If you close your eyes and listen, you can imagine yourself sitting in a cafe in Rome.
"Buongiorno (Good morning)," Mace Perlman says.
"Mi piacere (Good to meet you)," replies Giussepe (Joseph) Pasquini.
"Come stai (How are you)?" John Stansell answers in greeting.
But you are not in Rome. You are in the Meeting Room at Greenwich Library for a recent gathering of Amici del Libro (Friends of the Book), a group of local residents who come together to share their passion for the language they love -- Italian.
"It's a conversation meeting," is how Luciana Orzano, the president of Amici del Libro describes the gatherings around the U-shaped table. "This is a Greenwich community service," says Orzano, "and everybody is welcome -- at all levels of Italian."
Orzano, a native of Naples and longtime Greenwich resident and teacher of Italian, presides over the group, which meets twice monthly on Mondays, from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
On this particular Monday, the group totals 15 and includes a special guest -- Greenwich resident Mace Perlman, an actor and mime. In fluent Italian, Perlman launches into a discussion of his upcoming role in two one-act Italian operas to be presented by the Teatro Gratta Ciello at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Everyone is listening closely. Perlman's hands are busy in the telling.
He next discusses Shakespeare (in Italian) with Giuseppe (Joseph) Pasquini who has been coming to Amici del Libro for about a year now. (Pasquini speaks the language fluently. His parents are Italian.) Their talk turns to Pasquini's recent cruise around the world and how he was in Tokyo when the recent earthquake hit Japan. He explains how he had felt the earthquake for 10-15 minutes and how he had been unable to stand.
Stansell, who recently retired as music director of First Congregational Church, listened as he sat close by.
He explains that he once lived in Torino and has been getting his Italian fix with Amici del Libro for at least five years. Another regular, Evelyn Bausman, who speaks German, French and Italian, says she has been coming for two years now.
Adrian Panaitescu, of Greenwich, and Ginny White, of Darien, are pleased to have found Amici del Libro, which provides them the opportunity to speak Italian. "It's hard to find a real conversation gathering like this," says White, whose father is Italian and lives in Florence.
"Each person has some kind of a story," says the Romanian-born Panaitescu.
For Riverside residents Ansleigh Heap and her husband Adrian, who is British, their story is told in British-accented Italian as Adrian gives an amusing account of his launching an ad campaign for Chiquita bananas in Italy.
Taking copious notes of the conversations was Mary Weisgerber, of New Rochelle, N.Y., one of the few in the group who come from outside of Greenwich. "I'm writing in Italian as a way of learning it," she says. "My mother is Italian. I've been coming for a year and love it. I love the Italian language. I like the way it sounds. I love the culture. I love Italy. I'm proud to be an Italian."
That appreciation of things Italian was what the founders of Amici del Libro wanted to encourage when the group was created in 1982 by a trio of women: Andrea Berzolla, an Italian language teacher from Riverside, the late Marie Henderson, and Louise Imperiali.
The ladies' first initiative was to donate to Greenwich Library some 100 books in Italian -- including such children's classics as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (Le Avventure D'Alice). But it's the Italian conversation sessions that Amici del Libro has become known for.
"Amici del Libro has been meeting at Greenwich Library for many years," says Carol Mahoney, who directs the library. "It demonstrates that conversation is one of the best ways to practice language skills. We're happy to offer this service to the community."
Orzano is grateful for the support the group receives from the library. "They are always helpful," she says.
Another feature of the meetings is the freshly brewed coffee Orzano makes, often with homemade Italian cookies, Italian cheese and crackers.
"That's the beauty of this group," Perlman says, "A shared passion for Italian language, politics, travel -- and food."
Amici del Libro will hold its last meeting on Monday at 12:30 p.m. before breaking for the summer. For more information call the Greenwich Library, 203-622-7900.