Tim (Timothy Kurek) is a big guy, the kind of big you would not want to spill your drink on in a crowded bar the night you had one too many. He is very American-looking, and if you ask me I’ll tell you he wears nothing but baseball caps, short-sleeved lumberjack shirts, short trousers, and sneakers; mostly because that’s how I remember him.
He has a nice-guy face, with light brown hair, and the right amount of facial hair necessary not to be carded in a US bar. His accent is, as far as I can tell, standard American; meaning anyone from the US would be able to pinpoint his exact birthplace and act very surprised he sounded standard to me.

My friend Laura and I met him on a hot day in 2013. I had offered to interview him for our school newspaper, and he had decided he would come to speak in our school, if only we could raise enough money to pay for his plane and hotel. Knowing Laura as I do, I knew it was never a matter of if but rather of when. Turns out when was May.

I am not sure what Tim has said to his family and friends about Rome, but if I were him I should be quite traumatised by my first impression. His plane already late, Tim had landed to find himself in an airport where most staff did not speak proper English, and his driver was nowhere to be found. Luckily calling Laura was an option, and after some quick thinking on our side, the driver was located and Tim was taken to his hotel. A scary big, kind-faced, sweating guy got off the Opel and was welcomed by a steaming plate of tomato gnocchi with parmesan in a nearby restaurant.

As an American, Tim was probably not expecting me to speak with a faux-British everything-but-RP accent, and I guess it took him some time to realise what I was actually saying. The best example of this being the conversation we had in that very same restaurant he was eating in:

Me: «It’s so hot, I’m glad there’s a fan» (pronounced fahn)
Tim: «Fun?»
Me: «Yes, a fan. A rotating cold air making device»
Tim: «Oh, a fan!» (pronounced fehn)

Stereotypical (for me) accent notwithstanding, Tim completely revolutionised my idea of what an American ought to be: not having finished college (university) he was not only a terrific writer (I had bought his book beforehand), he was also incredibly knowledgeable of Roman history, especially when it intersected with Christian history. Laura, who had prepared a fantastic tour of Rome, was still given the satisfaction of seeing Tim’s eyes filled with child-like awe in front of the Colosseum; and I was still able to feel smugly superior when I mentioned Italy had once kings (for he did not know this), and gave him a short history of the Socialist Party and why as a Socialist I despise them (which I am sure he appreciated).

Tim’s speaking skills were showcased during both conferences we had organised, one in our liceo (high school / sixth form) and one in a Baptist church. The crowd were interested both times, and seeing Tim in two historical buildings in Rome talking about LGBT* rights filled me (and Laura) with pride.

We had the honour of knowing Tim well during those days, much better than I can ever put in words. I think the experience changed us, and I hope it changed him a little too.

Finally if you’d like to hear Tim speak (and tell me how wrong I was about his accent), you can find his TEDx Talk on YouTube.

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