Rome. The sun is rising over the City of Seven Hills. I am sitting at a cafe, not far from our hotel, editing a column on a yellow legal pad. I am here for breakfast, waiting for my wife to wake up.
The Colosseum is just down the street. The old stones are kissed by morning light. The Circus Maximus, the ancient chariot racing stadium, is flooded with morning fitness enthusiasts, jogging the old track. Most of whom are American.
The waitress stops at my table. She is an older woman. Exotic in every way. Midnight hair. Black eyes. She could have been Sophia Loren in another life.
She smiles when she takes my order.
“Are you a writer?” she asks.
“I’ve been called worse.”
“What Southern state are you from?” she asks.
“How’d you know?” I said.
She smiles again. “You say the word ‘chair’ with two syllables.”
Her name is Ginerva. I’ve never heard this name before, but it’s a lovely name. And it makes me feel warm inside because the women I come from don’t have names like this. We have Myrtles, Ruth Anns, and Janice Louises. Here, they have Isabellas, Ludovicas, and Ginervas.
Ginerva is a highly traveled individual. Speaks six languages. Has been everywhere. Seen everything. But she loves America the best. Especially the Southeastern United States.
Namely, she loves our food. She loves iced tea. And fried chicken. Also, she adores American television shows like “Monk,” “Bonanza,” and she grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry. She has a tattoo of Lucille Ball on her elbow.
And I’m starting to get homesick. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. In fact, “love” might be too weak of a word. I’ve learned a lot about Italy. Some good; some bad. I’ve learned a lot about Americans, too. Some good; some bad.
But mainly, gentle reader, I’ve learned that you will never know what a consummate ass you can become until you go abroad. And that’s a good thing.
I’ve learned that people are all, more or less, the same. I’ve learned that all children say “mama” almost the same in every language.
Most of all, Dear Reader, I’ve learned that the most identifiable characteristic about me is that I am American. And this makes me proud.
I am not proud because my people get everything right. We don’t. We are a messy, insane, uninformed, unsure, and sometimes hotly confused people, still working on ourselves. Still working on our culture. Still hammering out our ideals.
We are the baby of the Great International Family, still trying to figure out who the heck we are. Our older siblings in Europe are all rolling their eyes, because they’ve figured out who they are, mostly.
Whereas we are a historically unsettled people, always undergoing growth pains. One generation comes. One generation goes. Constantly changing, clawing against ourselves to grow.
And that makes me feel some measure of pride. Because, for better or worse, we are not just the nation of Gettysburg and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. We are the nation that gave the world George Washington Carver, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Ray Charles, Norman Rockwell, and Samuel Clemens.
The waitress asks if I am homesick.
“A little,” I tell her.
She asks if I would like anything special for breakfast. I tell her to surprise me.
Ginerva goes into the back and changes the music. The station is now playing Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”
When she brings my breakfast, she has outdone herself. Ginerva had the cook fry prosciutto like pan-fried ham. He scrambled a few eggs, and toasted a slice of bread. It is an American breakfast, not on the menu. Made special.
But the crowning gift she brings is something I didn’t expect.
Ginerva has brewed black tea, just for me. Then, she took the liberty to add sugar, and ice it down. The sweet tea comes in a tall pint glass, with cubes of ice. She has placed a sprig of mint in it. She pats my head in a motherly way when she delivers the gift.
“Iced tea,” she says with a smile. “For my American writer.”
They’re doing okay here in Rome.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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