Trigger Warning

This post contains extreme content which may trigger your longing for Italy. Read further at your own risk of falling in love, for it is difficult to deny the beauty that abounds in the body of this country – in the folds of her hills and the stretch of her coasts. Proceed with caution. There is no safe space between the words and photos of my witness and your review.

We begin 2,300 meters above sea level in the Dolomites. This place rocks for skiers who like to cruise wide, perfect S-turns on healthy slopes that won’t break aging bones (if you don’t show off), and gourmet lunches that won’t break the bank.  And the views? Priceless!

 

Who needs Japan when in Rome?  The cherry blossoms certainly don’t. They bloom in the spirit of cherry blossoms everywhere, bursting with short-lived, long-awaited fervor. Even my boys fell under their spell in the botanical garden, and they frolicked like little wood nymphs daring to play in the light of a cherry-tinted day:

 

The coast near Sperlonga holds darker tales of frolicking during the time of Tiberius. In a seaside grotto studded with Greek statues, the debauched Roman Emperor is rumored to have amused himself with young boys in the pools of the imperial cavern.  Roman scholar and biographer, Suetonius, tells us Tiberius liked his playmates to swim like fish around his body and nibble on his skin and relevant appendages. While the Caesar was most certainly a bent character, he had fine taste in real estate on this stretch of sea two hours south of Rome:

 

This spring was our third annual trip to Spello and Assisi with the lovely Dana English – friend, spiritual mentor, and weariless ambassador of humanity, and the humanities. Every year we sleep simply but comfortably in a lovely convent, dine on tasty Umbrian cuisine, drink plenty of local wine, and hike through achingly beautiful olive groves along an ancient trail that traces a Roman aqueduct.  Some of us even make it to the top of Mount Subasio:

 

And not but two weeks ago, I went to Abruzzo for a spontaneous visit to the town of Arpino, home of the Roman literary genius, Cicero.  Arpino will also become a second home to friends of mine who want to renovate a small apartment that by every measure should be razed if it weren’t so old and historic, and they weren’t so crazy.  We toasted the deal over an al fresco lunch at a lovely farmhouse owned by local friends who helped facilitate the dream.  It takes a village… to renovate a pied à terre:

 

Finally, a few scattered images of places and moments that have delighted me:

 

 

 

 

February is the New January

 

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Dear Friends and Family:  Allow me to push the New Year season threshold by sending my 2017 wishes in February.  It seems “late” is how things roll on this end, especially with Jim living in London and the rest of the family remaining in Rome to finish the school year. Olivia has applied to colleges in the UK and US, and “transition” is very much the theme in our lives at the moment.  If Rome is like living on the set of a Fellini film, then London will be like ________?   Send me romantic answers only, please!

Height is a contestable measurement in our house.  Jim claims he is a soaring 6’1″.  (Hmm…?) I stretch in yoga class to preserve every millimeter of my five feet, five inches.  Jim says I’m an inch full of wishful thinking.  But there’s no alternative fact to this truth:  George is now the tallest member of the family.

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Eddie is growing, too, but he hasn’t topped me yet.  It won’t be long though before I’m the shortest one in the family.  And my days of snuggles and hugs with Eddie – well, they are fading along with my height.   Perhaps Eddie will learn how to worship his mother from his Italian friends.  Of the three Yardley children, Eddie has made the most natural connections here.  He plays soccer with a local team and runs around with a motley crew in the neighborhood piazza.  There’s a daily market in the square but the vendors recede by lunchtime.  That’s when families show up with their toddlers, mop-headed pre-teens arrive on their bikes with soccer balls, and older kids come to smoke cigarettes behind the closed stalls. On weekends, Eddie plays in the piazza and not-so-secretly buys firecrackers with his allowance.  It’s a scene out of an Elena Ferrante novel.  Eddie floats between the concrete pitch of the piazza and the secretive stalls, torn between the certainty of his beloved soccer and the curiosity of adolescence.

