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Meet the Sacchetti Family

12 Apr
Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

One of the lovely surprises of indulging in my passion for writing about Rome is that sometimes my work gets noticed and I am able to take part in activities I never would have been invited to had I not started my blog. My tour today of Palazzo Sacchetti on Via Giulia, a historic noble family’s residence even to this day, was one such event. The tour was graciously offered and hosted by Italian Ways, an online Italian lifestyle and arts magazine. About 15 local bloggers and Instagrammers were invited to join in the tour of the palazzo, which isn’t open to the public and within which photos aren’t normally permitted.

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This group photo was shot at the end of our tour in the Nymphaeum, the garden that was added in 1660, and stands just inside the facade on Lungotevere dei Sangallo.

Palazzo Sacchetti is featured in the Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), as the home where the character Viola lived with her mentally ill son. Designed by famous architect Antonio da Sangallo, construction started in 1542 and the building was completed in 1546. The Sacchetti family, who left their native Florence for Rome in the 16th century to escape persecution by the Medici, bought the palazzo in 1648, and the same family owns the palazzo and lives there to this very day. Private visits are available by special request.

The Sacchetti family was a very important noble family in Rome—so important, in fact, that they became one of only a handful of families to be named marchesi di baldacchinoA baldacchino is called a baldachin in English, and is a ceremonial canopy over an altar or throne. The marquis of the baldachin were an exceptional class of nobility between princes and inferior nobility, and they had to have the following characteristics:

      • Historical and social importance of the family
      • Registered as Roman nobility. Instated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746 in his bolla (official letter) Urbem Romam, the registry commonly came to be known as the Libro d’Oro or “the golden book.” The original copy was burned by the Jacobins in 1799 during the first Roman Republic. A new Libro d’Oro was compiled between 1839 and 1847 and is kept to this day in the City of Rome Historical Archives. A paperback reproduction is available on Amazon. Look how cool, the archive website has the entire book indexed and available for viewing online (I AM AMAZED AND DELIGHTED) and here is the Sacchetti family’s page in the book:
    • SacchettiPossession of feudal property
    • Having had Cardinals in the family
    • Matrimonial alliances with royal families (principality, duchy)
    • Hereditary office holder within the Papal Court, known as the Roman Curia of the Holy See (the administrative branch of the Vatican)

This last qualification was modified in 1968, when Pope Paul VI abolished the Papal Court and modified it into what is now known as the Pontifical Household. The Sacchetti family role was called Foriere Maggiore prior to the reform, and is now Hereditary Quartermaster General of the Sacred Apostolic Palace. In terms of what they actually do, from what I gather I think it more or less involves receiving heads of State for the Pope and leading ceremonial processions. Here’s a picture of Giulio Sacchetti on the cover of the book he wrote called Segreti Romani (Roman Secrets):

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And as far as the heads of State/ceremonial thing goes, in one room we saw some “family photos” on top of a table:

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The baldachin is still there in the entrance hall of the palazzo. Only the noble families of the baldachin (the ones that fit the criteria above) had them, and there were very few of these families; in my various research I found four of them listed: Patrizzi, Serlupi, Sacchetti and Teodoli. The baldachin was placed in the entrance hall for receiving the pope during a visit, and included kneeling cushions for dignitaries who would come before the pope.

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On the baldachin you can see the family crest: silver with three black stripes. The family crest was everywhere within the palazzo, from the ceilings:

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to the windows in one hallway:

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even down to the plant pots in the garden:

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Although the artistic treasures in the palazzo were incredible, and I will share those photos in a future post, I must say the most touching aspect for me, because it lent a very human feel to such a majestic place, was seeing the framed family photos on the side tables in the “living room”:

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To learn more about Palazzo Sacchetti and the Sacchetti family:

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Marcel Duchamp at Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna

18 Oct

[Spoiler alert: If you plan to visit this show in Rome, you should go before you read this post. There are lots of pictures that will give away some of the delight and surprise you could experience in person.]

Last Friday I visited a recently opened exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art here in Rome, also known as GNAM, which happily means “yum” in Italian.

This was the first time I had ever seen any works by Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. I have recently been introduced to the world of surrealist and conceptual art by the talented poet Enrique Enriquez, a mentor of mine who I am grateful to for the introduction into this marvelous world. This show was assigned to me as “homework.”

I had very superficial awareness of someone, somewhere, at sometime in the past, having signed a urinal and called it artwork. That was pretty much far as my knowledge went. It seemed absurd. And yet therein lies the beauty of surrealism.

I won’t go into educating about Duchamp because I’m certainly not the right person for that. But I do highly encourage you to delve more into his life and work: Wikipedia biography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Marcel Duchamp World Community site, Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp site.

