My friend Alessandro is visiting the USA for the first time while I am in São Tomé (see included picture; he is on the left). I met Alessandro while living in Portugal. He was an Italian spending his time traveling around Europe and writing romance novels. He lived with a few American friends of mine in a big spacious apartment with no furniture.
Alessandro has a child’s face and a small, tight, extremely muscular, body. He is your quintessential Italian stereotype- crazy about women and alive purely to enjoy the world around him and, when possible, the ladies in it. During the year he lived in Portugal, he got a huge tattoo of big black wings spread over his back. It took quite a few sessions and I remember seeing him with bandages over his back more often than not. He speaks very little English, but is one of those people that can amazingly communicate anything he wants using creative combinations of the few words he knows. On his Facebook profile, he has pictures of him having sex. This is Alessandro.
And Alessandro, for years, talked to us of his dream of coming to America, the land of the free. He wanted to see it for himself- the towering skyscrapers of New York, the rich and famous of Hollywood, the rolling plains of Iowa. Then one day he sent me and our American friend Jason, who also lived in DC at the time, a Facebook message. “My friends, I am coming to America! I will be there in April. I am in love to see the land of beauty that is your paradise.” This is a rough and very generous translation from the English that he typed to us.
So, a few months later, in October, we get another Facebook message. “I am coming to America in November! I have bought my tickets!” This is all good and well, except for the fact that I am in São Tomé and Jason is in Brazil doing a semester abroad. So Alessandro is on his own. Which doesn’t bother him at all.
A couple of months ago I thought I would be a good non-hostess and check in. See how he was liking the States. What I get is a very romantic and poetic description of the majesty of New York, which Alessandro never wants to leave. He is in love with Greenwich Village. “Have you seen how much stars there are in the sky?” He types.
I laugh to myself. Stars?? In Greenwich Village?? I tell Ned, the American with whom I am living in São Tomé.
“Can you even SEE stars in Greenwich Village?” he asks me. I tell him I don’t think so.
But it’s such an Alessandro thing to say. In fact, maybe his poetic English has struck again. Countless times I look up into the night sky of a new place and am shocked by the number of stars I see there. It always seems like more than there are at home. In Portugal, São Tomé, the mountains of northern Maine- the stars are always a marvel. And perhaps it is the stars that allow you to experience the sheer awe of being in a new place- whether they’re actually visible or not.
And in New York, where you can’t see stars at all, maybe it is the Tim O’Brien way of saying that life is beautiful here. That in New York, Alessandro feels as liberated as if he had the whole universe to himself.