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We will never feel finished with Italy but moving provides a good excuse to travel.  In November, we went to Cinque Terre.  This stretch of coast caught my imagination years ago when I discovered it in a book about Europe’s hidden treasures.  Liguria is no longer a secret of the discriminating traveler but it’s pleasing no less:

 

Lush Rome:

 

New York.  Mom.  December.  Sweet.

 

The Season in Rome:

 

Sicily:

 

Miscellaneous:

 

the tender gravity of kindness

It’s a monthly routine for pubic transportation staff go on strike in Rome. The strikes barely heighten the chaos of an already choked transport network and riders maneuver the inconvenience as easily as Roman motorcycles weave through lanes of traffic.

However, when the sanitation department went on strike last week, the impact felt personal.  One day of no street cleaning and trash collection transformed the charming city center into a maze of sticky and stinking alleyways piled with trash.  Doorways were blocked and public bins overflowed with tourist debris.  Sanitation strikes don’t happen often, but when they do, everyone feels the mess:

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My friend, Justin Catanoso, head of the Journalism department at Wake Forest University is in town with an awesome group of budding writers.  Justin has a big heart for the refugee story.  He invited me back this year to kick-off his students’ investigation into the refugee crisis in Rome, even though he knows I tend to hog the podium when I have a captured audience.  This is the second year I’ve turned a 90-minute presentation into a three-hour event.  Thank you for rolling with me, Justin!

My lecture gave context to the refugee crisis but the students gained real understanding the next day when they worked at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center.  Within days of arriving from the groomed lawns of the North Carolina Triad, the young journalists stepped into a corner of the refugee crisis and met the men who give rise to the wave of history that dominates the news in Europe.  The women skillfully blended among the guests in the center – they cooked lunch, taught an English class, and learned about the challenges of integrating from the men who seek refuge there.  The students’ blog posts reflect an understanding of policy and the personal:  the Dublin regulations that traffic asylum applications in Europe and the emotional bruising refugees endure along their journey to become protected and productive members of their host communities – a dream hard-won in Italy where the economy can’t absorb its own youth.

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Singer/Songwriter Emmylou Harris was in Rome this week in preparation for a series of fall concerts to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis and the good work of Jesuit Refugee Services:

I had an insightful conversation with a JRS regional head who oversees refugee camps in Chad.  He says the world knows too little of the more than 300-thousand Sudanese refugees who live there and suffer from famine, reduced aid and undocumented hardships. He’s been doing this job for 18-months and says it’s enormously stressful work.  He travels between camps with military escort and is constantly aware of danger and human suffering. Work trips back to Rome offer temporary relief. I wonder if he felt this particular event, hosted on the roof of an ambassadorial home and overlooking the riches of the eternal city, seemed an incongruous, yet necessary part of his work?

 


 

And on Sunday in Rome:

I spotted a doggy in church…

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And this is what greeted me as I stepped onto my street to run an errand:

 

Finally – Prom, a trip home, and a broken wrist:

 

 

 

 

Humans of Rome

We left the U.S. in 2003 when Olivia was four years old.  She turns 17 this week and her heart is bigger than her years:

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Inspired by Brandon Stanton of Humans in New York fame, she leads a group of volunteers to help the less fortunate on the streets of Rome.  The volunteers deliver coffee, tea and personal supplies and they offer their time to visit with people living and working outside.  Olivia has guided this project since September and has become friendly with some of the familiar faces she meets on her regular walks. Among the homeless and peddlers is an electrical engineer from Constantinople, a disabled man who scoots around the city sitting on a skateboard, and migrants from Senegal and Liberia who say they “have aged here” in Rome.  Check out their stories on the Humans of Rome Facebook page.

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The bathroom bill in North Carolina got me thinking about the flexible public bathroom arrangements in Italy.  Olivia’s school offers a good example:  Upstairs near the library are segregated bathrooms for men and women, just as you would find in the U.S.  Downstairs by the cafeteria, are two enclosed unisex stalls and one shared sink.  Larger facilities such as the airport or the mall, usually offer separate bathrooms.  However, it’s not unusual for segregated toilet space to feed into a common sink area.  Smaller venues usually don’t segregate.