So, without too much preamble, let me take you on a bit of a photo tour of the exhibition. There weren’t any signs saying that photos weren’t allowed, and the employees weren’t stopping anyone. So I had a bit of a fun free-for-all.

First, a few shots of the approach to the GNAM. The weather was barely holding out, as it’s been a bit of a rainy October this year.

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I think EE would appreciate this shot. Not only does it have a Vespa, but the lamppost and the sculpture look like they form a lowercase “b,” or possibly a “p.”

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I never really get tired of the majestic columns around these parts.

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I was totally unaware of Duchamp’s obsession with and talent for the game of chess. Here the text explains that Duchamp found the creative aspect of the game a way to escape the slavery of monotony, because it allowed for endless ways to produce new patterns, and that this aspect of the game was what attracted him the most and is also why chess permeates his artwork. It also says that starting in 1923 and for 12 years thereafter, Duchamp abandoned his artwork completely in order to dedicate himself to chess, playing in many professional tournaments.

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This, then, was the first readymade of the show. I fell in love with it at first sight. This one is Pocket Chess Set. The one on display is the original with wallet from 1943.

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I took this shot just for EE. When I first began studying the optical language of the Marseille Tarot, I would tease EE about the images, just for fun. I told him that the monks on the card “Le Pape” looked like they had donuts on their heads. He promptly emailed me back to correct me by saying “Shelley, those are called tonsures.” Oh, tonsure-shmonsure. Look at MD’s star-shaped tonsure! Fabulous. This one is, in fact, called simply Tonsure, and is from 1919.

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By far, one of my favorite works on display in the show. This is Box in a Valise, and is basically a miniature Duchamp museum, with exact miniature replicas of his various pieces. Totally compelling. I invite you to note the mini-Fountain hanging on the wall.

Before the room where most of the readymades were on display, there was a larger open space with works by Italian artist Luca Maria Patella. It’s difficult to find much in English about Patella, but here’s an interview in Italian by art critic Manuela De Leonardis. I absolutely fell in love with his work.

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This work by Patella is called MUT/TUM, and is described on Patella’s site thus: MUT/TUM , (1965)-1985.
A “para-Duchampian” work that “shows and displays itself” (mostra e di-mostra) as MUTT, turned over “physically” in 1917 (The Fountain), was … turned over “linguistically” in 1918 (Tu m’). (in the perpendicular square in the center: a pair of mirrors – side by side – are perceived as an empty space), graphic design, painting, iron, mirror, 70 x 140 cm.

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I enjoyed this one a lot. In the large open space, you find this disk on the floor, that says “STAND HERE. Look at the bed.” It also gives height markers running from 170 cm on the top to 180 cm on the bottom of the disk, indicating where you should stand depending on your height. So, I did as told, and this is what I saw standing on the dot. (I actually saw them perfectly lined up, but was unable to capture that exactly with my camera.)

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Then, as you walk forward and examine the beds from the other side, this is what happens:

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Oh, Luca Maria Patella! You’re so silly!

And sort of–well, brilliant, too.

Personally, a part of me thinks that he should do some sort of installation at an IKEA store on the showroom floor. It would be awesome to then film people’s reactions, and pretend it was a real IKEA bed.

But hey, that’s just me.

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And, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The pisser! Funny aside: while standing in front of this display, I was the only one in the room. I had this irresistible urge to look underneath the typewriter cover.

So, I bent down, and sort of moved my head sideways—and all of a sudden that “you’re getting too close!” alarm went off. “WEE-UUU WEE-UUU WEE-UUU! Violator over here!” pretty much blasted through the entire cavernous and church-silent museum space.

HA! I had to laugh. It’s almost as if that was a pre-programmed part of the fun of the show itself. It was like an auditory reminder: “Good for you, Shell! Don’t take yourself so seriously in life!”

Why, thank you for that helpful reminder, Monsieur Duchamp. Much obliged, indeed.

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I loved these sketches. So tender. I want to steal this moment in time for myself. Après l’amour, 1967

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And then, totally random and fun, one of Duchamp’s suitcases that he left behind at a friend’s apartment. The label reads: “Duchamp, 28 West 10th St., New York, U.S.A.”

All in all, a completely delightful experience.

Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna
Viale delle Belle Arti 131
Click here for details about the Duchamp: Re-Made in Italy show

One Week of Rome Randomness

15 Sep

It’s been like 8 years (whoa!) since I’ve written one of these posts. Back then, I wrote Thirty Minutes of Rome Randomness. I’m older now, so it takes me longer. So here I give you: one week of Rome randomness.

