“In Italy, the shortest distance between two points is the arabesque.”



Living in Rome is all about the arabesque – the silky moments along the way that make life majestic, like watching Eddie play soccer on a field below an ancient Roman wall, or driving home from George’s karate class along a breathtaking skyline of domes.  Lunch in the kids’ school cafeteria sits like a rainbow of color on a plate:  grilled salmon, ciccoria and roasted vegetables. And like a diva worthy of La Scala, Lala fills the house with her unforgettable alto.  She sings when she is happy and she sings a lot in Rome.

There’s a preponderance of little luxuries here.  It’s often sunny, the food is divine, the views are sublime, and healthcare is free.  Safe children, clean air, sparkling water. People linger at the bar over coffee or at a favorite sidewalk café sipping Campari.  Ciao cara! They rouse fervor for soccer, going on strike, and love. Mamma mia!

One day Italians will know labour reform, fair tax laws and government efficiency.  But then they might live to work instead of work to live.  Meanwhile, living well seems like labour enough.

I saw a man the other day using the speakerphone on his “cellulare” because he couldn’t hold the phone to his ear and talk with his hands at the same time.  It tickled me to see him yelling at the phone while it danced in front of him in tandem with his gestures.

It was an Italian arabesque.

Happy Thanksgiving!


I’ve written about the light in autumn before.  It never gets dull here:


And more to keep you posted on our days:


IMG_5503 (1)

We are back two weeks and still settling in to our seasonal routine.  I am happy to write that it feels good to be home and to see Rome with fresh eyes again as we did in the early days of our move here.  It tickles me to see nuns sorting their recycling at the neighborhood trash bins and the old men sitting watch faithfully every night around the corner from our apartment.  The grumpy gardeners in the botanical garden next door seem less grumpy. Or maybe I am less grumpy. This summer I missed the drinking water that pours icy cold from the taps in Rome, and drying my clothes on a line in the clean, breezy air. No one seems to do that in the US anymore.  Whatever the charms, they will likely blend into the grittier side of Rome when the spell of homecoming wears off.  For now though, in the words of Louis Armstrong, I think to myself, what a wonderful world… 

As promised to my village, proof of our summer sillies.  Let’s start with the laughs and   High Tide Poker in the OBX:

Moving on to the Cereal Box Game in Bethany Beach:

And a roundup of other smiles and good times.  Apologies for any moments missing.  My phone died and I can’t retrieve the photos on it.

Notes From A Negligent Blogger

So much to share, so little time to write!  Two months in brief:

Assisi:  When we go to church on Sundays Eddie fidgets with any loose object, working it like a worry bead, and George sits through mass and reads Dan Brown in quiet rebellion. Our high Anglican service is clouded in incense and lengthened with old hymns, a tough call to devotion for many modern church-goers, so I don’t fuss over the boys’ inattention.

A pilgrimage to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis in May seemed a good option to supplement their religious education.  George surprised me with his enthusiasm for the trip.  He said Francis was “the only one of those guys I respect.”  He has a particular ability to avoid subtlety.

George found a gory symbol in the convent where we stayed near Assisi worthy of Robert Langdon’s attention.  (Clarification for my mother who I know has never read a Dan Brown novel: Langdon is Brown’s “symbologist”-protagonist.  Yes, mother, we know – symbology is a fictional profession.)

A graphic picture of a flaming heart stabbed with a sword hung on the wall in the entrance of the convent.  It genuinely spooked George and he pulled me aside during check-in to say he refused to sleep there.  I admit to not liking it much myself.  It was not embedded in a picture of Mary or Jesus and it looked rather gory and sinister hanging without context. I assured George the heart symbolized God’s humanity.  He looked at me as though to say I’d been drinking the Kool-Aid… or reading Dan Brown.

Thank you, Giotto, for saving the weekend with your loving and more assuring frescos of the life of Francis painted on the wall of the Basilica in Assisi.  You will recognize this one:


We walked 13 kilometers from the convent in Spello to Assisi along a lovely path through rolling olive groves dotted with wild poppy.


