Filling The Unforgiving Minute (And A Pocket…)

The barista who works in the coffee shop by the dome of St. Peter’s has a confession:

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.  Last week I stole money from a lady who came into the bar for a cup of coffee.  She gave me a five Euro bill and I shorted her change.  She didn’t speak Italian very well but I still understood the righteous anger she lobbed over the counter at me. I prey on tourists because they are low hanging fruit on a money tree and I can’t resist the temptation to pocket easy change. I know it is particularly repugnant of me to steal on sacred ground.  For this and all of my sins, I am deeply sorry.”


A greedy barista took my money but he didn’t steal the day.  Look at that sky!

IMG_2797After taking Eddie to the bus stop for school, (and on a whim)  I walked to the Vatican and climbed the dome and cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was early in the morning and the absence of crowds in a place that is always heavily touristed felt like magic. There were no lines at the entrance and no bodies to jostle inside.  It was easy to feel fully present without these distractions and to appreciate the noble beauty of the architectural feat capping the basilica. Conceived by Michelangelo after years of on-again, off-again work on St. Peter’s, and raised in 1590 by his student Della Porta, the dome is a masterpiece of monolithic proportion.  It rises 452 feet above the base of the church.  I believe it is still the highest free-standing dome in the world.

The history of the building of St. Peter’s makes for a good read in the hands of R.A. Scotti.  I recommend her Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal if you like easily digestible history and colourful story telling.


Here’s a priceless photo of a minor car accident I was involved in a few weeks ago:


Like ants to a picnic, the extended family of the other driver appeared within minutes of the collision.  Notice her father-in-law in the background trying to take Jim to the cleaners. Aunty, in the green shirt, offers a classically Italian gesture.  And the young sentinels, with hands on hips, guard the slightly damaged bumper.  The husband and another relative arrive after I shot this photo.

(The large Italian family might not live together anymore but they clearly work together…)

It took an hour to settle the excitement and to sign the insurance report that the father-in-law gleefully authored.

I was at fault (ish):  I hit the car while turning left but the other driver was clearly speeding down a hill and appeared out of the ether. It was the end of a long day celebrating Eddie’s birthday at a water park and I had six kids in tow, three in my car and three in Jim’s.

It was difficult to argue degree-of-fault in Italian because I have only a mildly functional command of the language.  (A muzzle to a Livieratos whose birthright it is to argue…)

While the Italian family was milling about and fussing-away my time with insurance paperwork, (do people really carry these forms in their car?),  I thought wistfully of India and of how a few hundred Rupees would have cleared the scene in minutes.


More of the month in photos:

Dedicated To My Nephew, Pax

There were too many stories of instability and slaughter in the news this summer and George noticed. He asked me a few weeks ago:  Theo, when is the news going to stop talking about Gaza and return to Syria?  George is nearly 12 but he still sees the world in black and white and in terms of what is clearly right and wrong.

It won’t be long before he knows too much of life and the news becomes inexplicably grey and no longer makes sense again.  Clarity has a short life cycle.

I thought a visit to the altar of peace would be a good way to close this summer of inescapable headlines from across the globe and restless days trying to stay cool in Rome.

The Museo dell’Ara Pacis sits along a turn on the Tiber River and features an exquisite memorial to peace commissioned by Octavian Augustus over 2000 years ago. The contemporary building is an unusual sight in this city of ancient monuments:

The Museo dell'Ara Pacis

The Museo dell’Ara Pacis

Augustus commissioned the altar to honor the Goddess Pax when he returned to Rome victorious after years of consolidating his vast empire.  Peace is a pleasure of the victors and Augustus knew well to offer tribute to his luck and to the Goddess who assured it.

Pax was a minor player on the shelf of Roman deities, dusted-off by Augustus and elevated to celebrity in the Fields of Mars near the northern gate of Rome.  Her beautifully carved marble monument didn’t stand alone.  A few hundred feet to the east Augustus erected an obelisk he had looted from Egypt.  He named the stone pillar after himself and crowned it with a gilded ball to enhance its shadow.  Every year on his birthday the maximum length of the obelisk’s shadow reached the Ara Pacis, uniting man and goddess in a powerful coupling of monuments.

