"Ah! Alabama! Ciao!"


The sign outside of the gelateria

The first night I ever visited Gelateria San Martino in Albano was after a long day in Rome. We were walking back to Ariccia from the train station, absolutely exhausted. Of course, my immediate reaction was that I wanted gelato, because gelato is the answer to everything: happiness, sadness, sleepiness, you name it. As soon as I spotted a lit up ice cream cone on the side of the building, I was sold. My friends Katie, Marsh, and I decided to try it out while the others kept walking. Like most local cafes, it was small, compact, with seating off to the side. It was late and they were about to close, so only one person was working. This was the first time I met Maximillian, the 51 year old, peppery-haired, gelateria owner with an extremely thick Italian accent. Before I barely had time to set foot inside the door, the nervous laughter, which I have learned is my natural response to the language barrier, set in. It always gives me away as a foreigner.

The legendary Maximillian and I

The legendary Maximillian and I

Nonetheless, we all three ordered. I do not know how, but we somehow managed to get across that we were studying in Ariccia for three months. We were from Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina but we studied in Alabama. “Ahh! Alabama! Si!” he replied. Alabama seemed to click. It took a good fifteen minutes for us to understand that he knew about the state of Ohio, and wanted to know where it was located to which we replied it was north of us. By the end of our visit, I came to the conclusion that he only knew about five or six words in English, which was about equivalent to the amount of Italian I knew at the time. This made communication difficult, but surprisingly, more entertaining than anything else. Whether we knew it or not, he was helping us with our Italian while we were helping him with his English. I have lived here now for 5 weeks and I have gone back to Gelateria San Martino at least four times. I have since learned to keep my Italian phrasebook in my purse at all times. Now when I walk in to order my chocolate gelato, I am almost always greeted with a big “Ahh! Alabama! Ciao!” and it warms my heart to know that I have made a friendly connection with a local from one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

>> Clare Harp