Last summer, while wading in the salty salty water of the Bay of Navarino in southwest Greece, a friend observed that some words which are so ugly in English are exceedingly beautiful in other languages. “Watermelon,” she said. “Greek: karpouzi. Italian: cocomero. Wheelbarrow – karotsaki, carriola.” We brainstormed a few more examples, mostly food words and archaeological equipment words. I am a Ph.D. student in Classical Archaeology, meaning my studies are largely concerned with Greek and Roman antiquity, and I spend my summers analyzing potsherds in Greece and Italy.
In the old days of archaeology (like in the ‘70s), our professors drank local spirits with the workmen and got to know the people in the towns and cities near the site. Nowadays, at least on the projects I have worked on, we tend to be groups of Americans and Canadians living and working closely together, with very little contact with the local community. This situation is less than ideal for language acquisition and cultural integration, so most of us are really well versed in the vocabulary of the restaurant, the grocery store, and the field. I hate this, and although I have managed to sneak in a semester of intensive Italian and am improving bit by bit, I feel like a giant imposter.
The word for housewife in Italian is la casalinga. I have recently added “housewife” to my list of personal descriptive adjectives, because in December I married the man I fell head-over-heels for in 2007, when we were both graduate students working on an excavation outside of Rome. He’s a professor now, teaching at a small liberal arts college in Ohio, and I am still a Ph.D. student, finished with qualifying exams and seminars, but with a dissertation to write. After we were married we packed up my lares and penates, and my dog, and moved to snowy Ohio.
Now, I do have a job writing up ceramics descriptions for an excavation, and of course I am reading reading reading for my dissertation prospectus. But I am also at home all day long, waiting for my husband to come home for lunch or for dinner so I have somebody to talk to. I keep the house clean, and cook all the meals, and write up a weekly menu for our Saturday grocery shopping expedition. He does all the ironing and the dishwashing, and I make the house a home. The situation is finite; it has an end-date. In August we’re moving to Australia where he has a three-year post-doctoral position. So I don’t know how I would feel if I were really housewife in Ohio, like, forever. But for now, it is fantastic. Lonely, because I have no girl friends, but after 2 ½ years of a long distance relationship with my man, it’s awfully nice to be in the same home.
And so, because “doctoral candidate housewife” sounds ugly and absurd, I dub this blog, and myself, with la bella lingua : La Casalinga Dottoranda.