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I caught this one in the S. Paolo metro stop the other day. I dunno, folks. I mean, I suppose it’s entirely possible that a parking lot has been set up adjacent to the elevators. I mean, right? This is Rome. City where it would seem pretty much anything is possible. But, … hmmm. My money is on the fact that there is just something off about having a parking sign in front of the elevators. (Not to mention the fact that there actually ARE elevators! Wow! Accessibility in a metro stop!) Yeah, yeah, I hear you. You’re saying that the little bicycle part of that sign got covered up by some sticker. Fine. I’ll give you that. But frankly, it’s not like there was a bike rack or anything. That’s just outside the station. So. Explain that to me, please?

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Well, now, lookie what we’ve got here! Some sort of chimney-like barbeque grill contraption. Yes, folks. These are pretty common in Italian “giardini” (read: backyards) or, if you’re lucky enough to have a big balcony, I’ve seen them also set up on apartment balconies (some people have balconies as long as their entire apartments.) So, ok. Fair enough, right? But, come closer. Have a look at that sign.

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This ain’t any ol’ BBQ, folks! OH, no! This here’s a CATHOLIC barbeque. Shall I insert some smart-alecky one-liner that somehow brings in the Pope and/or the hot priest of the month calendar? Yeah, no. Let’s just say your sausage will be both raked over the coals and simultaneously blessed.

Question, though: what on earth will you drink at your grill-fest? Why, MGD, of course!

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This one wins this week’s “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” award. (I’m really rooting for it to become a new internet acronym. Start using it. We’ll have a revolution on our hands. Next time you tweet, be like: #AYFKM!!?? The punctuation is obligatory. But I digress.)

No, seriously, people. Where did I take this shot? Eataly. Now, I’ve been a bit of an underdog champion for Eataly. But this just sort of makes all that blow back up in my face. Because, well… let’s just hop on over to Eataly’s website and do a little poking around for some sort of mission statement or something, so we can hold it up for all to see and try to get some sarcastic public shame-festing going on.

Oh, hell, before we even search, let’s just attack them on their tagline: “Alti Cibi.” A.k.a. “high foods,” alluding to foods of above-average quality, I suppose. Yes, that’s Miller Genuine Draft, for sure. Champion of all backyard barbeques across the land. Of America.

Well, on their site the link to download the press kit is broken. Nice. Plus, they misspelled refrigerators. I notice b.s. like that. I get the point here. They want to offer a wide variety of beers, I guess from around the world. Ok, fine. If you’re going to do that, at least have the dignity to select artisanal beers. But: boh. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to forgive them for offering MGD. I mean, if you’re going to go there, Eataly, then hell. Just put 6 packs of plastic-ringed Pabst, no?

Things done changed a lil' bit since 1911 (when this ad came out), wouldn't you say?

Things done changed a lil’ bit since 1911 (when this ad came out), wouldn’t you say?

I meant this:

“Blue ribbon” always lends that touch of class, no?

Or, actually, just put what my WWII vet grandpa used to have perenially glued to his hand at all family functions: a golden can of Miller High Life. A.k.a. “The Champagne of Beers.” Photographic supporting evidence, you say? Happy to oblige.

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Does anyone even remember these? Do they still sell this? I mean, come on, Eataly. Get your shit together.

Fine, and I’ll go there, finally. Yes. They are *kinda sorta* like the McDonald’s of Italian cuisine. Reason being? Well, come on now. Just look:

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Is it just me, or do those look like french fry fryers? I mean, I should know. That was my first job at age 16. Fry cook.

But no! Them there’s is pasta boilers. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re saying: But Shelley, so what? All Italian restaurants use bollitori. I know that. I just liked the visual impact of a massive pasta boiler bank. It gives the impression I needed. And, hey, you: stop criticizing! This blog was free to get into, it’s not like you paid a cover charge or something. Chill!

O.K. Last one, from Brek Cafe. Ahem, wait. We need musical accompaniment to fully experience this. Cue James Brown, please.

Ok, now we can do this:

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It’s like: “Oh, Brek. I see what you were trying to do there.” And then, there’s a sort of semi-epic fail. I mean, it’s not epic, by any means. You can tell they meant well. I guess they just didn’t really get that we don’t say the word “food” like “foot.” Or something. Mah!

Oh, love you Rome, love you love you love you truly truly true la la…

Enrique Enriquez Talks About Linguistick

14 Sep

You may or may not know this, but I actually have two other blogs. One is a wordplay blog that I call my “word lab,” where I experiment with words, and that one, although public, is more of a virtual notebook and as such, I don’t really publicize it. The other is a blog about storytelling with the optical language represented in the art on tarot cards.

Normally I don’t do cross-over with my blogs, but this particular post from my tarot blog is just so special that I really wanted to share it with my Rome readers as well, especially as it regards language and the mechanics of learning a language, hearing a foreign language, and the way we use language in our lives.

