FLORENCE, JUNE 18 -- Italians often ask me, "Are you English?" "No, no," I say. "American." "Ah," they say, smiling, "americano."
This is not a good time to be English here. Many Italians are upset because a minority of English soccer fans have caused so much disruption to the normal way of life.
This is a good time to be an American in Italy. The Italians applaud the way the U.S. team stood up to their heroes, losing by 1-0. They fully acknowledge the accomplishment.
Along the way, I've made some other notes:
June 14. Rome. She's the woman in black. She is dressed as if she were at one of Rome's most fashionable restaurants, or the opera. She has a diamond ring almost the size of a golf ball. What's she doing in my seat here at Olympic Stadium moments before the start of the United States-Italy match?
Not only is she not moving, she won't even recognize my existence. Seeing this, a woman press aide comes to help. But the woman in black will have nothing to do with her either. The press aide goes to find an usher.
The usher looks at the woman in black and then he looks at me. He shrugs and puts up two fingers, as if to claim that two E-51 tickets have been printed and I'm out of luck. I don't believe it.
Quietly but firmly, I ask the aide, who speaks English, to tell the usher that I demand that he inspect the woman's ticket. He relents.
She, of course, does not have E-51. It develops that two men seated to her left are with her; one leaves and she slides into the seat to my left. Almost immediately, I feel her glare.
As the game begins, I am choked by the cigarette smoke she is blowing my way. As I take notes when the Americans do well, I again feel her stare. I will not look at her because I know an unwinnable confrontation when I see one.
The U.S. team does well as the game goes on. The Italian crowd settles down. So does the woman. Her smoke subsides. I no longer feel the stares. How miserable life might be for me if the U.S. team were not playing so effectively. I am indebted to the American players for calming the woman in black.
June 15. On the road to Nemi, Italy. Writers may talk with the U.S. players about their great game -- if we can get there. Nemi is farther from Rome than the pope's summer place. You can't take Bus 64. I find a driver who's cheaper than the taxis. We go. Do we ever go.
Now I'm worrying about whiplash. This tops all the terrifying taxi rides I've had. He's taking the hilly curves at speeds I don't want to think about. I say, "We can be late." His English is not good. (I'm learning Italian faster every day.)
Can we clear this couple up ahead, this lovely old Italian couple walking down the middle of the road with their backs to us, carrying their groceries? The man and woman are walking on either side of their sack, each holding a handle to share the load.
I close my eyes. When I look back, they're still alive and walking. This is the ride to cure a fear of flying.
June 16. Cagliari. The same taxi driver who took me to the airport here when I left the island of Sardinia four days before is parked outside the airport when I arrive again. We embrace, and he puts my stuff into the trunk.
June 16. Cagliari. Running with others into the basilica seeking sanctuary as Italian police chase the English crowd, I tumble in at the very moment when the priest is coming down from the altar to marry Marina and Davide. No doubt they never expected so many to attend their wedding.
June 17. Rome. It's a perfect flight back from the island. Weather ideal. Give me these in-country jet jockeys any day. They love to swoop in, yet they touch down softly.
On the road to the city, traffic is stacked bumper to bumper with people returning from a weekend at the seacoast. No problem, my taxi driver uses the shoulder of the road most of the way.
I'm back in my favorite hotel. When you turn the latch on the inside of the door, a small orange rectangle appears on the other side. It means: Do not disturb.