Love in entirely another language

Updated: Oct 11, 2019, 07:32 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

I am in Tramin, a beautiful Italian commune, learning about the life of my loved partner, adapting to the things that make up his world

A stunning bird's eye view of Tramin. Pic/Rosalyn D'Mello
A stunning bird's eye view of Tramin. Pic/Rosalyn D'Mello

Rosalyn D'MelloI have returned to Sudtirol for the fourth time. This year, though, my base has shifted. It is no longer Eppan, home of the Eau & Gaz residency—the original reason behind my presence in the region. Now, by virtue of love and marriage, I consider myself to be a resident of Tramin. We even received the certificate from the town hall acknowledging our union. My existence is on the record here. In this town of 3,000 people, my presence is being witnessed for the second time. It is all too clear, though, that I am much happier to greet most of the town's inhabitants than they are to see me. Their mannerisms belie a distance that feels very in keeping with my experience with cold weather people. It doesn't at all deter me from over-exuding my coastal Goan warmth. They say 'Hoi' and me, I want to go hug them. I can tell they are puzzled as to why I could possibly be so happy to see them. It confuses me, too.

Each day I wish I had language on my side. I wish my interactions could seem a little less foreign; that I could access people more easily, that I could somehow erase the linguistic barriers that prevent them from knowing me. Sometimes I wish it from a practical point of view—I'd love to, for instance, be able to have a lengthy conversation with the local butcher (I love that there's only one that services the whole town) so he can supply me with the right cuts.

The last time when I had decided to make a veal biryani, I told him I wanted kalb, the German word for veal, but I didn't know how to tell him I needed the meat on the bone. So I said 'kalb mit (with)...' and made a gesture to show him the bone on my right arm. He understood and gave me an excellent section. But I missed the ease with which I communicate with Mumzar, my butcher for mutton in CR Park Market no 1, or even Shotgun, who cuts the meat at Khubchand's, who is similarly able to respond to my culinary specifications. I want to be able to play 'Watten', an Alpine card game, with the local farmers at the Urban Keller without them thinking of me as an alien. It's a process, I know. And it will take time.

I think of Babette, in the film, Babette Feast, and how when she first seeks asylum in Jutland from persecution in France, she cannot speak a word of Danish. When the film cuts to 14 years later, we find she has become an intricate, inextricable part of the town's social and communal fabric. She managed the exchange through food, which she used as a medium to enter into their culture. I'm trying to do the same. I've gotten significantly better; I can now not only read a menu in German, I can also legitimately follow a recipe and make a dish, which I'd like to believe is no mean feat. I know that language is a system of accrual; words must be constantly stacked in one's vocabulary. Until I have the time to engage in a regimented approach to the study of German and Italian, I will have to rely on my current cheat codes; hoarding words I pickpocket from here and there, cataloguing the spoils for future referencing.

I'm doing much the same with the many varieties of grapes and apples. I have arrived in an atmosphere of abundance. I am finally beginning to ascertain what it means for wine to have intonations. My partner took me to his plot of land last week to show me the state of ripeness of the Pink Lady apples we'd thinned in summer. They had swollen so significantly in size; it was hard to imagine how tiny they were when I had last seen them. I am learning the town's harvest schedule, and learning simultaneously how in an Alpine region, different towns have different timings for plucking.

Come the first week of November, the Pink Lady apples will be ready to be untethered from the trees. Because we live in a winery, I have intimate access to the grapes that are entering the premises. I can hear them being loaded onto troughs and then crushed. Each time I enter and exit I am encounter the heady, intoxicating aromas of new wine frothing from the initial fermentation. I am learning to look at vineyards and recognise what grape it is based on its shape and size.

As I sit at the writing desk my partner stationed for me in front of a window overlooking the Blood beech tree in his sister's old room, I am aware of all the movements transpiring at the periphery of my stillness. I have learned to bear witness to the hourly ringing of the bells from the tower next door. They continue to mark my time in Tramin.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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