Enrique Enriquez is a poet who works with the Tarot de Marseille, using the language of the birds and ‘pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, to derive narratives and meaning from the images. He just released a new book, a collection of his weekly wordplay “tongue exercises,” and I had the very wonderful pleasure of chatting with him yesterday.

I hope you’ll listen in on our conversation below, and then, if it inspires you to discover the joy of wordplay, I can’t recommend highly enough EE’s books: any of them, all of them! (En)JOY!

I’m so happy to share with you the absolutely delightful Enrique Enriquez in an interview/chat we had on Skype yesterday. Enrique has just released his latest book with EyeCorner Press, Linguistick, and I wanted to take this opportunity to chat with him about the poetics of tarot and about the wordplay “tongue exercises” that make up this new collection.

(Note: At around 11:25 the screen froze–super big fat boo!!–but please hang in there because the audio continues, and the screen comes back at the question after, and we get to have a fun chat about the wordplay tongue exercise that I’ve included in this post, below the video screen…so that you can become enchanted and discover its beauty together with me as Enrique “unpacks” it and shares some of his secrets with us.)

Enrique has been and continues to be a very important professional influence for me and a mentor whom I care for and respect a great deal. I hope you enjoy this conversation–I certainly did!

[el beso: VI] by Enrique Enriquez, sent out on the weekly wordplay list on Sept. 11, 2013

[el beso: VI] by Enrique Enriquez, sent out on the weekly wordplay list on Sept. 11, 2013

To learn more about Enrique’s books or to purchase, visit his Amazon author page here.

To sign up for Enrique’s weekly wordplay list, send an email to: enrique (dot) eenriquez (at) gmail (dot) com, explaining which is the fastest letter in the alphabet, and why.

To explore some of Enrique’s writing about the Tarot de Marseille and wordplay:

Embodied Tarot. When Medieval Draftsmanship Mirrors Cognitive Science

Notes on the Use of Indirect Suggestion in Tarot Readings

Whispering to the Eye

The Joy of Wordplay

Peeking Through the Bars of Tarot’s Occult Prison

The Excellence of the Marseille Tarot

As well as some other sources of his storytelling and experiences:

Enrique Enriquez, a Portrait and a Story, by Fabrizio Chiesa

Brief Interview with Time Out New York

Enrique also starred in the world’s first feature-length documentary about the Tarot de Marseille, Tarology. It can be purchased in DVD format here, or you can watch it instantly for just $1.99 through Amazon Instant Video by clicking here.

“You can only find what you are not looking for if you take a detour.” -EE

AcquaMadre Hammam in Rome

22 Sep

As those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know, this was my “Treat Yo Self” weekend. One of my BFFs introduced me to this concept a few months ago, but I am only just now fully embracing it. If you aren’t familiar with where the expression comes from, here is the clip that delineates this awesome ritual that involves cupcakes and “fine leather goods!!”

Instead of searching for fulfillment and satisfaction in men who clearly aren’t able to give it to me, I decided to start TREATING MY SELF, and that began with buying a bouquet of 24 roses yesterday, all for me. They’re now in glass jars around my house and make me happy. Remember this post from years ago? I still treasure the little things, like being able to buy flowers and a newspaper. Really do.

This is one of my “off” weekends in which the kiddos are with papà, and I am devoting my free time lately to learning how to be alone with myself but not lonely. That started in Spoleto (day 1 and day 2) but it’s a continual process that I’m working on. Two steps forward, one step back.

I don’t want to get into a bunch of emo psychobabble, but suffice it to say that I left my 10-year relationship with some major self-esteem issues. As in, below zero self-esteem. How did I think I could remedy that? Oh, easy! I would throw myself at men’s feet and hope they’d rescue me. The Band-Aid Brand Bandage approach.

Well, you all know how that ends. Or maybe you don’t. In any case, I’m here to tell you that for me, it ended in getting a hot dog when what I really wanted was a steak, rare, followed by a decadent dessert and a bubble bath with candles.

What’s that, you say?

You mean I can TREAT MY SELF and not wait for a man to do this for me?

Well, now! There’s a concept!

Therefore, with God and y’all as my witness, I hereby pledge to never devalue myself again by settling for mystery meat when I really want top-quality Certified Prime Angus beef.

But enough with the strange inside joke metaphors that only this girl understands because she has been my rock and my life preserver throughout this whole self-esteem debacle. Let’s get on with treat yourself weekend.

I want to tell you about AcquaMadre here in Rome. It’s a thermal spa where you can feel like an ancient Roman for a day.

It is, in a word: AMAZING.

