RIP JFK: A Half-Century Later, Johnny, We Hardly New You


The soft autumn dusk draped the city. Blocks from the Duomo in Tuscany's capital, I drank tea with a friend in Florence's Torricelli Café. Suddenly, the third member of our Junior Year Abroad trio bounded into the tearoom, breathless and teary. Leaning on our table to steady herself she blurted out, "The President's dead!"

That is how I learned that John F. Kennedy, prince of the Camelot America longed for, had been taken away by an assassin's bullet that instantly sent him into history.

On November 22, 1963, American students in Italy (for a year designed to shape our lives) stammered, wept, and held tight to each other, trying to stay grounded. A cocktail of emotions sped to our heads and our hearts, blurring the lines where grief began and shock ended; where fear started and overwhelming loss took control.

In those days before instant news, cell phones and internet connections, we made our way to Florence's main train station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, hoping to find the Herald Tribune and details on our nightmare. Florentine pedestrians approached us to express condolences, as if we were Kennedy intimates. Many wept with us.

Florence then, as now, is a sophisticated capital of art and elegance. Its residents have been politically discrete and emotionally controlled for centuries. Tuscans are proud and reluctant to invade the emotional space of outsiders. Yet, on that cool fall night when Oswald's shot reverberated around the world, Americans clung to the comfort Florence offered-- its natives, like us, devastated by the loss of a young president who had personified hope for the future.

We were paralyzed in a dark and terrifying political void, missing the comfort of Kennedy's steadying presence-- a paralysis many of us still feel, a half-century later.



dkr said...

Mary Ann -- I am an American that grew up in Rome, Italy during the 60's. My Facebook group of about 1000 people who grew up with me over there have mined this topic quite well and revisit it every November. It still remains one of the most significant events in our lives in Rome.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting. We all remember that day in such a special and moving way. I am glad to share the moment with all of you in Rome.

Mille grazie e cordialissimi saluti

Susan G said...

That time touches me -- also a college junior. A student came into a lab room to give us the news. Like so many events that change our lives, the context tells our story.
I was one of your 'faithful' readers when you ran columns in the Keene Sentinel. What stayed with me all this time is the story of another kind of loss, your visit to a friend in Italy with Alzheimers. I found your blog looking for that story online. My clipped copy is yellowed. At some time after it appeared, I was with my mother during her last years with Alzheimers, so the impact of your writing took on a personal meaning. I appreciate that you gave shape to the issues before I lived them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan,
Thanks for such a warm and thoughtful comment. I miss my Keene readers too...

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007
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