The Smell of America
When an Italian patriarch crosses the Atlantic, the family he left behind clings tight to the enticing promise of New York.
Ever since he was a five-year-old child, my uncle Michele gets this same strange sensation every once in a while. It’s both an image—the blue sky, seen from the street up, through the skyscrapers—and a sensation, an intense combination of excitement and longing. That’s the thought of New York crossing his mind. It’s purely bittersweet, and leaves him rather shaken. The way he describes it makes me think of the bewilderment that comes with trying to remember the details of a dream.
My uncle is a fifty-eight-year-old man who dropped out of medical school to pursue his love of politics. He now works for an insurance company and is running for mayor of his hometown, Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi, population 4,500, in the mountains of Irpinia in southern Italy, an area often mentioned as one Italians know about but would never be able to locate on a map. He is a passionate man, but I wouldn’t call him sentimental. Any mention of New York, however, hits a soft spot.
“I don’t t…