Everything about it was awesome.

The “hammam” or bathing area is underground, and the walls and ceilings are all arched and bricks and sparkly brown mosaic tile. I felt like changing my name to Servilia or maybe even Livia Drusilla, and then hiring servants to fan me with palm fronds and feed me grapes. Yes, that would be cool.

Instead, I got to enjoy the lovely hammam ritual, in which you proceed through various steps of baths that provide a total relaxation experience. I had a gift certificate to this place from Christmas and it had taken me THIS LONG to finally book. I already can’t wait to go back.

You start in the tepidarium, a room that’s heated to 36°C (96.8°F), and the attendants, all of whom are super friendly and explain everything to you, give you a silver pail with a copper bowl inside. The bucket is filled with warm water and you start to scoop the water into the copper bowl and pour it all over yourself “to start acclimating your body to the temperature.” You sit on mosaic-covered benches and get to just enjoy the time to do nothing but water therapy surrounded by gentle lighting and faint but not cloying incense. It is lovely.

They give you a little porcelain saucer filled with a black gel soap which is very moisturizing, and you put it all over your body and then go into the calidarium, which is a steam room heated to 45°C/100% humidity (113°F) and they tell you to stay in “depending on how long you can stand the heat.” It is really relaxing and feels great to breath in the vapors, and they recommend you go in and out at least a few times. In between you relax in the tepidarium while sipping water or having a hard candy or two.

When you’ve had enough of the steam bath, you tell the attendants and they arrange for your massage. You get your own hammam exfoliating glove which an attendant uses to scrub your body. They use some kind of a warm oil which they pour on you and it feels really pampering. The scrub lasts about 10 minutes.

You then take a shower and go to the frigidarium 28°C (82.4°F) and relax in a pool with a gentle cascading waterfall.

The design throughout is elegant, minimalist, and colored in beige and stone hues. There is warm light from candles burning in little corners all around, and a light incense smell, and it is quite a surreal environment, truly unique.

Saturdays are for men and women, and there were some couples having a relaxing day together. You have to book your appointment in advance, and this assures that it’s not a crowded environment.

After the frigidarium, you take a final shower and proceed to the relax room, where you can stretch out on a comfortable wooden lounge chair and an attendant brings a delicious mint tea in a simple white ceramic teapot, with an elegant flowery teacup, and you can read magazines or just zone out before you have to go back to the real world.

I can’t wait to get back here. I think this place would be a great stop on any visit to Rome. I had no idea it even existed! It’s right behind my favorite fountain, the Bernini turtle fountain in the Jewish Ghetto.


photo of the tepidarium from the AcquaMadre website

AcquaMadre Hammam
Via S. Ambrogio 17
Tel. 06 6864272
Hours and pricing

Serendipity

11 Sep

: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this

Yes.

One of the most blessed phenomena in this great life. Serendipity.

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this word is this fantastic movie I saw back in 2001, shortly after I had met my future boyfriend/husband/ex-husband on my first day here in Rome (June 18, 2001, to be exact). That movie is all Jon Cusack, ladies. Hubba hubba. Gorgeous movie. Actually, nothing special. Just your run of the mill rom-com of sorts, Prince Charming, destiny, all the rest. But I was so in luuuurvvve at the time, that everything was magical, and I felt like that movie was the sign specifically to me from the Universe that everything was going to work out perfectly.

I think back on that fall, after I had come back from Italy in July 2001 completely head over heels in love, starstruck, and any other verb you can conjure up for those feelings that defy vocabulary. I was there. I pined, I panicked, I dreamed, I worried, I planned, I hoped. I had a college degree but Rome had stolen my heart. I moved back in with my parents at age 23. I was BAGGING GROCERIES at a supermarket on the weekends just to make extra money, while during the week working a part-time marketing job.

But most of all, people: I trusted. As hard as it was, I trusted. I had faith that things were just going to work out. They had to. I was convinced. I think this is where the term “blind faith” comes from. It’s blind, because you have no way of shining a light down the road to see where you’ll end up.

Now. Had someone dropped down from futureland and told me that I was pining after and worrying about never being able to “have” or to be with the man who would eventually become my life partner of ten years, my future husband of four years, and the father of our three children? Well, holy crap. That takes quite a bit of the magic out of things, doesn’t it? I mean, at that point, it becomes the sure thing.

Isn’t it funny how the longing for something is almost more delectable that the actually-having-it part? Does anyone really want the sure thing? Where’s the sense of accomplishment in that?

I just learned the word for longing in Italian in a book I was reading last weekend. Anelito. It instantly became my favorite new word. It has two definitions, actually: 1) labored breathing 2) ardent desire

You don’t need me to tell you that those two definitions often times go hand in hand!

Ardent. I mean, come on. ARDENT, people. Does anyone EVER get the opportunity to use that word, for any reason, ever? Unless they’re like writing an 18th century Victorian romance novel? (A bodice-ripper!)

Oh, sigh. So here’s the thing. The longing, the hoping, the pining, the waiting, the chase, the hunt, the catch. Isn’t that where all the magic lies? Not even just in relationships, but truly in life in general, in anything that you have a burning passion for, a breathless dream about. Once it becomes the done deal, the sure thing, the here and now–some sort of pixie dust goes away and we’re quickly onto the next conquest.

Serendipity. Chance meetings or encounters that you do absolutely nothing to encourage. Things that just magically happen, and bring special results, inexplicable opportunities, unsolicited wisdom, heartfelt sentiments, exciting adventures. The polar opposite of the determined quest to “get” something. Life’s little magical gifts.

My time in Italy has been full of them. Continues to be full of them. Continues to require blind faith.

Going into the bar of a restaurant I hadn’t been to in months, to say goodbye to a lovely bartender who’s leaving for a new adventure in a sister restaurant in Brooklyn, I ended up having a most serendipitous encounter by sitting down right next to a woman who has already taught me a few important life lessons in just the last 48 hours, through personal conversation and her strong online voice. Brenda della Casa, what a lovely chance meeting! Like a little angel dropped down and told me exactly what I already knew, but needed to hear from outside of myself in order for it to finally get through to me.

Sometimes what we think we want, in the end is actually just a catalyst to get us where we need to go. But it’s in the wanting and longing, that anelito, that ardent desire, that we end up pushing forward to the next inevitable step, wherever it may lead.

Rome continues to fill me with love and joy and chance meetings. “Zia” (aunty) Lina, the pasta lady next to my downstairs coffee bar (owned by her brother) is in her probably late 70s. She always wears a white coat for work in her shop, but the few times I’ve seen her without it, she is dressed in all black, traditional widow’s garb. This spectacular lady often gives me child-rearing advice, and inevitably follows it up by proudly stating: “I’ve raised 24 nieces and nephews, just like they were my own, so I know what I’m talking about.” Just the other day, with misty eyes and a cracking voice, she told me that she loves me as if I were her own niece, and that all I have to do is ask, and anything I need, she’ll be there for me, adding: “And today I’m going to make special ravioli for you and your children, extra special just for you.”

On Twitter, of all places, I unexpectedly became friends recently with a delightful and wise man who’s 11 years younger than me and lives far, far away, but is originally from Rome. He and I had a breathlessly fateful encounter on one of the hilltop towns just outside of Rome when he was visiting recently for just 5 days, trading our thoughts and philosophies on life and love. He about his girlfriend back in his adopted country, me about my struggle to find myself post-divorce, all over a marathon of sarcastic one-liners, a gelato with his requested “‘na cifra” (a ton) of whipped cream, and a balmy stroll in the late summer air. Magical. Truly. A source of joy for me that is inexplicable, this jewel of a man full of wisdom and light who I treasure as a friend from afar, this completely unsolicited and effortless gift of friendship.

After reflecting on my past weekend filled with emotional highs and lows, I resolved to make this a week for focusing on the blessings I have in my life, and not trying to constantly strive and push to have things I think I want, that perhaps I can’t, or shouldn’t.

Why must we always walk through life trying to get more, trying to do more, trying to be more and have more, without stopping to be thankful for all of the things we are already truly blessed with? I think I gravitated to Rome for this sense of gratitude. I’m a realist rather than a romanticist when it comes to Rome, but no one can deny that life here moves at a different pace. There’s more time for reflection, and a key Roman philosophy to live by is “piano, piano” — little by little, literally “slowly, slowly,” dispensed liberally by Romans as a reassurance to any anxiety you might express. “Just take it easy,” they seem to say. Everything will eventually work itself out, you’ll see.

Here I am, 11 years later, and never would I have thought that even after having a firmly established life here in Rome, and having been called a Roman at heart by more than one native, I would still be feeling that sense of longing, that bittersweet anelito, that pining sense for something more.

And yet, through it all, I’ve just now finally come to realize that without the ache of longing, I’d never be able to fully understand how richly abundant my life truly is, just as it is, right now, pain and sorrow, love and joy, adopted family, new friends, blind faith, serendipity. Tears and all, despite it all: life is good! Celebrate your blessings. Even heartache has a lesson to teach.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
–Epicurus

Love Letter to Spoleto Part 2

2 Sep

If you haven’t read the first love letter, then you might not understand parts of this post!

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Happy People’s Street. Yes, I need more of those in my life.