A final note about public bathrooms in Rome:  Often there’s no toilet seat (I’ll spare you a photo) and a feature I love – foot peddles for flushing and controlling the sink water.

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My local chapter of Negligent Mommies united this weekend at a thermal spa outside of Rome for a menu of mud wraps and other not-so-easily translatable therapies, such as “percorso vasculare.” The sulphur-infused waters have soothed and healed bodies for thousands of years and were popular with ancient Romans and Etruscans. In Canto XIV of the InfernoDante alludes to these hot springs and the “sinful women” who bathed there…   

Therapy most satisfying:  A day with my divine (and not-so-sinful) friends.

 

Note the gender-neutral dressing rooms at the spa:


 

The usual smorgasbord of photos to keep you posted on our activities:

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And a trip down memory lane:  On the Brahmaputra River with mom.

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Time and Space in Rome

Vignettes to bring you up to date:

The Christmas season in Rome is always lovely and refreshingly simple.  You won’t find fat Santas or any such secular kitsch.  The shopping heats up slightly but the commercial drive is never overdone.  I received an email from my favorite Roman dress shop explaining the American concept of Black Friday and inviting me to a sale.  It read:

Che cosa è il Black Friday ? Nasce da una tradizione americana ,  è un’idea prenatalizia nata negli Stati Uniti e legata al giorno del Ringraziamento che si festeggia giovedì 26 Novembre ( sempre l’ultimo giovedì del mese di Novembre ).  What is Black Friday?  It is an American tradition born in the US and linked to the Thanksgiving holiday which is always the last Thursday of November.  

Our holidays also included a Christmas eve prosecco overlooking Rome at sunset and a retreat to the mountains to celebrate the new year.

Don’t miss the photo below of men eating a holiday meal at The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center.  The seats turned several times and the men transitioned peacefully even though it’s not easy to leave a warm room or a warm meal when you don’t have a home.  The men reflected a collective sadness yet each person was gracious and polite and thankful for our service.  There were smiles, too…

 

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For my 50th birthday in January, five friends surprised me and flew to Rome for a weekend celebration.  They scattered their arrivals to string-along the surprise multiple times over, each appearing at different moments as my weekend unfolded:  Kristi arrived during dinner while I ate at a favorite bar with Jim; Becky came during dessert. Jennifer snuck into the house the next morning while I curled on the sofa nursing a headache after celebrating the night before with wickedly strong margaritas.  Vivian appeared a few hours later while I was still on the sofa.  After a day had passed with my gorgeous global posse and when I thought for sure the surprises were over, I found Tao in the kitchen drinking tea on Saturday morning as if it were natural to eat dinner in Hong Kong the night before and have breakfast in Rome the next day. 

Ladies, I will never forget your gift of travel and friendship and the joy I felt being surrounded with all that love.  And a special shout-out to my wonderful husband who orchestrated the weekend to perfection.  He not only arranged for my friends to come, but he rented for us a separate penthouse apartment and threw a surprise party with local friends at two exceptional venues:  the Bramante Cloisters and the roof-top terrace of the Hotel Raphael, with one of the most stunning views in all of Rome.

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How do you pass a random day in Rome?  You go to an abandoned, crumbling hilltop village now habited by squatter-artists who promote the scandalous myth that the village church once housed the foreskin of Jesus. The relic mysteriously disappeared a few decades ago but the story and the eclectic collection of ateliers calls to the curious – like me!

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And finally, a few random photos to mark the days here.  Don’t miss the first one of a homeless man sleeping along my running route.  He’s there every day, sometimes awake, sometimes bundled and asleep, like here.  Notice the seagull sitting by his side.  Is that you, Jonathan Livingston?

“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.”

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

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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!

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

 

And more to keep you posted on our days: