16 April 2008


Last evening I had a lovely time with an American gentleman, born and raised in Queens and now an Army officer serving in the American embassy in Rome. I met “D” at Bancogiro while I was having a late afternoon glass of prosecco; he was having a glass of Barbera and a few cichetti. He appeared to know a thing or two about food and wine, so I struck up a conversation.

What great luck! I found an intelligent, enthusiastic, witty fellow who shares many of my interests, my taste in wine, and even my political viewpoint. When our glasses were drained, I dragged him around to a few other favorite spots, finally touching down at Enoteca San Marco where we decided to settle in for dinner. The wine flowed, the chow was delicious, and the conversation was varied and animated.

As we chatted, I told “D” that it seems I have acquired a new nickname among Venetian gentlemen of a certain age who make the rounds at the giro hour. (I like to bump into these jolly older fellows, laugh a little, and pick up some dialetto from them.) Lately when I see them, in a bar or just on the street, they call out to me, “America! Ciao, America!”

I confessed to “D” that this new moniker was troubling me a bit: Venetians are a very difficult people to win over, and the name seemed to suggest I was moving in the wrong direction!

“D” (who has an Italian wife and seems very well versed in Italian culture) swears this is, instead, an homage to a beloved Italian movie character. He says, in fact, my new soprannome is a sign of real acceptance in the community. I blushed with pleasure to hear this (although I cannot begin to explain why I want to belong among these people so much).

But, you know, it got me thinking in the wee, small hours… Really, who am I becoming? It was such fun to drop my halting Italian and converse in a normal, thoughtful fashion in my own tongue. Will I ever be able to truly communicate in Italian? How much longer will that take? And even though the evening was not a romantic one at all, the ease and certainty of being with another American startled me a bit, seduced me a little. All males are a slight puzzle to me. But my struggles with Italian men in the past few months have often left me feeling bewildered, wondering if there isn’t something in them I will never fully comprehend. So what chance do I have for any real connection?

To put it another way, I have one foot back in the U.S. and the other in Italy right now. I don’t know exactly why. I don’t know what lessons I have come here to learn. I don’t know where any of this is taking me. To tell the truth, I thought I would have had my fill of Venice by now. But late last night I felt a twinge of melancholy when I realized that I don’t want to be pulled back into my own culture. And I haven’t yet advanced as far as I had hoped to in this new one. So where does that leave me?