Birthday:  Olivia is 16!  We surprised her with a rooftop sunset dinner and unforgettable views of Rome.  The menu was strictly vegetarian which flummoxed the boys but they managed to find pasta that wasn’t  too “green.”  At home, we celebrated with cake and Lala’s new guitar:

Workshop:  I had a two-day gig working with a group of journalism students from Wake Forest University.  Their professor, Justin Catanoso, hired me to talk about human rights and the refugee crisis in Rome.  It was nice to be back in the classroom and to share a topic that preoccupies me these days.  While preparing for the class I found this quote from my uncle, who, along with my father and six other siblings, fled the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and then the Communist sweep across China.  On one leg of their journey, the family crossed the Bohai Sea.  My uncle’s account of that boat trip is little different from the stories I hear about refugees crossing the Mediterranean:



Refugees:  I’d like to hang this beautiful photo over every Mare Mostrum poster in the city.  Here are some of the men I am working for to find creative solutions to the refugee housing crisis. As I write this note, Ibrahim in the pink and Baba in the jeans jacket are in urgent need of housing because as documented refugees they are no longer eligible for shelter provided during the asylum process.  Baba has a part-time job cleaning a refugee center and Ibrahim needs work.  He is a welder who owned his own business in the Ivory Coast before rival factions burned it down.  He has three children and a wife waiting to join him but he can’t support them in Italy yet and he can’t return home without fearing for his life. The other men are at various stages of hanging-on and trying to start a new life in Rome after surviving unimaginable journeys – at home, in transit across the Mediterranean, and now in Rome.

Goodbyes:  There are always too many every year.


And the rest of spring in photos:




A City Graveyard

I agree with Oscar Wilde who called the protestant cemetery the holiest place in Rome. It is one of the most peaceful sanctuaries in a city teeming with tourists and traffic; that alone makes it sacred ground for me.

Nestled in a blind corner of a busy intersection, the cemetery hides all evidence of its urban perimeter. The park-like grounds are lush with permissibly overgrown plants and Rome’s famous pines enclose the space in a verdant veil.



I dragged Olivia to the cemetery on a rainy Easter vigil. The moody weather and quiet holiday offered a perfect backdrop for our graveyard visit. Officially called The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners, it contains the graves of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Orthodox Christians, among others.  The cemetery also claims to have the highest density of important graves in the world.  An exaggerated brag?

Pere Lachaise, what say you?

Two notable names, literary greats John Keats and Percey Shelley are buried here.


Like Oscar Wilde, Shelley also found himself enchanted with the cemetery.  “It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place,” he wrote not long before he drowned sailing off the coast of Italy.  He was only 29 when he died.

Many of the other graves have elaborate memorials and poetic epitaphs:


Also this month, we joined Jim on a work trip to Lecce, an ancient city located on the heel of the Italian boot.


The Dolomites

There will be no humble brags in this post.   I booked a ski vacation in Val Gardena in South Tyrol last month and took Eddie for what was an unparalleled week of sport and dining set against sublime views of the Dolomites.  It was an opportunity well-worth slicing out of the budget.  Eddie found his balance and speed after a week of lessons and Mama pushed herself harder than she has in decades.  We were with friends who knew the valley and hosted our itinerary to perfection.

The week included a lovely day alone in the snowy quiet of the woods hiking to a sacred bluff above Ortisei where the 13th-century chapel of San Giacomo sits with a postcard view of the Sassolungo.  The weather was blustery and clouds sped across the dramatic landscape.  Quick-moving shadows and the staccato appearance of the sun created what felt like a time-lapse video of the view.  That afternoon a tree fell on a cable car line and 200 people had to be rescued by helicopter.  I had chosen a good day to rest from skiing.

The rest of the week:

If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride


I visited Italy for the first time as a little girl over forty years ago.  Among many lovely memories of that trip to Florence, Pisa and Venice, are two, more shocking snapshots:  a dead cat that clearly met a violent end and was rotting on the side of a path on Murano Island (location correct?); and gypsy children begging on a bridge.  I now know they were Roma.

I had never seen beggars even though I lived in Baltimore, a rough, industrial city brought to popular attention by the brilliant and accurate TV series, The Wire.  On that long-ago bridge, the children sat with outstretched arms and pleadings faces.  Maybe their mothers were selling trinkets?  I don’t remember that detail.  I had never seen such a display of active poverty and the picture stuck in my young head.  My father would try to divert my attention and buffer me from the scene.  He did this with the cat, as well, because we had to pass it several times and he knew I was curious enough to sneak a peak.

