With my recital complete and my future hometown determined, my wife and I have flown away for a delayed honeymoon during the only foreseeable gap in our two wild and crazy lives. We decided to focus on Italy, and why take one week when we can take four? We've been staying in Florence since April 5, and we now only have a few days left. It's been wonderful all around, with one catch: no guitar. I had intentions to rent or buy a cheap guitar for the month, but by the time we found a suitable music shop, I had already tasted the food. And I thought to myself, "Self, having a guitar this month would be great, but it won't blow my mind. Spending an extra €100 on food most definitely will." So aside from a few minutes of plunking in that shop, I currently haven't touched an instrument in almost four weeks.

Where's the Music in Florence?

In addition to my own sonic hiatus, there's a conspicuous lack of ear candy around here. We've passed one establishment with live music audible inside. And I've counted a grand total of nine street musicians, none of whom were awesome, in three weeks of wandering all over Florence and several nearby towns. It's a little creepy, and I'd be going nuts with Joe's imaginary guitar solos had I not found a suitable substitute obsession.

Substitute Obsession

My little project taking over for music this month has been the Italian language. I obsess over it during every spare moment, because the rewards are immediately palpable. We're staying outside the tourist center of Florence, and most people in the area don't speak English. So when we buy bread or wine or groceries, we need to use our limited Italian vocabulary along with some foolish pointing and gestures. My goal was to get a compliment on my language improvement from anyone I dealt with regularly over the month, and got it from the lady at the bakery last week; she was very impressed that I'd barely begun studying the language and wasn't enrolled in a class.

My wife and I started learning Italian basics about eight months ago. We didn't get very far, and we weren't consistent with it, but it made for a good start. I didn't get serious about it until after we arrived. I'd been using a combination of phrasebooks and Rosetta Stone, but the real breakthrough was when I ripped through Essential Italian Grammar in a few days. I studied Spanish in high school, so I found all the structural elements completely familiar. All the verb conjugations are a little different but work the same way. This little book gave me instant exposure to the same level of grammar in Italian that I learned in four years of Spanish classes. While I haven't memorized much from the book, it has immediately allowed me to make sense of everything I find in the phrasebooks. It also illuminated the most important little words in the language: conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, etc. I think of these as the "glue" between the more familiar Latin roots in the nouns and verbs, often mirrored in Spanish and sometimes in English.

Listening Workout

I dedicate only a small portion of my time to studying (it is my luna di miele, after all), so whenever I'm out, my ears are open to all passersby. I usually can't make out enough to know what anyone's talking about, but it's a major listening workout. I try to pick up on pronunciation of words I know so I can mimic them properly. I'm doing my best to duplicate the sing-song inflections of the language, surpassing even the bilingual master, First Lieutenant Aldo Raine.

This has been the perfect non-musical hobby for an obsessive musician. Having good ears really means having good processing of sound in your brain, and learning a new language is like working out hearing muscles you didn't know you had.