Buona sera, ragazzi.

Spring has officially arrived in Rome. We've had three consecutive days of 19+ degree weather (70+, if you're working in Fahrenheit). With it we've got all the attendant signs of the post-hibernation renaissance: mimosa trees in blossom, Nancy Sinatra-style frosted pink lipsticks and, of course, renewed commitment to getting into shape. Yes, yes, the annual Oh-My-God-What-Have-I-Done-And-How-Long-Do-I-Have-ŒTil-I-Can-No-Longer-Cover-Myself-With-My-Winter-Coat syndrome has set in.

I've taken proactive steps in the fitness department. Today I joined a Pilates class. Inspired by my friend Elizabeth, I called and made an appointment at the Pilates Cova centre just off the Campo de' Fiori. All of the arrangements were made in Italian. I was told to wear comfortable shoes and loose fitting garments. I was told my instructor would be a woman named Tiziana. I assumed this would be a very Italian experience. Fantastico.

Turns out Tiziana was sick today, so I was assigned instead to a super toned, blue-eyed beauty named Shannon. From Los Angeles. Like, Oh my God. Like, Wow, that is, like, totally awesome.

„Oh my God. Like, you totally speak English, said Shannon when we met. „That is so, like, fabuloso.

(In truth, Shannon grew up in Wisconsin. However, she followed her calling, ditched the cheddar cheese scene and moved to California just as quickly as her shakras could get her there. And it was there, in sunny, beautiful La La Land that Shannon discovered the magic that is Pilates. I got the whole story, including the bit about the boyfriend back in Wisconsin who feared for Shannon's health because she was losing too much weight --- THAT certainly caught my attention --- and he'd seen a made-for-TV movie with Valerie Bertinelli, that mega talent and stone fox, about a girl who exercised herself to death&Mac183;Shannon said she felt sorry for the poor soul because he obviously couldn't share in her „explorations. I was, of course, still thinking about the part where she lost all that weight&Mac183;)

Pilates, as it turns out, is fabulous. I already love it. I can feel my next obsessional exercise regime coming at me like an oncoming train. And, great news even on the first day! I've been told I actually have the bone structure of Winona Ryder. Next thing you know I'll be caught shoplifting on camera on the Via del Corso and claiming it's all part of my research&Mac183;

What strikes me, and what I therefore want to write about this week, is how the experience with Shannon, California Shakra Babe, underscores my facility with language. For, in truth, while Shannon was speaking, I was doing a three-way translation: From Californian into New York (taking the light and making it dark), from NY into London (taking the dark and making it ironic) and, finally, from London into Italy (taking the ironic and making it bellissima). I am astounded by all that I have learned.

So here's how it works. The following are excerpts from my actual conversation with Shannon. I've then „translated each of them into „local dialects so as to show how given conversation might have gone in each of the various languages in which I am now expert.

1. In response to my comment: „Spring's here and I'm feeling the need to get fit.

CALIFORNIA Shannon: „Yah. Spring is such a beautiful experience. So completely natural. We've nurtured all winter and now it's time to release some of that energy back into the universe. As a result, we lighten ourselves spiritually and physically. Yah?

NEW YORK Shannon: „No shit. Your ass looks like a porch."

LONDON Shannon: „Oh, yes, right, I see, lurve. And, tell me, have you always had a large bum?

ITALY Shannon: „Don't worry, cara. You are bellissima exactly the way you are. We just work a little and then you be more beautiful, si?

2. In response to my question asking how Shannon got involved with Pilates in the first place.

CALIFORNIA Shannon: „Hm&Mac183;yah&Mac183;well&Mac183;like&Mac183;well&Mac183;hm&Mac183;I guess I could say that Pilates found me. Yah know? I mean, I was living in Madison [Wisconsin] and there was all this negative energy. So many people feeling really bad about themselves, yah? And, well, I was doing Ashtanga [yoga] then and my yogi was pushing me to work on the negative space. But it was really heavy and I felt too much chi in the air, yah know? So I moved to California for the positive energy and then, like, wow, I was just, yah know, drawn to the Pilates centre. I think I must've known it in another life, yah know?

NEW YORK Shannon: „My boyfriend dumped me. What an asshole. I had to find something else to do.

LONDON Shannon: „I met a Pilates teacher at my mate Philippa Leatham-Pickering's hen party [For the non-Brits: a hen party is the equivalent of a bridal shower, except you get thongs and peek-a-boo panties instead of waffle irons and asparagus tongs, your mother is NOT invited and the bar bill rivals the GNP of most third world nations]. We were completely pissed, of course. [Drunk.] Anyway, this Pilates teacher tells me I can take inches off my bum if I just get on the rack and flex my feet, so that was good enough for me. And that's how I met Graham&Mac183;

ITALY Shannon: „It's so beautiful, no? Don't worry, cara. You, too, find Pilates and then you become more bellissima than now, even.

3. In sympathy with my comment that I had managed to pile on unnecessary poundage over the long, harsh winter.

CALIFORNIA Shannon: „Yah know, that can sometimes be the body's way of protecting itself against all the negative energy, yah know? Like, sometimes, if we've gone through a really bad relationship, the body just shuts down and closes down within its core. There's really bad chi then. You can feel it here [points to throat] or here [points to ankle]. Those are real trouble spots for a lot of people. Be gentle with yourself and give your spirit time to heal, yah know?

NEW YORK Shannon: „Oh, I know. You look like shit.

LONDON Shannon: „Gardening. That's the ticket. Work in the garden, do a couple of proper walks. [Americans: this means a minimum of 14.4 miles in pissing down rain, and comprising at least four really horrible hills.] None of this dieting bollocks.

ITALY Shannon: „Cara, doesn't matter. You are bellissima exactly the way you are. Magnifica, assolutemente. You are a woman. Don't change a thing.

4. In answer to my comment about how I moved to Rome because I just felt it was time to recharge the batteries.

CALIFORNIA Shannon: „It is SO important to follow our dreams in all our lives. And this is your dream. You've suffered, you've had pain [okay --- there was that knee injury a couple of years back and also a shoulder problem from a torn ligament, but I can't think of why my Pilates coach might be painting me as the next Christ, dying for the sins of mankind], you've had to come a long way. And now you're following a dream. Pilates can be part of that dream.

NEW YORK Shannon: „Oh my God. What about your pension? Still, I'd rather be homeless than fat.

LONDON Shannon: „A bit old for a gap year, aren't we, luv?

ITALY Shannon: „You are so beautiful, cara. Moving to Roma, si. Bellissima.

And, finally, the real kicker. Please remember these comments are REAL. They were voiced on the Via dei Capponari in Rome. This very afternoon.

5. In response to the question about how Pilates can change your life.

CALIFORNIA Shannon: „Oh my God. That's such an important question. I mean, if you're really centered in the moment and you're open to the positive energy in this life, then, well, yah know, Pilates can just open you up. Here [points to heart] and here [points to someplace uncomfortably close to the pelvis --- not sure what that's about, but, hey, what the hell is 30 Euros per week if this damned exercise regime will centre my bum, connect me to a new life and grant me the sex life of my dreams?]. There's just so much you can accomplish this time Œround during your stay on earth.

NEW YORK Shannon: „Who gives a shit? I just wanna be able to wear Dolce & Gabbana.

LONDON Shannon: „You'll be able to drink all summer and still look great.

ITALY Shannon: „You'll be even more bellissima than you are now, cara.

Okay. See why Italy wins hands down every time?

The truth of the matter is this. Shannon and her shakras are probably a bit uber-Los Angeles for me. But, I find myself living in a universe populated by people with Kate Moss-type hips. I look at trousers and grimace. I mean, the damned waist bands look like bracelets. No kidding. There are only so many handbags you can buy in order to make yourself feel better. I want something to fit over my ass before I leave this country, dammit.

So Pilates it is.

And, more than that, I am suddenly more acutely aware than ever before of the degree to which I'm becoming a citizen of the world. Well, the European world, anyway. I am now fluent in four different languages. I can Yah Know and Centre Myself on the West Coast, F-ck that Sh-t in New York, hang with the double-barreled name group in London and feel like the Madonna herself here in Roma.

Who said you can't teach an old dog some new tricks?

Here's to my shakras. And those Italian trousers&Mac183;




© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004