New York City is the only place I have lived in the States where I remember regularly seeing mendicants.  I gave money when I felt moved by some extra-ordinariness of the situation but mostly I ignored them.  That was 17 years ago.

In China, there were a few beggars near some of the tourist markets.  They were either crazy or careless, but they had to be one or the other to dare work a sidewalk that way. Eventually the police intervened and they disappeared.

India had more desperate and deformed beggars than my conscience could bear.  They were hungry, homeless and many suffered lost limbs and grotesque, unimaginable indignities.  I gave money, sometimes, but mostly offered food and clothes and even limited friendship, as I’ve written about in my India postings.

And now, in Italy once more, I have frequent and regular contact with beggars who line the streets of my daily routine.  Like in New York, beggars in Rome seem incongruous in the bustle and wealth of the city, but there are many, some clearly more needy than others, who take the opportunity to ply the sympathy of tourists.  Most of the beggars are Roma.

Some women kneel, prone and folded with their arms extended, hands cupped to receive a coin:


There is one young girl who works busy intersections in the center of town but I don’t see her often because she rotates location.  She approaches my car and paints a soapy heart with a squeegee on the windshield and smiles to ask if it is OK to wash the window.  I always say yes and give her a Euro.

Simone, one of my near-daily regulars works the Ponte Sisto.  He stands all day on the bridge, leaning on a cane with one hand, his hat outstretched for coins with the other. We’ve given Simone bags of clothes and shoes but most often, money.  I also buy nuts or fruit for him.  And, on Valentines Day, I gave him a copy of this photo:


Simone helped me on Christmas Eve when I tripped over a chain fence while running on the bridge.  The fall knocked the wind out of me and the chain scraped and bruised my shins and ankles.  He stood by me while I caught my breath and slowly collected myself. Then he helped me stand up and made sure I was OK.

Maurizio offers items of convenience for a donation and he works an intersection near my apartment:


He’s a pleasure to see because he always smiles and offers kisses into his hand as a gesture of thanks.  When I don’t have change to give him he never seems to mind.  He gives me a pack of tissues anyway.


Mayor Marino, why didn’t you cancel the soccer match between Roma and the Dutch team Feyenoord last week after Dutch fans trashed the Spanish steps and other precious sites in Rome?

Is it because Soccer Is Sacred and the favor doesn’t extend to Rome’s antiquities?

Shame on everyone who did this and let it happen (photos from Reuters):


And the rest in pics:

Buon Anno, 2015


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa but you won’t find him in Rome.  Christmas here is a quiet affair and it doesn’t seem to include the jolly St. Nicholas. The official season begins on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Only then do a few Christmas lights and modest decorations appear on some streets.  (You might say it’s all very tasteful.)  It’s possible to walk for blocks in Rome and see no evidence of the holiday season with the exception of an increased number of shoppers.  Some churches display kitschy nativity scenes lightly dusted and possibly reused for centuries.  I have yet to sight a Santa but Italians do suspend their disbelief for the Befana witch who fills children’s stockings with candy on Epiphany.  Apologies to my Italian friends but I think she’s a creepy-looking ambassador of generosity and more a character for Grimm than goodwill.

Speaking of characters, look who joined us on Christmas morning:


Mom visited as well and we had a lovely week with her.  We toured the Roman port city at Ostia and the countryside villa of Emperor Hadrian.  We also went to the aqueduct park near the old Roman road, Via Appia.



There’s little snow in the Alps so far this year and limited skiing in Northern Italy.  We canceled our plans to head north after Christmas and instead, chased snow to the south, in the Apennine mountains of Abruzzo.  They are part of the range that runs north-south along the spine of central Italy.  All of Napoli was seemingly there as well.  The city is only 90-minutes from several local ski resorts in the region.  Skiing with Neapolitans and living to tell the tale is a blessing! Our resort was not equipped to manage the assertive holiday crowd and many skiers seemed oblivious to customary safety regulations, such as slowing down when you reach lower runs trafficked with children and novice skiers.  Lift lines looked like a rugby scrum:

IMG_4172But we had fun once we figured out how to survive the disorder and drama of it all.  We skied through lunch and into the afternoon when crowds thinned.




Happy New Year to our family and friends!