And so began the cult of Augustus and the height of the Roman Empire.

The Pax Romana.




The Pope took an opportunity to promote peace with a star-studded soccer match this week.  He organized The Interfaith Match for Peace to model cooperation and tolerance. The teams had Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist players and at least two adored soccer legends:  Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio.

The message?  Sportsmanship should extend beyond the field.

We took the boys in hopes of seeing Messi but he didn’t play because of an injury. The Pope was a no-show as well though he met the players earlier in the day. He also sent a televised greeting to the stadium.

The event was all too contrived for me.  There are plenty of quiet examples of tolerance and respect beyond corporate sponsored sporting events.  I think of India and its extraordinary diversity and of villages where Hindu and Muslim communities live and work together.  It’s an imperfect example because this diversity doesn’t always “bear witness to feelings of fraternity and friendship” as the Pope and the rest of us would like.  But hundreds-of-millions of Indians practice a daily scrimmage in their own interfaith match for a lasting and very real peace.  In these games, everyone wins.



Lingering in the Golden Gleam

There’s oodles to share and anxious grandparents waiting to see what we have managed to do with ourselves on this side of the Atlantic this summer.  And so, fewer words and more photos to share our news…

I wanted to start the kids’ summer vacation with them volunteering at a refugee center but local, under-18 liability details interfered with my plans.

But we did spend a day in June cleaning the garden of the monastery at San Gregorio al Celio.  The church dates back to 575 when Pope Gregory the Great built a monastery on the grounds of his family home.  The kids scooped-up rotting oranges from under citrus trees and I went mano-a-mano with monstrous, weedy vines.  It was an easy morning of labor  and a good way to show the kids that outreach doesn’t have to be grandiose.  Small tasks can transform a messy garden into a tidy space and this is reason enough to make the effort.

(You can read more about the garden project here:


We traveled to England to visit friends in the Cotswolds:



And finally – a longed-for visit to Cornwall:




It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll…


You don’t have to like rock music to appreciate a Rolling Stones concert at Circo Massimo. Seventy-one thousand people packed the grounds of the ancient stadium to see the 50th anniversary performance of the iconic band in Rome this week.  I suspect that many were there, like me, to witness the electronic rock spectacle in the sunset glow of the Imperial Palace and the Palatine Hill.  I also wanted to see if the nearly 71-year-old Mick Jagger could still gyrate across a stage for two hours.

He can.

And shake, rattle, and roll he did, much like the chariots that once raced in Circus Maximus two thousand years ago.  The rest of the original band defied age as well with nearly two hours of good-old-fashioned rocking and rolling, though Keith Richards looked more like an air-guitar-playing anachronism than lead guitarist.  (I don’t think he plucked more than three notes.)  Still, this performance of the 14-On-Fire world tour was worth every centesimo of the 90-Euro ticket.

That I got to take my daughter to her first concert in such a memorable venue is priceless.

(He mom, do you remember that you wouldn’t let me go to the Rolling Stones concert in Philadelphia in 1981?  But you did let me see the Village People in 1978 – my first concert.  A precious factoid… )


Also this week, an outdoor performance of a different genre:  Bizet’s Carmen with a stunning backdrop of the Baths of Caracalla.


And more:

Rose Petals And The Pantheon


The Pantheon is deeply weighted with marble and Roman cement and two thousand years of pagan and Christian history.  It’s capped by the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and it looms heavy and colossal in an area of the city dense with alleys and old buildings.  The small piazza outside the Pantheon slopes into the portico as though it were tilting under the load of the building.

Among all this weight floated rose petals today.  They fell from the Oculus in the middle of the dome during a special mass to celebrate Pentecost.

The unlikely sight of flowers cascading from the sky to the rotunda below made me cry. This involuntary response wasn’t preceded by a noticeably powerful emotion and so it surprised me.  I didn’t feel the tears until my cheeks were wet.

But I was moved by the moment, as if awed by a brilliant sunset or some other natural wonder.  Nothing less.

Maybe my tears fell in harmony with the petals:  pushed over the edge of my body like the roses thrown from the roof of the Pantheon.

The floating petals reflected the sunlight and some of the red burst into flecks of explosive brightness.  It was all rather magical.

