Today I’m pleased to introduce you to a friend and fellow blogger who I’ve been following for more than a year now, and just recently had the pleasure of finally meeting in person.
Rick Zullo is an American expat who moved to Rome in 2010 (more on his love story with a gorgeous Italian goddess in a new post from this week). I became aware of Rick when he began sharing insightful comments on my blog posts. He and I relate on a lot of levels, especially as we both blog generally about life and culture here in Rome as our main topic, and the cultural oddities, delights, and differences we continue to discover through our lives here.
Recently (in March) I was hired as the social media manager for an absolutely amazing walking tour company here in Rome called Through Eternity. They created this position due to the changing economy and the need for keeping up with their clients and prospective clients online. Needless to say, I am LOVING my new job and all the opportunities it’s giving me to connect with people locally and abroad, to share and trade knowledge about Rome and passion for this country.
[Shameless plug alert: I’d be thrilled if you’d visit Through Eternity’s Facebook page by clicking here, and “Like” the page. We’re also on Twitter @througheternity and I write all the blog posts over at the blog–in fact why not just go all in and subscribe right now? *bowing down in gratitude* <end of promotional message>]
So part of my job with Through Eternity is finding ways to generate online buzz and share information, stories, and experiences regarding our tours. Fun, right? When I thought about someone I’d really like to have review our tours, I immediately thought of Rick. I contacted him to see if he’d be interested in trying out one of our more unique and lesser-known tours, called Love and Death: Scandals Off the Beaten Path. Rick was enthusiastic to participate, and in fact, he wrote about his experience here: Playing Tourist in Rome.
Rick is a real asset to our blogger community here in Rome. So I wanted to share his site with you, and I also asked him a few questions that I’ll share here! Enjoy!
But, before I do that, here’s the requisite selfie from our recent coffee meet-up at the bar in front of the Palladium Theatre in Garbatella:
Now, before you go all nuts on me about the fact that I cut off his head, allow me to share with you that our friend Rick here is SIX FOOT FOUR INCHES and so — there. I am nearly 5’11” and totally bad at the selfie phenomenon. And, he and I are extremely low maintenance in that this was our first take. So, anyhoo. You just have to imagine the top of his head here, -k-?
Take it away, Mr. Zullo!
SR: You mention on your “about” page that when you made your way to Rome on your extended vacation/sabbatical, you fell in love with the city on the first night. What was it about Rome that captured you so completely, right from the start?
RZ: That first night….it was late June, the weather was perfect, and I was down on the Isola for an aperitivo at sunset, surrounded by all of Rome’s stunning sites, the old stone, the trees lining the Lungotevere, St. Peter’s dome in the distance. The Romans were all having so much fun, it seemed, with their fancy shoes, Campari cocktails, and animated conversation…I wanted to be part of it. Part of the city, its culture, its history. Wow, looking back…how naive! Of course, this was long before my first trip to the post office or transportation strike!!
SR: But it’s true. Rome is so romantic at first. That was my experience as well. I think back on that time and the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. Obviously had I known how difficult the day-to-day life can be in this city, it probably would have scared me away. But then again, who knows; after all, I’m still here! So, let’s talk about Italian. Did you know Italian before you came to Italy? What was your experience of learning Italian like? What advice do you have to those studying Italian?
RZ: I knew a little Italian through a course I took at the university and self-study with a software program. It helped me order a panino, but was useless for conversation. The only way to become somewhat fluent is full immersion. And you need several forms of input: magazines, movies, vocabulary lists, flash cards, and of course LOTS of conversation. But sooner or later, you still have to study the grammar, too.
SR: At least you could order a panino! I touched down in Rome in 2001 after nearly 3 years of classroom study and my first task in “real life” Italian was exactly that, order a panino at a bar. I ended up panicking, I clammed up and just pointed. I felt like an idiot. But that’s part of learning a foreign language; it really forces you to loosen up and you can’t be a perfectionist. What has been the hardest part or the hardest things about living in Rome, and what has been the most enjoyable or rewarding part or things?
RZ: The hardest part for me is the bureaucracy. Nobody understands it, least of all the people whose job it is to do so. Months can be wasted spinning around in frustrating bureaucratic circles. So then maybe, ironically, that’s also been the most rewarding part. Since it’s so impenetrable, you feel like you’ve defeated Goliath once you finally get your first Permesso.
SR: I totally agree. I often say that life in Rome is like living in a video game. You’re always trying to get to the “next level” and defeat the “big boss,” like some dragon throwing fireballs at you, with regards to bureaucracy! How has living in Rome changed you as a person?
RZ: I think it has “woken me up” and made me more conscious and deliberate in my daily life. Maybe it’s not Rome specifically, but the expat experience that does that to you. Back in the US there’s always this sense of just “going through the motions.” Everything is so easy and predictable. You can’t do that in Rome, because the situation is always changing and you have to learn the art of how to arrangiarsi.
SR: Yes, arrangiarsi—that idea of having to “make do” or find a solution where there logically doesn’t seem to be one. That is a good description of life around here. In fact when you look it up in Google there are even definitions like “manage,” and “do the best one can.” So, in closing, where can people follow you online?
SR: Just curious, with all these online outlets: what do you think is your most important or valuable contribution to the wide world of expat blogs and sites about life in Italy?
SR: Ah yes, the elusive bidet. I had to ask my female flatmates how to use it when I first came here. I have the requisite “bidet post” too. It was inspired by the fact that I saw in the pharmacy that they were selling special bidet soap targeted specifically for 3-12 year olds. That cracked me up. So, what do you have planned for the near future of your blog and for your community of readers? What resources do you already have available for your readers and for people who are just discovering your site?
RZ: In addition to my blog articles, I also have a few eBooks available. There are two mini-guides that I offer for free on my blog. One is a semi-serious guide on how to “Dress Like an Italian.” The other one is an excellent guide for restaurants in Italy. It’s excellent because I only edited it…the writers are actual foodie experts who offered their suggestions for my little book. Then I also have a few books available on Amazon, including a guide to help folks who want to teach English in Italy.
For the future, I’d like to keep the blog going, but perhaps add another element such as a podcast. I’ve still got a lot to say about Italy and the audio format would be a fun way to explore that…perhaps with a partner…Shelley?
SR: Yes! I would love to do that! I’ve been wanting to incorporate audio and video into my content for ages, but I would definitely need a partner in crime. I think we’d make a great team. Thanks, Rick!