About a month ago I was walking through Piazza San Sisto to class with a friend. We stopped for traffic at Porta Romana and if you’re familiar with Via della Bontà right outside of the wall, you know that stoplight takes a while before it does you any favors. So there we are, probably talking about how much we miss air conditioning and waiting for a green light, and over our own voices we hear this low humming sound. Its not clear at all in the beginning what it was exactly; I thought maybe an Italian song I probably didn’t know. But it starts getting louder and more obvious, almost asking for our attention. Then I start thinking, I do know this song.
When I turn around I realize there’s a man behind us, dressed like he’s going to work. He has his mouth puckered, trumpeting The Star Spangled Banner; shamelessly, humorously, accurately.
We look at each other and wonder if this is really happening, and couldn’t do anything but laugh. Also, this stoplight wasn’t changing soon and he knew every note of our National Anthem. So what do I do? I start singing.
For about twenty seconds, I was harmonizing with a complete stranger in the street, in a Medieval town in Italy. In what corner of my mind would I ever think up a situation like this? None. It was so unexpected to get a hint of home, and for it to be coming from a person and not a song on the radio or something.
I like to think that he appreciated my participation, of course when we started engaging the light finally changed and our duet broke up.
We never actually exchanged words until we got to the other side of the street. He parted his own way, waved and said, “Bye American girls!” His thick accent verified that he was indeed Italian. I very much knew that would go in my journal entry for the week, titling it something like, “A Not-So-Threatening Way of Being Told You’re Obviously Foreign.” I think we laughed about it for a solid hour, probably during class and definitely still do now.
But there’s more. He, who’s name I will likely never know, frequents Porta Romana and is still very extroverted and not shy about carrying a tune. Two weeks ago I was walking and heard it again, coming up behind me. I just turn around and smile; a touch of home is always cool with me. He somehow manages to always be heard before he is seen which, yeah, sounds a little creepy but also is hilarious and makes this worth writing about.
I’m still left wondering how he knows this song. How many Italians know that song? How did they come to know it? I definitely couldn’t sing the Italian national anthem, that I know.
Getting the chance to see my own country from a distance and how it’s framed in Italy is top on my list of takeaways from being here. People will work with your broken Italian to get you where you need to be, and when they find out you’re from California (heyyy Cali people!) they go totally nuts.
So even if It was pointed out that we are American, in this sort of awkward and funny way, I feel far more welcome than alienated. This was the moment I realized how my own culture stretches across the globe, and like with what I’ve gathered in many of my other encounters, I’m confident to say the American influence seems to be a positive one. (Photo by Natalie Hutchison)
*Student USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium)