“Signora De Checchi came around the bend a few seconds later with a leash in her hand. In her black leather jacket and blue and gold silk scarf, she looked almost too elegant to be walking a dog.”
As a casual Midwesterner, I couldn’t believe how nicely some of the other parents dressed to pick up their kids from school. And they weren’t even necessarily on their way to work. Italians believe in something called the “bella figura.” It wouldn’t matter that Signora De Checchi might not meet anyone on her walk. As the owner of the Italian estate where Kate and Michael were staying, she would always have to look fabulous.
Signora De Checchi also belongs to the generation that still uses the formal way of speaking. There’s really no equivalent in English these days. The closest that I can come would be from the Lord Peter Whimsey books, which were written in the 1930’s by Dorothy Sayer. Sometimes questions would be put to Lord Peter in something similar to this: “Would his Lordship like to try my current wine? It’s very good this year.” But in place of “his Lordship”, older Italians would use their formal word of you: Lei. It’s like the Usted in Spanish.
I’d like to share how to pronounce Signora De Checchi’s name through this short scene:
“I love Signora De Cookie’s statues, don’t you?” Michael asked.
“You mean Signora De Checchi,” Kate said, correcting his pronunciation.
Michael shrugged. “De Cakey. De Cookie. I was close, wasn’t I?”
Checchi really does sound quite a bit like Cakey. It’s an Italian spelling convention. Despite a few things that are a bit tricky for English speakers in the beginning, Italian is an incredibly phonetic language. In fact, my middle child could read it beautifully out loud back in first grade without having the first idea what she was saying. This both impressed and puzzled her teachers in the Italian public schools.
(Update: I’m afraid that I got a bit distracted by Italian spellings when I started writing about pronouncing Checchi. Here’s what you’d need to do to give the word the proper Italian flare. First say CAKE-key. You’ll need to make both kuh sounds. Next say cake to yourself. Notice how in English that there’s a bit of a dipthong. Listen for the hint of a long e sound after the long a sound. It’s there in English, but not in Italian. )
Signora De Checchi speaks English extremely well, but I let her her Italian come through in her choice of words in sentences like “But the odor of your shoes seems to interest her.” She was doing a word by word translation of an Italian sentence. For example, since “odore” is an Italian word, she’d be more likely to use that than smell.