There are some Side Yard installments that are hard fought labors of love, and there are others that just sort of walk through the door, like this one; you might say that this particular chapter literally came through the door of my office…twice.
A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a woman from Italy who knew seven languages, seemed decidedly intellectual and was very attractive. Before I had a chance to learn anything about her, I immediately assumed that she was an architect. Now, I have mentioned my long, happy marriage in numerous articles, but even a stoic Side Yard essayist like “io” is not immune to the intrigues of an attractive woman with a gelatinous romantic accent. The thick black hair and dark eyes didn’t hurt either.
After chatting with her for about 15 minutes, trying to make myself seem convincingly Eurocentric, she departed with a colleague. It got me thinkin’: Why did I instantly assume that because she was Italian she must be an architect or designer? When she described her job, it occurred to me that it was about as far from the design world as a traffic engineer, but her melodic inflections persuaded me to visualize “!Architetta!”
When I got home that night, I opened our most expensive bottle of Italian Sangrantino ($9.99 at Trader Joes!) and pondered this encounter for a bit. I actually began feeling a strange sense of prejudice and bigotry. Wasn’t I sort of doing something ethnically stereotypy? Why did Sophia’s Italian charm so easily make me think that we are of the same professional ilk? (I also started wondering if my references to the debt crisis in Italy and its effect on the regional economy of Basilicata impressed her.)
Coincidentally, the next day, a sales rep who was also Italian came to our office to talk about some new products; at least I think he was Italian because he sounded like a male Sophia. He was a very average looking guy – even thinning out on top – but his accent threw me off. Even though the products he was peddling were pretty mundane, his brogue duped me. He was Italian, so he had to be selling designer stuff ! At one point in the presentation, I considered his clothes and assumed they were Euro-posh and well crafted, but on further inspection I was shocked to realize he was wearing Dockers! It’s embarrassing to admit that during his spiel he could have persuaded me that something he picked up at Lowes was actually designed by Valerio Cometti, Paulo De Lucchi or some obscure risotto dish, and I would have believed it. And I am sure I would have paid about 47 times more for it than at Lowes!
Again, after he left I reflected on this fixated partiality I have toward the sound of romance languages. He was no Sophia, but he had me engrossed in the passione and ambiante of his tongue. With an ARCADE deadline looming and these two episodes rolling around in my head, I was persuaded to work out my European chauvinism on paper.
To backtrack a bit, my parents are immigrants from the Netherlands, and I grew up with numerous Dutch, German and Swedish families around us—all Northern Europeans and Nordics. My father and mother’s enunciations really humiliated me throughout school (not to mention their old country mannerisms and customs; they made me wear lederhosen in seventh grade!!!), but now that I’m older, I think of this heritage as kind of a family badge of honor.
I have always had this biased feeling that there are just some accents that sound cooler than others for architects and designers. Living in Spain for several years and falling in love with the language – not to mention many Spanish women – cemented my favoritism for the romance languages. I admit that this is pretty irrational, especially since many of my favorite architects happen to be Northern Europeans, and I love all the exciting design coming out of the Netherlands. Though I must say that I’ve met Rem Koolhaas, twice, and tried to speak to him in Dutch. Both times he blew me off like I was an infantile, which really pissed me off, so I’m not a big Rem fan…
I believe the romance languages were designed specifically to express amore and beauty…and architecture! Who the hell really cares if Sophia is AIA? I imagine her growing up in an 800-year-old stone farmhouse with Umberto Boccioni paintings and Ligorio working drawings hanging all over the place—maybe even in the pantry or bathroom. When she wasn’t picking up fresh organic local greens from the market, she was being home-schooled in architectural history. Oh, I can just hear it in her accent!
(Incidentally, I consider the Dutch or “Nederlands” language and diacritic – much like our people – to be a finely honed amalgamation of the Romantic and Germanic idioms, a right brain/left brain balanced tango.)
At the end of the day, who would you rather hear say something architectural like “juxtaposition”in their native tongue—Sophia or Rem? Sophia would say “giustapposizióne” with a lingering emphasis on the siZIÓÓÓNE. Rem would probably say “naast elkaar” and call me an idiot. So give me an Italian to be my architetta, artista or disegnatore! I just adooooore that romantic accent…and thick black hair…and dark eyes…and…
Piacere di avervi conosciuto, Sophia…