We walked a long triangle as we sang: east on Via della Scala to Piazza della Republicca, then over to Piazza della Signoria, where the colossal statues stood, silent and famous, on the Uffizi's back porch. Neptune stood in the middle of his fountain and seemed to cock his head to listen as we sang. So did some other folks: a group of Japanese tourists, some waiters still on duty. A little Italian boy and his parents stopped to listen for quite a while, and he laughed at us we sang "Jingle Bells' and I rang an ineffectual little tinkling bell. He sang along with us on Tu scendi dalle stella, the only carol he knew.
A man came up to me and began to speak. I moved closer to him to try and hear what he said, but it wasn't clear. Did I speak Italian? A little, I said. English no good, he said roughly, and I realized he was really angry. He was also drunk in public, something you don't see much here -- not Italians, anyway. He told me that Mussolini would rise again. I told him I had a cat named Benito. He was not amused. I think he might have struck me had not Tom intervened, taking him quietly by the sholders and speaking gently to him in Italian. The man walked away, growling to himself.
Next time you meet a fascist, Tom told me a few days later, don't tease him by telling him you have a cat named Benito.
I thought it would give us something in common.
Uh-uh. A son, maybe. Or a brother. But not a cat.
I guess you're right.
When you're new in a place, people don't always know your intentions. The things you don't know outnumber the ones you do, so it pays to listen and learn before you speak. I'm usually pretty good about this, but I wasn't that time. Americans think everyone views politics the way they do -- which is pretty dumb, actually, since Amercians themselves view politics in so many different ways. Things look different to different people -- the memory of the Second World War, for instance, is a somewhat different proposition here than it is at home, where bombs did not fall. And not only for my drunken friend, driven by his demon back to a time when he was very small and all the grownups were angry and afraid.
I wish there had been no war. I wish there were none now. I wish children didn't grow to adulthood, generation after generation, scarred by memories of fire bursting from the sky, of hunger, fear and death. I wish the world had not passed another year in this terrible company.
I know. If wishes were horses, beggars could ride.