This essay, an excerpt from Dream of Venice written by Dianne Hales, was originally published in La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language (Broadway Books, 2010). Reprinted with permission of the author.
Che Bella Luna
On the last night of my first trip to Venice many years ago, a full moon, white as Carrara marble, glided above Santa Maria della Salute. A chilly north wind had blown the tourists back to their hotels. Shrouded gondolas rocked in the lagoon. A gentleman with a white goatee and a jaunty beret stopped where I stood on the quay.
“Che bella luna!” I pointed at the moon, proudly unfurling some of the words I’d acquired in my travels.
“Come Lei—anche Lei e’ bella!” Like you–also lovely. I pretended not to understand the compliment.
“Mi dispiace. Non parlo italiano.” (I’m sorry. I don’t speak Italian.)
“Signorina, vorebbe un bicchiere di vino?” “Would you like a glass of wine?” he asked, turning to face me.
“Mi dispiace, Signore. Mi dispiace.” (I’m sorry, Signore. I’m sorry.)
“Stop telling what is not pleasing to you,” he said in a swift change to a curt and lightly accented English.
“I know, I know. You don’t mean to be rude. But I see a beautiful young woman, and I think, ‘She should not be waiting alone for the moon to shine on her. She should be telling the moon to make her wishes come true.’ Tell me, do you know how to ask for what you want in Italian?
“Beh! I want! I want! That is for babies. No, you must speak like a lady, like a princess. You must say, ‘It would be pleasing to me.’ Mi piacerebbe.”
“Mi piacerebbe.” I replied, rolling the “r” as he had. I could guess that it translated as, “It would be pleasing to me, or I would like…)
Si! Si! Ma che cosa Le piacerebbe? What is it you would like, bella donna della luna–lovely lady of the moon?”
“I don’t know. Non lo so.”
“Then you must find out. La vita vola: life flies. If you do not know what you want, you will never know where to look to find it.”
“I would like–mi piacerebbe–to speak Italian, parlare l’italiano.”
“Beh. That’s a start.”
“And you–e Lei? What is your wish?”
“Io? Mi sono invecchiato, ma ancora una volta mi piacerebbe baciare una bella donna alla luce della luna.”
“I don’t understand.”
He moved very close. “I’ve become old, but I would like one more time to kiss a beautiful woman in the moonlight.”
For several seconds I watched a river of silver moonlight shimmer on the canal. Then I did what it suddenly pleased me to do: I lifted my mouth to make his wish come true.
About Dianne Hales
Dianne Hales is an award-winning journalist and the author of Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered. She was named cavaliere dell’ Ordine della Stelladella Solidarietà (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity) for her contributions to Italy’s language and culture.