And unbearably beautiful.





A few other bits:


IMG_0668Venice hooked my kids from the moment they walked out of the train station and landed on the Grand Canal.  It’s a living Busy Town, a Richard Scarry excess of the ordinary with floating traffic, bustling bridges and hundreds of little stories playing out to move the Venetian Gothic city from sunrise to sunset.

I love Venice, too, but the sentiment feels more like a confession than a shared joy. Few of my friends agree that there’s much to love in the floating city any more.  They say the charm is spoiled by hordes of cruise ship tourists, exorbitant prices, and the “Disneyfication” of the alleys around San Marco.

But with little effort it is easy to escape the mosh pit of tourism on the Grand Canal.  If you are game for a labyrinthine detour through dappled alleys and over scenic fairy bridges, then the Venice that has moved imaginations for centuries is still yours.  It is a watery magic carpet ride that offers dreamy deliverance to secret spaces.  The city oozes romance but go without three kids to tap into that.  And yes, bring your wallet.

We stayed in a small apartment tucked away on an alley in Dorsoduro. It had a lovely back garden where I sat in the morning with my coffee and listened to  the birds and church bells and noticed only a distant hum of far off activity.  The kids slept late in the cool, humid air and our lazy mornings defied the throbbing crowds in San Marco.  Our adventures included the lesser-trafficked islands in the lagoon, lazy lunches, and walks through local neighborhoods that bordered the more touristed central district.  We splurged for a gondola ride which was worth the 80 Euros, if not for the romance than for the peace it bought once the boys got into the boat.  And we couldn’t resist an atmospheric 66-Euro cappuccino (2) and hot chocolate (3) at Caffe Florian.  (Yes, Priya, we also visited the old library nearby.)

I bumped into a friend from Delhi who was staying in Venice and teaching a short course at Cà Foscari University.  It was a delightful surprise to look up from lunch and see Ananya’s warm and familiar face.

And of course, I ran early in the morning when even the pigeons were asleep and Piazza San Marco was shockingly empty.




Our garden and Olivia, who turned 15, are both in full bloom!





Home To Rome

I can’t resist sharing this little story:

An Italian daddy at the boys’ bus stop said to an American mommy:

Oh, you look nice today.  You are dressed like an Italian.  Sometimes Americans look like a nightmare.  


Olivia and I returned to Delhi last week for closure.  She has missed her friends and the familiar comfort of her school.  I have missed my students and the way my work connected me to the local community.  It was nice to return, if just for a week, to the flashes of raw beauty and spiritual grit that abide in India, such as the colors of saris and tents and festive bouquets; the necessary calm that people exude to protect themselves from the chaos that they can’t control.

India is still very much a foreign place to the people I meet in Rome.  Conversations about it don’t get particularly specific, so it was nice to talk with friends in Delhi about topics that still interest me – the national election underway and the frigid US-Indian relationship after the arrest of the Indian diplomat in New York.  And too, the Indian Supreme Court’s recent ruling that legalizes a third gender.  The court also agreed to hear a petition to its ruling that criminalized gay sex a few months ago.  Is the third gender status a hopeful foreshadow?  There was also lots of local gossip about the kids’ old school possibly abusing visa applications and the potential closing of the American club (ACSA) to non-diplomatic members.  (Confirmed as of this writing…)

Olivia disappeared into her posse as soon as we landed and I was afraid that returning to Rome would be emotionally tough for her.  But she surprised me and found her peace.    This trip let us secure our memories and our friendships and put to rest some of the romance that haunted us.  It will never be the same and that is a good thing and a good lesson, particularly for my incredible daughter.


I wanted to run a half marathon a few months ago but to register as a resident of Rome I had to be a member of a local running club.  I tried to join a club but they rejected me because I didn’t have my Permesso di Soggiorno or permission to live temporarily in Rome. I found another club that let me join without the Permesso but they wanted a medical certificate of general health stamped by a sports doctor.  I found a doctor and when he discovered that I was over 45, he ordered a stress test.

If this were a children’s story it would end – “And after all that, I was so stressed that I needed to run a half marathon but when I tried to register for the race….”


While Lala and I were in Delhi, the boys went to Puglia, the heel of the boot: