When I told one of my best friends who is Montenegrin but lives in Serbia, that the notary public at my improvised wedding in Florence was an Albanian, she could hardly hide the jaw-dropping-eye-flashing-shock written all over her face before she had time to think of hiding it for the sake of political correctness.
Now, this wouldn’t be surprising at all, had my friend not been one of the most open-minded people I knew on this piece of Earth (I call it piece of Earth because I don’t believe much in cartography and imaginary lines, and I don’t believe in packaging people into boxes with nationality stickers on their foreheads). So, when I imitated her face reaction so to make my point, she smiled in a self-conscious and auto-ironic way. Then, we laughed in the face of the awkward moment of silence that we spontaneously shared before we could head on to the next topic.
I’ve known my friend since kindergarten, so no further commentary was needed. She knew, that I knew, that: she was not a nationalist, and her reaction was an automatic reflection of the general mood of the people surrounding her.
I knew, that she knew, that: having met my Albanian friend on a neutral territory (i.e. Italy) had given me an opportunity to judge this person freely, without societal pressure and prejudice.
Actually, when I first met Fatjona in Florence several years ago, we recognized right away that Italians had packaged us both into the same box with labels: “ragazze dell’Est” (“Girls from the East”), “extracomunitarie” (“Non-EU ”) – each one carrying a more offensive connotation that the other. This has given us enough common ground to never have to discuss our national differences.
We both came from former communist countries; we both studied journalism; we both needed visas to travel virtually anywhere; we both came from places that had beautiful underdeveloped coastlines; and we both came from families that encouraged us to look at the person rather then their passport title.
How many Albanians had I met before I started studying in international schools and living abroad? Zero. How many Albanians had my Montenegrin friend in Serbia met in person?
I haven’t asked, but my guess is zero.
Propaganda and bloodshed country flags have made us package them all as “evil neighbors” into one one hermetically closed box with “danger” written all over it – and I am sure it is not much different on the other side of the imaginary wall (i.e. borderline).
Now, my wedding was sort of an Italian version of “let’s go to Vegas and get it done,” type of thing. So, I needed a quick notary public who was already in Florence. My lifelong friends from home were unfortunately excluded by these criteria, so I asked myself: who is the most good-natured person I have met in this town?
The answer was Fatjona. Her passport was important in this story only because she needed to identify herself before the wedding officiant.
After the video-Skype conversation with my dear Montenegrin friend in Serbia, I browsed the Web for a while, and encountered a quote by Martin Luther King: “We learned to fly like birds, and to swim like fish, but we haven’t learned to live like brothers.”
Will we, ever?