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September 1, 2009
What do I miss most?

It would be hard to say. Right at this moment, it's hearing the Italian language itself; hearing it spoken all around me -- so musical yet, for all its beauty, so oddly succinct. And I miss the stately protocol of using it -- you never just walk into someone's office or store and tell them what you need. You must wish them a good morning or good afternoon first. You don't rush people.

Did I become fluent? Yes -- fluent in poor Italian. I speak it like a child speaks it, mixing my tenses, substituting words that almost fit for the ones I don't know. But I managed to hold up my end of a conversation, which I did mostly by listening as hard as I could. Most educated Italians are good English speakers, but most people without much schooling are not, and it was they who often found their way into my office and my heart with stories of loss, of failure, of disappointment. These stories were not hard to understand. They were the same ones I've heard in every urban church I've ever served. They are the same story, the world over.

Italy faces the same dilemmas concerning immigration that the United States faces -- over the last fifteen years, it has seen a huge increase in the numbers of people from countries in northern Africa and Eastern Europe, come to seek their fortune. The Berlusconi adminsitration has recently passed strict and probably unenforceable legislation designed to curb the influx: no medical care for undocumented persons, of course, but it is also now a crime to house or even to assist an undocumented person. This makes hard lives even harder. I always wondered what on earth life must be like at home, if life in Italy under such conditions was preferable.

Many times, we would talk about going home. Shouldn't you go? I would say. At least you have family there. And out the story would come: the story of shame at not having made it in a promised land, the story of an increasingly improbable hope of work, the story of a need for health care not available at home -- it is easy to condemn such a motivation for immigration if you've never been in a situation in which the lack of medical care was a matter of life and death.

Ah, me. I return home to the essentially the same discussions, only in my native tongue. They are the same the world over, I suppose: how to make life possible for us all, how to level a tragically uneven paying field, how to live together in fairness, something the world has never really managed to do anywhere for very long.

I find Rete Toscana on the computer, and play my favorite classical music station in Florence. There, where I often missed the casual sound of English as I am now missing Italian, music bridged the gap in my soul between where I was and where I had been, where I was and where I wanted to be. What I had and what I missed having.
It does that for me now, in just the same way. Who among our friends is listening to the very same thing at this very moment, at seven in the evening Italian time, the end of the working day? Who all the way across the sea is hearing what I am hearing at this very moment?

Hello, dear friend. Hard day back at work, after the long August holiday? Hot and tired? Enjoy the violins with me for a while: violin music pouring out of your radio, while you're preparing dinner, maybe. Or just sitting in your living room by the window, where the hot sun is beginning to set at last, and cool of the evening is about to begin.

Want to hear? Visit and click on "ascolta" over on the left!
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