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La vita è Bella – Shared Italian heritage brings people together

By Melissa Wagoner

Growing up, Craig Bazzi’s grandparents – immigrants from Northern Italy – spoke mostly Italian, as did their neighbors.

“But it wasn’t spoken in our home,” Bazzi recalled. And so, the language wasn’t something he ever learned.

Then, as an adult, he took a trip to Italy with his wife, to reconnect with distant relatives and to see the place his grandparents once lived.

“I found a lot of Europeans speak English, but not everyone,” he said. “And so, I had an interest in learning the language.”

Enrolling in classes through the popular online language platform Babbel, Bazzi began learning his family’s native language. But it wasn’t the same as conversing in person. 

Then he met Carlo Antinucci.

“He was born in Italy and grew up in South Africa,” Bazzi said of Antinucci’s history, which also includes a career in the opera, sung mostly in Italian. “He’s more fluent than I am.”

Despite their differences in language fluency, the two found they enjoyed practicing Italian and, in September, decided to open the experience up to the community through a weekly Italian Conversation Night held on Wednesdays, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Silver Falls Library.

“I was worried the first class or two because I felt responsible, but people just laughed and stumbled along,” Bazzi said. “It’s a lot of beginners…”

But there have been some native Italian speakers who have attended as well, including Pietro Sangiorgi – owner of The Curbside Italian Kitchen in Silverton.

“In the Italian class, I learn English and they learn Italian,” Sangiorgi said. He moved to Silverton with his wife, Giulia Burato, and their daughter in the spring of 2023. 

“Many people want to learn Italian and that’s good because I don’t speak English well.”

An informal gathering of between 12 and 15 Italian language learners, the Conversation Nights are more of a study group than a class.

“It’s more of a social, voluntary thing,” Antinucci said. “If people can interact away from cell phones and technology, that’s the objective.”

Italian Conversation Night

Silver Falls Library
410 S. Water St., Silverton

Wednesdays , 6  to 7:30 p.m.

Free. All Italian speakers and would-be Italian speakers welcome.

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