hen you live your life in two languages certain words can shimmer and shine in unusual ways. An obvious instance is when you encounter some so-called “false friends,” or words that mean completely different things in Italian and English. A few examples of these might be camera/camera (room), educated/educato (polite), or morbid/morbido (soft). Amusing bedfellows, these words are practically homophones but their significances are radically different. In fact, it would be better to call these words downright enemies, insomuch as they are misleading and wily (though maybe it’s because of their wiliness that we want to call them friends…).
But a different kind of situation comes about when you hear a word being used in Italian and English speech on the same day — or within a short span of time — in what seems like both a prescient or poetic way.
It happened to me the other day with the word RESOLVE.
My 26-year-old daughter (who lives in New York City where she has no need for a car) is in Italy for a few weeks and has been practicing driving my stick shift car. Her lessons with a local instructor are fodder for a separate column. On our own time, I have reluctantly agreed to let her drive me around town for errands. To say I find this stressful is an understatement: I clench, grip, grasp, gasp, gesture, bark commands, scold, and occasionally yell.
On one such driving excursion, with her husband sitting in the back seat and me in the passenger seat, we got into a sticky situation, the details of which escape me, as there have been so many of them.
“No!” I exclaimed nervously, “I told you before, you should never do that.”
She was stunned. “Wait! What? What happened? What did I do??” People behind us started beeping their horns.
“Resolve, Clarissa. Resolve,” her husband Dan intoned from the back seat.
In that moment of panic and discomfort (for her and for me), the use of that single word, resolve, was perfect. It meant stay calm and solve the problem. It was a command, not an option. It said that there was a way of getting things done without too much thinking, just by doing. As a person guilty of overthinking of just about everything, I relished the word.
Then, later that same day, we were invited to an informal dinner at a friend’s house. As usual with these friends, it was a delicious meal in a magical setting. And, as usual among Italians, we talked about food. Specifically, we talked about the spaghetti we were eating, how the sauce was made, where the recipe was learned, when our hosts had it first, and naturally about spaghetti in general. The power of pasta.
Con spaghetti si risolve una cena, our host said. Spaghetti is the resolution to the problem of any dinner. You have more guests than planned? Spaghetti. You don’t know what to cook that would please everyone? Spaghetti. You have empty cupboards? Spaghetti con aglio, olio, e pepperoncino.
The use of the word “resolve” to describe dinner, friends, shared meals, and communion wound its way back to its earlier usage, when it meant solving a critical problem. A single strand of spaghetti was the undulating wave of connection between two words, symbols, and signifiers. The tangle of life, its consistently unresolved nature, the critical moments it presents, the way we instruct our kids to be adults, the way we share moments with friends, develop friendships, communicate, and move forward, finds resolution with language. With love.