Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a young woman (me) who was so filled with wanderlust that she (I) got giddy just looking at a map. I had dreams of striding across the world in a pair of Seven League Boots, no, not like the kitty cat, but like Richard Halliburton
My boyfriend at the time had traveled — a lot for a guy his age — and on his own. He was also, as a person, nearly as exotic as anyone could be without being another species altogether. Peter had gone to school in France, had traveled in Italy, Morocco and Tunisia. He spoke French and Italian fluently, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, and dreamed of being a writer.
One evening, before we went out, he introduced me to Campari Soda, with a twist. “Not a squeeze, a twist.” He was emphatic.
The drink was beautiful, bubbly, a perfect shade of alizarin crimson. The afternoon light shone through the glass.
“Try it. Lots of Americans don’t like it.”
I tried it. I loved it.
“Do you find it bitter?”
I did, but that was good. I was a fan of Vernors Bitter Lemon, for godssakes. I thought of Stephen Crane (it was grad school, I was studying literature). “Makes me think of Stephen Crane,” I said.
“Are you sure,” he said, “that American literature IS literature? How can you know that you’re thinking of an actual poem?” He grinned. We were steeped in academia and both of us knew it was bogus. Whether America HAD a real literature was still disputed by some (non-American) scholars who argued America hadn’t been around long enough to develop a real culture and, therefore, had no real literature. It was all derivative.
“There’s another drink that’s good. Mix Campari with orange juice. In Italy they call that an Americano because of the obsession Americans have with drinking orange juice every morning.”
Fast forward nearly twenty years. I’m walking up a street in Wallisellen, a small town near Zürich, with a friend. We’ve just been to Co-op, a grocery store. I’m carrying a six pack of liter bottles of orange juice. As we pass windows, store windows, office windows, people wave and nod. In at least one, someone mouths, “American.”