This is not to say that the resident Italians are unfriendly people. What the guide books never tell you is that if you merely say the wine in whatever region you are staying is the best wine in the whole world, your host will smile proudly, pour another glass, and ask if you know a priest in Milwaukee named Fr. Giusti, who happened to be a cousin or something. In my earlier meanderings the kids only asked me if I knew Michael Jordan. In either case, I found gracious ways to get me off the hook and change the subject.
Except for the burden of having to lamely explain how nice Americans ended up with a fool as president, we got along fine. But the animosity toward the American government has lingered in my mind (It was just as scathing in Ireland, by the way). With its resources and diversity, America was to be the democratic model for other countries struggling with greater adversity and far fewer resources, often jammed into borders that were no more than a taxi ride from one country to another in a single afternoon. .
So you bet I was pleased to see the welcoming reception that Barack Obama received in Europe! While the right-wing sorest-losers were desperate to find flaws in Obama's European visit, from continuing to grouse about teleprompted speeches, to his choice of questioners from the audience, I needed only to look out at his excited crowds to know that there has already been a sea change in attitude toward our government overseas. Gail Collins of the New York Times, assessed it as well as anybody in observing that the Obamas "wowed" the Europeans, further noting:
"We were expecting a good reception, given the fact the previous administration set the bar so low that Barack was able to get hysterical applause just by telling the crowd of students that Americans don't believe in torturing people."
Don't underestimate the importance of the rise in affection for a new American president. European leaders are as conscious of public opinion as we are. ( OK, Bush was a numbing exception, which made it all the worse.) It might be a little easier dealing with those leaders to resolve mutual concerns if they perceive among their constituents a newly-constituted popularity in the U.S. chief executive. Even a small change would be refreshing for America's image abroad. . And for selfish me, I would have more time celebrating a region's wine with my host and talking about that priest in Milwaukee that, somehow, I never met.