Italians Get It


Imagine news headlines in Europe these days: “Americans Dumbfounded, Some Irked By Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize” and “US Lawmakers Oppose Health Insurance For Its Citizens. ”

In 2006 I found myself a bit lost in a town entirely off the Tuscan tourist trail. While practicing useful  phrases –Mi scusa, parla inglese – and keeping my eye out for a slow speaking, informative, kind stranger, I happened upon a wall plaque which identified the spot I stood in as Piazza John F. Kennedy. I was stunned. Surely, Kennedy had never stepped foot in Castelfiorentino.  As an American I was touched by the gesture and counted myself among friends.

Last summer, I visited an antique shop in the Monti section of Rome. Floriano Costanza, the owner, had taped a newspaper photo of Barack Obama on the glass door of his shop Florian Antiquariato. I was surprised by this small cheer for America from a longtime Roman. When he discovered that I lived in Washington, he became even more gregarious, closed his shop, and ushered me to his nearby apartment to show me more of his personal collection of Neapolitan presepi or Nativity scenes.

In 2007, I chaperoned a student trip to Italy. One of the high school boys became very sick with strep throat. We were in the mountains of Abruzzo when I was sure that Zack had to see a doctor. I found a doctor in the hamlet of Barisciano. After he examined Zack and handed me a prescription, I took out my wallet. He threw his hands up and shook his head. It was a few minutes before I realized that there was no charge for the examination.

In Rome when I had the prescription filled, the pharmacist, clearly distressed, apologized because as a non Italian citizen, I had to pay the full price of 80 euros (about $100 at the time) for a 12 day supply of needles, an antibiotic, and a steroid. I had to reassure her that I was most grateful for that price.

A plaque, a newspaper clipping, a doctor visit are of a piece. Honor those with vision and respect for humanity.

14 October 2009

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