It’s a funny thing, that greener grass on the other side…
When I met Marco at a language exchange Meetup event in Florence, I was so intrigued by his immense passion for the colonial Northeastern US that I asked to interview him. In our initial conversations that would later blossom into a friendship, I discovered that Marco feels about the US the same way I feel about Italy. I wanted to understand and explore this paradox that we could be so equally in love with each other’s homes instead of our own. Along the way, I learned a lot about Marco- a genuine, heartfelt, and forever-young Italian (seriously, he goes to concerts every week and I often call it a night before he does!). Read on to learn more about my friend, Marco!
- Ciao Marco! Tell us about yourself (age, where you’re from, job, etc).
I was born 55 years ago in Florence and grew up half a mile from the Ponte Vecchio. I started working when I was 21 because, although university in Italy is almost free, my family wasn’t able to continue paying for my living expenses.
My father had found jobs for me in different parts of Italy, but I so strongly did not want to leave Florence (would you?) for anything in the world (famous last words), so I eventually found a job at home for an import/export company.
Two years later, this company asked me to start a branch in Washington, DC. Let’s not forget that we are talking about the mid ‘80s…no internet, no cell phones, and the fax machine was a novelty. Further, I was just 22 years old and did not know English. Yet, I felt I couldn’t say no. So in March 1987, I flew to DC.
- Tell us about your travels in the US. Where did you go and why?
In the first few years, I traveled a lot but just for work, so I didn’t really experience much. I would work a lot then go out with friends in DC, but the truth is I was completely unaware of all the DC surroundings and the nearby states that would become my passion years later.
In Italy it’s common to know US history only for what Hollywood has brought here: the far West, the gold search, the gunfighters, the pioneers heading West on their wagons, and the “bad” Indian against the “good” white settler or US army.
The truth came out much later and always through TV and movies such as Dances with Wolves or books like Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
I left the US for good in 1994 and for 10 years I did not go back as I honestly felt I hadn’t left anything undiscovered behind. Years later when I suddenly had enough airline points to take a big trip, I realized that there was so much I didn’t know about the US.
I then wrote to US tourism offices and asked them to ship me their travel guides which were full of cities, small towns, parks, historical sites and activities to attract American tourists who already knew the major cities.
In 2003, I started traveling to these off-the-beaten-path places that no Italians even knew existed and took over 7 trips back, each time exploring deeper. (Click here for a full list of Marco’s adventures in the US- how many have you actually been to?).
- How do you feel when you’re in the US and is it different than how you feel in Italy?
When I went there for the first time, I remember the great feeling of being completely free with a clean sheet on which I soon felt I was able to write anything from zero, with no cultural intrusion, influence and pressure.
In the States I felt and still feel every time I go that you can walk in a pub or sit in a park and talk to anybody and be easily accepted as new friend or just have a conversation.
However, I did not get into a very deep relationship with American people. This doesn’t mean that I did not know and like Americans, but somehow the relations always remained kind of superficial. As easy as it was to have a conversation with someone in the street, it was difficult to get into a deep and sincere relationship to the point of getting welcomed into somebody’s house and family.
- What interests you about US history when Italy has such an immensely rich history?
I feel so proud of being born in Florence. But as impressive and important as Florentine history is, I don’t feel I belong to it. It is a historical period too long ago to have any relevancy to me today, the Renaissance doesn’t influence me any more that it does you.
The freedom that period brought both to man and his thoughts and behavior, is for all mankind, or at least for Western culture. But, it does not give me any emotion.
Instead, American history does! I think this is partly because its history happened relatively recently, such that I can imagine having been one of those pioneers going West between 1840 and 1860 and later. I can imagine my great-great grandfather as one of the immigrants going to America in the 19th century.
Therefore I am now in love, I have a real passion for all the BIG (and many times dramatic) AMERICAN ADVENTURES: the Lewis and Clark corps of discovery expedition as the first white men mapping and documenting the West. The mountain men opening the West to the immigrant trails (California, Oregon and Mormons). The Civil War, which influenced the following French revolution, too. Then the gold search and the drama of the Native American genocide. I live, feel, and read American history as a novel.
- What are some Italian stereotypes of Americans and have you found them to be true or false?
What Italians criticize the most (less now compared to the past…but with Trump it could change again) about America is its imperialism, especially when clearly unjustified (at least for the publicly declared reasons). The role of the policeman of the world is not much appreciated by common people. However, in general, I feel that Italians are the people who love America the most. They may not love American politics, but I feel they love American people (besides their often funny clothes…).
- Tell us about one of your favorite moments in the US, when you felt a moment that was really special.
In August 2003, a fresh dusk in Winchester (VA), sitting on the lawn with just a few people in front of the historic town courthouse as we watched the West Virginia folk group named Trapezoid. A celebration of life in rural America and his people in the mountains of the Virginias. “Stars turn, the seasons return” and “by sweetness alone, I survive” two of the many touching phrases in the songs, borrowed by the poet Wendell Berry.
- How do you think Americans can learn from the Italian culture? How do you think the Italians can learn from the American culture?
Italy can certainly learn from the US how to be a more serious and reliable country as far as politics and politicians (you don’t like yours, I am sure, but ours are much worse). Legal procedures are way too long in Italy. This means that citizens feel unprotected.
Americans in big cities, can learn how to conduct a slower life and eat more genuine food. Although I have seen big improvements especially in New England.
- Why do you think it’s important to travel off-the-beaten-path?
The main reason for me (but I am talking about US) is because I felt that it has been my own discovery. Every new small village, park, river, mountain, waterfall, historic site etc is like I am the first person from my land to see it. Usually when you travel this way, you are alone or with very few people on that spot and get the chance to taste it in full and with all the time needed.
- What is your dream in life?
I never needed to have dreams in life. It was always life to become a dream. And I hope and believe that life will keep guiding me to dreams that, at the moment, are still unknown to me.
Now, for example, I am sitting here, in my beautiful Florence, with a nice and kind young lady from Appalachia that destiny brought on my road. I have the privilege of sharing with her my passion for US colonial history and talk to her about the unknown and lonely rural landscapes, including her native heartbreaking mountains. All this, without having dreamt of it a couple of days earlier.
One day maybe, I’ll be sitting next to a creek in Cherry Log [Sierra’s home], thinking about today and of a new dream come true.
So, what’s my conclusion about falling in love with foreign places? Click here to read my thoughts after speaking with Marco!