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The Slap, A Lesson in Perseverance

It is often said that we learn everything in kindergarten. Maybe not everything. I learned an everlasting lesson in fifth grade. That year, along with some classmates, I showed a little sparkle in learning and I was encouraged to pursue an education beyond the minimum requirement of elementary school.

It meant that the teacher talked to our parents. In turn, our parents asked the village priest to teach us. As a result, the priest had carte blanche in preparing us for the middle school entrance exam. There were seven of us. The priest drilled us every day after school. Each day, we were assigned specific tasks. The next day, we were expected to explain our reasoning. Either we did or we did not.

Surprisingly, in the mid-stages of our exam prep, our village priest asked us to recite the Italian alphabet. Easy enough? Why did he assign us such an easy task? Every student knows the alphabet by the end of first grade, right? Cunningly, I made a point of reviewing it. I even hummed before falling asleep. At the interrogation, the next afternoon, I could breathe easily. When my classmate, Salvo, was called up next, he was perfect.

Soon after came the other classmates. When asked to recite, they clung to each other and looked stunned. Did they practice? Were they afraid? With one quick movement of his right hand, the priest slapped their chin with a gentle stroke, adding, "Asini!" Their lips trembled but did not move. The next afternoon they were not there. Neither were they the next day. They never came back.

[Padre Settineri, the village priest, did not give us an easy task to measure our IQ but to deduce if we were ready to withstand the interrogating pressures encountered in middle school.]

There we were, Salvo and I, the only two surviving students, absorbing all the lessons presented to us. When it was time to take the middle school entrance exam, encompassing an essay, problem-solving, and a few other things, I almost panicked but pushed forward completing all the questions.

A week later, Salvo and I found out we had passed the middle school entrance exam with flying colors. We were the talk of the village. The only two students from the fifth-grade class to make it. In the Fall of 1960, we traveled to the nearby town of Messina and ended up in the same school and the same class: Prima Media, Sezione B, Scuola Media Superiore Luigi Pirandello.

Salvo and I were the only students from the surrounding countryside. I felt different and out of place. One day, I received a rating of four out of ten on an Italian essay. The rating went from one to ten.

[Nobody ever got a rating of ten unless they were a Leonardo Da Vinci. If you strived to be a Michelangelo, you did not even get a rating of nine. And a rating of eight was rare. One had to be impeccable. Occasionally, if students put forth an extra effort, they received a rating of seven. A rating of six was considered sufficient. It was the rating needed to stay in school.]

Dejected, I stared at my paper. A wrinkled piece of paper landed on my desk and shook me up. Scrabbled on it was, 'Vergognati!' 'Shame on you!' It came from the desk where Salvo was sitting. I looked at him. He laughed, enjoying the moment. Noticing what had happened, the teacher surmised, "Salvo, a rating of five is not that much better than a rating of four!"

Unknowingly and timely, my teacher’s spontaneous affirmation encouraged me. I buckled down and plugged into doing all my work, day after day. In December of 1960, at the end of the term, I opened my report card and read: Italiano - sei, Matematica - sette, Storia - sei, Disegno- sei, Geografia -otto, Religione - sette, Condotta- nove, all ratings from six to nine. Hurrah! I could continue going to school. By that time, Salvo had quit school for good. He could not handle the class workload.

Lo Schiaffo

Lo schiaffo

Arriva all’improvviso

Forse senza ragione

Lo schiaffo

Scuote l'anima

Forse senza motivo

Lo schiaffo

Lascia un segno

Forse senza saperlo

Lo schiaffo

Sul viso

Sul mento

Sul cuore


Forse senza amore

Lo schiaffo


Ti raggiunge

Lo schiaffo


Ti fa’ compagnia

Lo schiaffo

Senza lacrime

Ti fa’ coraggio

The Slap

The slap

Arrives suddenly

Perhaps for no reason

The slap

Shakes the soul

Maybe for no motive

The slap

Leaves a mark

Perhaps without knowing

The slap

On the face

On the chin

On the heart


Perhaps without love

The slap


Reaches you

The slap


Keeps you company

The slap

Without tears

Gives you courage

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