21 March 2015. Turin, Italy.
Read Seattle to Turin in 5 Minutes Part 1
It was one month and a day since I had met Paolo in that cafe in Seattle. I was now sitting in the front row of a packed theater with 500 enthusiastic Italians. The final round of an improv competition pitting two teams against each other was about to start, and I was one of two Guests of Honor for the night.
I reflected on the past 24+ hours.
Just the day before I had arrived at the Turin Train Station from Milan. A young, skinny Italian guy named Giulio had picked me up from the train station. He was an energetic guy with a great command of the English language (he had lived a few years in London) and was eager to practice his English with a native-speaker.
He took me first to the place I’d be staying, the apartment of Paolo who I had met in NYC for a total of 5 minutes. We had exchanged Facebook messages and Paolo had arranged for me to stay at his place, even though he had to be out of town for the weekend for work in Paris. A man I had met for 5 minutes just one month ago was now letting me stay at his place an ocean and continent away from where we had met, and he wasn’t even going to be there.
Giulio took me on a tour of Turin, we stopped for an apertivo, and talked about a number of topics, none more enthusiastically than the NBA. Giulio was a big fan of basketball but didn’t have too many people who were knowledgable in the subject to riff with about it. We agreed that it was OK that I liked LeBron because I’m from Ohio, but that the San Antonio Spurs play the best team ball.
The next morning, the morning of the improv show, Mauro had picked me up around lunchtime and taken me to a delicious brunch place that doubled as a bicycle repair shop (yes, you read that correctly).
Mauro was a shorter Italian guy with dark hair and a personality that I definitely vibed with. He was the co-owner of the improv theater with Paolo and was the one helping me with the workshop I was leading that afternoon (not only had Paolo given me a place to stay, he had organized a workshop with some of his school’s students).
Mauro was there to act as my host and, I would find out later, my translator. After we finished our incredible meals (I had Eggplant Pancakes, which I felt a fitting synergy to what I had eaten when I had met Paolo), Mauro took me to workshop space. There were 12 eager Italians awaiting, only half of which spoke fluent English.
I led them through a character workshop, giving instructions in English which Mauro would translate into Italian. They would then complete the exercise or scene, Mauro would translate high level what they were saying into English, and I would give them notes, which Mauro would translate into Italian.
I felt a slightly misplaced feeling of importance having a translator for my workshop but allowed myself to feel cool about it for the afternoon. A small part of me wondered if he wasn’t just saying “This silly American said you should all do this, so let’s entertain it for a little bit. Weirdo.”
A short dinner and drive later, I was at the improv show that evening, as a Guest of Honor. Reflection completed.
The host walked on stage and the crowd erupted in applause. For the next few minutes I had very little idea of what was happening as the host was talking in Italian. From his gestures, the audiences reactions, and general paralanguage, I got the jist of what is happening. The woman next me, also a Guest of Honor, stood up to give a wave as the audience erupted again. She was clearly someone famous (at least compared to me).
The host then looked at me and said, “And welcome Drew Tarvin, a special guest all the way from NYC.”
For a brief second I thought I had magically learned Italian before realizing he had just switched to English. I stood up awkwardly and gave a wave to the crowd.
He continued, “I hear you don’t know any Italian. This is the only English part of the show, have fun.”
And I did.