Anna Sincavage

Lesson Is More

Signora Anna’s Italian classes are about more than learning a language. Yes, there are photocopies with cartoon characters ordering la torta di frutta from a café, and textbooks complete with lists of conjugated regular and irregular verbs, just like the ones you used in high school.

But spend five minutes with Anna Sincavage at one of the long wooden tables at her family’s cozy New Haven restaurant, Skappo, and you’ll realize that these classes are different. And that’s how Anna wants them.

“I really want to know about you,” she says, when asked why she teaches. “I want the contact.”

Upon entering Skappo on a Monday afternoon or evening—when the restaurant is closed and classes take over the floor—“the contact,” as Anna puts it, is hard to miss. Not that you’d want to.

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“Move in closer,” she urges her students, who range from college-aged to senior citizens and everywhere in between. “I don’t bite.” Quite the opposite: once you know her, you’re the recipient of heartfelt embraces and classic European-style kisses, one on each cheek, each time you meet.

Anna’s classes, offered at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and a steal at $65 per ten-week session, are about getting to know her, getting to know your fellow students and sharing in the often-overlooked joy of conversation as you read aloud and practice new vocabulary.

And on the very last class, students eat an Italian meal, drink wine and perhaps even join in some impromptu singing, which, you will find out if you dine at Skappo during operating hours, happens a lot there.

That’s not to say people don’t learn Italian. There are those who come to class as a way to truly connect with their ancestry, to get ready for an upcoming trip to Italy or simply to fulfill the goal of mastering a new skill. These students do their homework and are proficient in no time.

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Beyond being an enchanting and well-loved New Haven fixture, Anna, who is originally from the Italian town of Assisi, is a practiced language teacher. Hearing Anna speak in her native tongue—in a lovely, accented voce that welcomes in soft tones as frequently as it breaks into unbridled laughter—is reason enough to want to learn the language.

And what better classroom than an Italian restaurant? The Sincavages opened the establishment in 2004 with Anna, her husband Tom and each of their three children bringing a unique talent to the operation. Tom, an architect, helped out with the location’s design, for example, and their daughter Yvette put her public relations degree to work in promoting the new business.

Their sons completed the equation, with Michael lending his professional financial knowledge to the venture, while musician Marc plays guitar and sings on special occasions. You’re likely to see one or more of the five family members on any given night at Skappo, or at their Italian specialty store around the corner, Skappo Merkato.

Among other reasons, they opened the restaurant to honor Anna’s parents. “This is my place, this is my skin,” she says as she points to the flags draped on Skappo’s walls. “This is my habitat, my honor, my heritage.”

This fall Anna is extending the passion she devotes to that Italian heritage, and to getting to know those who share a similar passion. Her new class, “Anna Unplugged,” will be held every Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at $15 per session. The class’s purpose is to study the “borghi”—or villages—of Italy, both those long-since abandoned and those still thriving.

Participants can sign up by calling or emailing the restaurant and may attend as few or as many classes as they wish. They will learn about the customs and architecture of a different town each week, and perhaps sample some regional fare, such as the Pasta Meliga cookies she made for her first class, held on September 8.

Of course, for Anna, it’s still about connecting. She thinks people are too remote in this era of mobile technology. Put down the cell phones, she urges. Sit close. Enjoy each other’s presence.

You will certainly learn something new at Anna’s classes, whether Italian or her latest, “Unplugged.” But her goal in teaching has always been simpler than the technicalities of the subject at hand. The reason she teaches is to keep that magic connection to each other alive, she says. “The reason is to be together.”

Anna’s Italian Classes
Skappo, 59 Crown Street, New Haven (map)
Call (203) 773-1394 or email for information/registration.

Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.

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