This must be the place. Old Glory was flying outside the stately entrance, which faces on the Arno. Appropriately, the American consulate is on Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci. The entrance was heavily guarded. The Italian officer in charge pointed me toward the metal detector in the vestibule.
I have a pacemaker, I said. He looked at me blankly.
A pacemaker? I said again. Um...un cuore mechanico? That wasn't quite right -- I don't actually have a mechanical heart -- but it was close enough. He nodded and turned off the machine so I could go in. I raised both arms so he could search me, but he waved me on without doing so.
The American consulate in Florence is elegant as all get-out. It was once the palazzo of a fabulously wealthy duke named Canevaro and his even richer wife, who was descended from at least one of the Medici. We were shown through a green-and-gold-leaf ballroom into a cream-and-gold-leaf sitting room, where we perched on gilt chairs upholstered in cream silk and studied the portraits for a while. Then the Consul General came in and soon little cups of espresso appeared on a tray, accompanied by cocktail napkins bearing the Great Seal of the United States on them in gold. It was good to be home.
We talked about American students in Florence: what they need when they're here (community), what worries us about them (binge drinking), what our Thanksgiving plans are for them (big dinner the night before). We talked about St. James' food pantry and clothing closet, our children's programs, our new organ, on its way here from England at the end of the year. We talked of New York, where all of us used to live. We talked about music.
It was raining as we walked the two blocks away from the river towards home. I was regretting having left my raincoat back home in New Jersey, and made a mental note to get it over here -- I bet Florence can be a rainy place in winter. I thought of our towels still on the clothesline, and decided that they were just receiving an extra rinse, and that this was a good thing. This rain is an inconvenience at most, I thought, and certainly we have needed it in the garden.
A presidential election is less than a week away now; weather always affects turnout. People will gather at the consulate early in the morning on November 5th to hear the returns. People here sometimes wonder if their absentee ballots are counted, arriving so early and coming from so far away, but it doesn't seem to keep them from expending a fair amount of effort to vote. Is it easier for you, where you live? Hope so.
I'm taking Wyatt to the polls with me, Anna said on the phone yesterday. He's going to be able to say he went into the voting both in this election. Wyatt has a onesie, size 0, emblazoned with the name and image of his candidate. That's our boy.
The turnout promises to be huge. It isn't always, and it's thrilling to listen to the radio from Italy and hear American excitement and urgency. It should always be that way. Politics matters here in Europe. It should matter everywhere: in a democracy, we get the person we elect. If we put nothing in, allowing others to do our work for us and perhaps to do it cynically, we get precious little out.
So, whichever lever you pull or button you push, whichever box you check, exercise your great right and privilege. Be proud of it. And feel the majesty of this simple political act.