This morning I woke up at 6:30 am to an email from the aupair who helps me with my three preschool-age kids (they’re with papa’ this weekend), in which she uncerimoniously tells me that she’s decided to leave and go back to the States in just two days. I felt it coming, and frankly it’s a relief. I don’t want anyone to feel stuck in a situation they’re not comfortable in, and she has clearly been feeling lonely and itching to get back to the States for some time now. And with what I’ve gone through in the past few years, I feel fairly equipped now to handle the unexpected jolt with a decent amount of grace and composure.

As is habit with my recovering type-A brain, I immediately start to evaluate my life at warp speed, like a file cabinet with drawers opening and closing at random, and manila folders and paper flying all over the room. Mentally going over all my obligations and responsibilities, now I’m strategizing how I’m going to face in the short term this big hole and inconvenience, and how to move forward in the smoothest way possible, with the least amount of fallout, and all this before breakfast.

It’s a beautiful morning in Spoleto. So quiet you could hear a pin drop from miles away. The streets are completely deserted. The air is fresh, the breeze is late-summer/early-morning cool, and I decide to check out of my accommodation and walk to breakfast, to see how the day will unfold.

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My cappuccino has a lovely spontaneous design, and I have a great view of the silent piazza, the sun literally shining on the two angels hanging by their wings from the building in front of me. The barista has me sit out front on the patio and puts on music: Muddy Waters. I have never heard anyone play Muddy Waters in a bar in Italy in the 9 years I’ve lived here, and Muddy Waters is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and this makes my heart happy. Hoochie-coochie man and my cappuccino.

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I look up times for the train. I have 2 full hours before the next Sunday train to Rome shows up.

I finish my breakfast, stare blankly for a while, pay for my cappuccino and cornetto. I compliment the barista for his choice of the blues. He smiles and says he puts it on in the morning because, “Mi rilassa,” – “It relaxes me.”

Now I wander to the bus stop. I see that the bus for the train station only passes once an hour on Sundays, meaning I have nearly a full hour to wait. Conveniently, there’s a park: a gorgeous, lush, sprawling green park, right next to the bus stop.

My heart is really heavy by now. I’m reflecting all of a sudden on so much. My journey in the past few months of hard-core physical training, and the results it has brought me, not only physical but mental. The fact that I had too much wine to drink at lunch yesterday and the resulting embarrassment over the fact that I sent an email love missive to a man I know, one who has no time for me and I know it. Beating myself up over why I don’t give up the fight, and why I insist on continuing the fruitless struggle of trying to find and then somehow force a guy to shower me with attention and affection and time and consideration, when clearly it’s not the cards for me right now. That snowballs into the stark realization that no matter which way I go about it, it’s always the wrong way, it seems.

My real struggle, coming to terms with the fact that I’m single for the first time in nearly 13 years,and that before that, I hadn’t ever really dated. The last time I was truly single was my senior year in college—1999. I had just turned 21. I remember doing the “bar thing” for like a grand total of six months. I literally danced on top of the bar at good ol’ San Felipe in Flagstaff (I wonder if they still let people do that?), tasting for the first time what it meant to be out, drinking, and trying to drown my insecurities in finding a boy who would “like” me.

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All I know is that frankly I find it hard not to like a place that has a national academy of olive and oil.

It sounds so naïve and yet, here I find myself at 35 years old, raising three children now as a single mom in a country that’s not my own, and those old insecurities haven’t gone far. Only now the men are different, the circumstances are different, the life experience is different. And yet, I still haven’t even had time to get to know myself or what I want. I can finally admit that I have always looked for myself in others, in serving others, in trying to be what I think others want me to be, and in the process, I lost whoever the real me is, or was, time and time and time again.

So I sit in the park. There are a ton of benches, and it is sublime. I look up into the trees, the sun is literally coming through the leaves and that’s why the word “dappled” was invented, you know?

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Tears come to my eyes. If there’s one thing to know about me, it is this: I cry all the time. If you know me in any way, even superficially, you might already know this. I can’t help it. Nervous, angry, sad, overjoyed: I cry when my soul speaks. When I have no words. Which is rare, given how talkative I am and how prolifically I write. But when you get down to it, down to real and raw, no words are left. Just tears. Big ones. Dropping on my damn book that’s supposed to teach me about how to not be so needy anymore. The one I’m using a highlighter on.

My heart really hurts. I feel happy for all my blessings, but I still feel trapped in this mad desire to “get” happiness. To “find” the perfect man who’s going to magically solve all my problems. You can know that logically that’s impossible, but emotionally it’s my heart’s way of saying that I’ve completely forgotten about how to take care of it. I finally admit it. I feel alone. Denial has been a great protective shield to get me through the initial stages of my crisis, but I can see it’s not going to work for me from here on out.

