Reading: The Bella Lingua


For the tourist, the whole experience of traveling through a strange country is on the verge of the past tense. Even as the days are spent, these were the days in Rome, and everything – the sightseeing, souvenirs, photographs, and presents – is commemorative. Even as the traveler lies in bed waiting for sleep, these were the nights in Rome. But for the expatriate there is no past tense. It would defeat his purpose to think of this time in another country in relation to some town or countryside that was and might again be his permanent home, and he lives in a continuous and unrelenting present. Instead of accumulating memories, the expatriate is offered the challenge of learning a language and understanding a people. So they catch a glimpse of one another in the Piazza Venezia – the expatriates passing through the square on their way to their Italian lessons, the tourists occupying, by prearrangement, all the tables at a sidewalk café and drinking Campari, which they have been told is a typcal Roman aperitivo.

John Cheever, The Bella Lingua, in  The stories of John Cheever, pg. 302


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