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All set? Good.
So I woke up this morning - another cold, grey, wintry July day in London - and realised it's the Fourth of July. In America. Not here. Not a sign of a bar-b-que, or fireworks displays, or hot dogs or, for that matter, sunshine and swimming and celebration. And when I told my husband what day it was, and he said 'You should go out and celebrate'. I laughed, thinking he was kidding. But he was serious. 'Go see a film, or something.'
The irony is, I was meant to be in Italy, still. Where it is hot, and sunny, and in a parallel universe, that's where I am, with my friend Valeria and no doubt, members of this extended family, this tribe, that I've known since their time in NY, when many of them were young diplomats at the UN. Memories of an open air cafe on an Italian lake, watching Italy beat France in the World Cup, on a sheet hung up with the television projected on it. Valeria and I didn't have a clue what was going on, and no one had the time to tell us, but when we saw the French guy head butt the Italian guy, we figured, that had to be good for Italy. The crowd, as they say, went wild with National Pride: people cheering, fireworks going off, horns honking in the little town, the restaurant owner's wife, a little woman, lifting me up and swinging me like a pendulum, in jubilation. I felt like I had gone into an alternate reality, and was inside one of those charming foreign films.
But instead of swimming on a tropical Italian island with Valeria, she is at her friend Anna's funeral. Mourning the loss of someone she loved, and - knowing Valeria - celebrating her life. And I feel that I owe it to a woman I've never met, will never know, to treat each day that I am here as if I am a visitor. Pinching myself that my holiday to the UK has lasted over fifteen years, so far. Relishing walking in Regent's Park, in the Queen's Rose Garden, in the misty rain - the roses are incredible, thanks to this freak weather - huge ripe overblown giant things, heady, gorgeous scents - and I'm doing things, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband - tourist things, like I did with recent family and friends visiting. And going to the Globe, seeing Henry V, made me think even more about the idea of Nationalism. Because this was all about history, about a war between England and France. Of a battle at a place called Agincourt, that resulted in terrible loss on the French side, and a marriage that united the two nations.
So I went back to my photos from the Jubilee, the flotilla on the Thames, and all the many creative ways that people wore the flag. Variations of red, white, and blue - which I always felt was uniquely American - but is not only the British flag, but also France, and then, just for fun, I looked up 'what countries have red, white and blue flags' and discovered, there at at least 28. And that includes Thailand, Samoa, Cuba, Iceland, Russia, and the Czech Republic. In fact, the only place I can find that uses MY favourite colour - aqua - is, ironically, the Bahamas. Where my family have land. Where I wish I were right now, with my father alive, swimming in warm turquoise water, with the fishes.
The truth is: I'm not especially nationalistic. I can just as easily cry watching the footballers from any country sing their national anthem before a game. There is something so deeply primitive about song, any song, but especially when people sing their country's anthem, like a prayer, it carries such emotional resonance.
So, as an ex-pat living in London, every time they sing God save the Queen, I put my hand on my heart, and sing the words I sang as a child every morning in school. I sing it loud, and I sing it proud.
And they say the Americans don't do irony.
Happy Fourth of July, to my American friends. And to my British ones, thank you, for letting us go, and moving on, and remaining our friends. For to forgive is divine.
To my friends from every other nation, let's celebrate the concept of Freedom, for which our flags stand, and think of the people in Syria, and North Korea, and anywhere in the world where the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, are concepts that they can only cling to, with hope.