By now it’s quarter to ten, and my bus should be coming soon. I move back to the sidewalk and stand there, alone with my little red suitcase, waiting for the tiny bus to take me to the station, hoping this sign is right and the bus will actually show when it says it will.

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Parking in downtown Spoleto: “Leave sufficient room for opening the shutters. Thank you.” We aren’t in Rome anymore, Toto.

Suddenly, out of nowhere on the deserted town street, this strange little white contraption pulls up. It looks like some kind of tourist vehicle, like a little modified “Ape” that some intrepid Spoletino businessman has dreamt up as a way to make a euro on the side. I look up and wonder if he’s approaching me to see if I need a tourist taxi or something.

Just then, the man looks me in the eyes and says in Italian, “Hey! Americana!”

He’s dressed kind of spiffy and I don’t recognize him at first. Then it hits me and I blurt out, half exclamation, half question: “I know you!!!!?!”

And it turns out it’s Filippo. The matto from my delightful lunch experience yesterday.

Are you kidding me? This is like that scene from that Woody Allen movie, where Owen Wilson is sitting on a Paris street and the car pulls up out of nowhere to take him back to the Belle Epoque.

He says, “Where ya goin’? Train station?”

Me, “Yep.”

Him, “Well hop in already! I’ll give you a ride!”

The car is white with a bright red logo emblazoned on one side proclaiming “Il Matarello,” which is like a double word play for the little crazy one and rolling pin.

I lug my little suitcase aboard and sit down in the back. I say to him, “So, Filippo, is this your preferred method of transport around Spoleto?”

Him, “Only for weddings, Shel. And today, I have a wedding. I do everything around here, you know!”

Me, “I’m starting to get that feeling. Well, fantastic! Look at me! Looks like I’m getting married today, Filippo!”

Him, laughing, “Ah, is that the case?” (of course I’d already told him half my life story the day before. Recall that he sat down at my table to eat with me and chat.)

Me, “Sure enough! Already been married once, then divorced, and here I am! In the wedding getaway vehicle, this time without the groom! Congratulations to me, Filippo! I’m getting married to myself! I found the last person around who I can actually trust!”

He and I both have a good laugh and I realize that all of a sudden all the heaviness and sadness and longing of just moments before has totally vanished into the air around this strange little car, loudly and merrily put-putting around the streets of Spoleto, this taxi of white marital bliss that seems to have come out of the heavens especially for me.

I realize it’s true. Filippo does have “crazy eyes” just like it said in all the articles he had me read about him and his osteria. I start to reflect on the new project he told me about yesterday: he plans to open a small artisanal brewery around the corner from his restaurant.

“What are you going to call the beer?” I asked him, as he sat across from me over a plate of strangozzi spoletini and Montefalco rosso in that standard-issue Italian short Lurex glass.

“Birra del Matto, of course!” he says. Crazy man’s beer. God bless him.

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: having faith in life, in your journey, in your experience, is not to be underestimated. Just when you think things are so bad they can’t get worse, the Matarello drives up and tells you to hop in.

I get to the station, and there’s the obligatory group of old men lingering around in front of the bar, that group that seems to travel from small town to small town on Sunday mornings, always there to observe life around them, since they’ve already lived it all themselves.

I pray that my crappy cell phone camera hasn’t got a dead battery, because I really need to get a shot of Filippo in his little car. But then, realizing how I have no control over virtually anything in my life, I tell myself: even if it’s dead, still—it happened, and I don’t need the photo to prove it. Whatever happens, happens, and truly, in the end, it’s all good. And I’m finally starting to believe it.

Amazingly, even though the battery icon is totally hollow and my phone should be shutting itself off, the camera loads and it’s ready to go. I take a shot of him. The crazy eyes are shining and proud.

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I pray I can get one more shot in. I’m awful at taking self-portraits with other people with my cell phone cam—and yet, miraculously, I manage not to cut off either of our faces.

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So there you go folks: the two crazies. One Italian man married to a woman from Thailand, one American woman divorced from a man from Rome.

Yesterday the Italian man who stopped in front of the restaurant with his wife, after chatting with me for some time at my little table out front, turns to me and says, “You know what?! You’re not American, you know that?”

Me: “Oh, is that so? Why is that?”

He says, “No! You’re crazy!”

I say, “Well, you’re certainly right on that one.”

He says, “So, that means you’re not really American. You’re Italian. Because only we Italians are crazy in a good way, like you.”

And I thank him for the compliment.

Crazy is good. Unexpected is better. And without sadness, there would be no way to appreciate the joy of when the matarello swings by to take you to the station for the next leg of your journey.