six to eight) into conversation in Italian about recent world developments, the weather, or their weekend activities. I seldom join; chiacchierare (casual chatting) is not my strong suit. Yet, I enjoy learning what goes on in the lives of my teacher and fellow students.

After chatting, we move to the formal phase of the two-hour class. Bob has sent beforehand a homework assignment covering some aspect of Italian grammar and we go over it. Italian grammar is difficult and, often, rather capricious. Bob mildly corrects errors in his low-key but effective teaching style. He is never critical of our errors and is always supportive when we struggle to master a difficult concept. The class continues through reading passages from Italian texts, watching educational videos, and engaging in conversational exercises. Overall, it is a pleasant, non-threatening experience, for which Bob deserves full credit and thanks.

I joined the weekly Italian classes several years ago, at my friend Bruce’s suggestion. He had studied and lived in Bologna and often visits Italy with his wife and relatives, and encouraged me to attend and improve my command of the language. I had taken Italian courses at a county-sponsored language education program, and had been to Italy several times, so I was hardly a beginner, but I never had the time or inclination to study seriously and knew just enough Italian to get by. Yet I agreed with Bruce that additional instruction would be beneficial.

My wife Fran and I had been to Italy together twice, the first time as tourists in 1985 and then, twenty years later, to attend the wedding of her niece to an Italian lawyer. Both trips were memorable. Joining the Tuesday Italian classes would give me additional preparation for future trips to Italy with Fran.

Sadly, we never took another such trip. COVID prevented us from traveling for a couple of years, and in late 2021 Fran was diagnosed as suffering from ovarian cancer. She passed away nine months later. So, my motivation for continuing to attend Italian classes appeared to be gone.

Why have I continued to sit through the Tuesday morning classes? First, there is of course the learning. Italian is a lovely language, and for one who likes opera it is always a thrill to hear it sung or spoken and be able to understand it, and take awkward stabs at speaking it myself.

Then there are Bob and my classmates, all congenial people with whom it is easy and pleasant to interact. I suspect I could continue to sit through my Italian classes just as a social event, to spend a couple of hours with people whose company I enjoy. I do not have many friends left, and very few in the Washington, D.C. area, and at my age do not get many opportunities of making new acquaintances.

Underneath it all, however, lies the remembrance of my wife. Improving my Italian was a pursuit Fran approved, and which she expected would yield greater joys for both of us. She will not be around to benefit from my learning, but studying Italian will help keep her memory alive. More than once, in the course of a lesson, my mind will drift away to recall the times she and I spent together in Italy: enjoying a waterside dinner of freshly caught seafood on the Italian Riviera; losing ourselves contemplating Botticelli’s Birth of Venus painting in Florence; tasting tartuffo for the first time; gazing, at sunset, out of the balcony of our Venice hotel room as a procession of gondolas traversed the Grand Canal carrying a wedding party to the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.

In short, I may never unravel the correct use of “ci” or “ne” to abbreviate a sentence, or be able to speak Italian correctly. But, every Tuesday morning, my memories of Italy will come alive again, and I will continue to experience them if Bob remains willing and able to teach his “golden-age” students and there are enough of us interested in learning the most beautiful language on Earth.


Born in Cuba, Matias Travieso-Diaz migrated to the United States as a young man. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years. After retirement, he took up creative writing. Over one hundred of his short stories have been published or accepted for publication in paying anthologies, magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts. A first collection of his stories, The Satchel and Other Terrors, is available on Amazon and other book outlets.

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