As you may have read in our last blog entry, Piping For The Soldiers, we love to travel as a family and feel that it is one of the most important experiences that we can give to our children. Our trip to see the beaches of Normandy really got us thinking about our place in the world and reminded us of an extraordinary experience we had on a family trip to Italy.
A few years ago, actually ten, The Bosca family was spending a spring vacation in Florence, Italy (definitely a family favorite)! Mario and Nicholas were 6 and 3 respectively and we were enjoying a fun filled visit full of weapon museums for Nicholas and Ferrari stores for Mario. To Chris and I it was a time of feeling a bit strange to be Americans out in the world. To many Europeans, Americans were not very popular and we wondered what people were thinking or feeling about having us there. We found ourselves wondering where we really fit in and how the image of Americans was changing. It was a wonderful trip with an undertone of uncertainty.
After a day of comparative gelato-ing (a family expression), seeing cool stuff in the Bargello, walking through the Central Market, having more gelato, eating Panini on the curb in the Piazza Signoria, playing some soccer in the piazza with some Italian students, and having a short rest, we went to a favorite Pizzaria down the street from our apartment.
Upon entering it was clear that we were the only Americans dinning there that night. We were seated and Chris and I had a delicious Chianti and the boys were feeling very lucky to have been able to order their favorite Fantas. Now I will say here that our darling children are not absolutely perfect as their grandparents might tell you, but they do have very nice table manners and they know how to act in an adult situation. We were talking and laughing amongst ourselves but I was a little uncomfortable due to the man a few tables over who was watching us very closely. I tried to ignore him the best I could but I felt his eyes on us as I ate my way through my gorgonzola pizza. Chris, Mario, and Nicholas all became aware of his stares and we could not figure out what we were doing that was causing him to watch our every move.
At the end of his dinner, the gentleman approached out table. He was elderly and dignified looking, and he was accompanied by what looked to be his grandson. He asked us if we were Americans. We had already been feeling defensive, so we answered yes with some hesitation. He spoke in English, perfect but heavily accented with French. He said:
“thank you for being Americans, and for all that America has done for the world in the past, all that you are doing at the present, and all that you will do in the future.”
I was so stunned I could not answer. How I wish that I could go back and tell him how much I appreciated his words. He quietly left us with our jaws on the floor. I felt such strong emotions. Of course we cannot always know that what we, as a nation, are doing is correct, and will have the best influence on the course of history, and many times we may do the wrong thing. But we do stand for our values, often with courage and bravery.
Knowing what is really right and wrong in the world today seems to be more complicated and less black and white to me all the time. This man’s viewpoint was very clear and very passionate. It was born out of his personal experience in WWII. He made us feel both humble and proud at the same time. We can’t go back in time, but today we would like to thank this man, and the French for remembering.