Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Venetian Education

This is not the exact mototopo our son took to school, but one like it
The other morning our son Sandro went to school in a mototopo--that is, in one of the long motorized workboats you see plying the waters of Venice carrying merchandise, food, or (as above) construction materials and workers. Of course it seems odd to me that my son should go to school in any kind of boat, but the vaporetto doesn't seem quite as exotic to me as it once did. He also gets a ride to school pretty regularly in our neighbors' little outboard motorboat. He was, and is, extremely excited about this and it used to seem quite exotic to me also--but not quite so much now. But a mototopo...!

A small yellow school bus was the most exotic form of transportation I ever took to school, and it wouldn't have been exotic at all if I'd been any older than five years of age. At that age just traveling anywhere, in anything, without my mother along was thrillingly novel.

But Sandro is becoming something like a real Venetian. This is one of the reasons he is now taking a boat to a school about as far from our apartment as one can go in Venice instead of attending the preschool just a few hundred meters away from us. At a certain point this year we began to ask ourselves about what kind of "real Venetian" we wanted him to be. This is actually a longer subject than I want to go into in this post, but when a child speaks one language at school and another at home it can sometimes seem that he is becoming rather a different person in each language. That is, what I'll call his repertoire of expression can vary greatly from one language to the other. It's not just that the vocabulary differs, but the parameters or breadth of each vocabulary differs and with them his range or mode of expression as well.

Put simply, in the absence of the good teachers he had last year (both of whom left), his Italian self was becoming much more aggressive, much more foul-mouthed than his English-speaking self. The models for his Italian self were not his teachers, who showed little interest in their students except when it came to yelling at them, but some particularly energetic classmates. Energetic in the sense of selvaggio, or wild.

But with his change of schools his Italian self is changing. He now has two teachers who actually model a much broader and calmer range of behavior and communication. He likes school again. Actually, he loves going to school again.

But he hasn't forgotten what he learned at his previous school--or what, I'm sure, he's still learning from older boys at his new one--and that in some contexts some people seem to even consider appropriate. As, for example, when traveling to school in a mototopo.

The other morning the mototopo piloted by the Venetian grandfather of one of Sandro's classmates got held up for 15 minutes in a small canal in Cannareggio behind a garbage mototopo and a construction mototopo. Sandro and his classmate and her grandfather could do nothing but wait, floating in place, while the workers on the two other workboats did whatever it was they had to do. Or at least it seemed there was nothing for the two kids and the grandfather, Nonno Pietro, to do but wait, until Sandro started to yell in Italian at the workers in the other boats to "get out of the way" or he would "punch them in the stomach."

I think I blushed in embarrassment when this was first recounted to me and I blush even now in the typing of it, but Nonno Pietro told it not only with amusement but a certain approval. Perhaps more evidence that my son may yet become the Venetian I know I will never be.


  1. What an education. I would have loved to see your blush!

    1. Yes, and at present I appreciate it at second-hand much more than he does. I'm glad you weren't there or here to see the blush...