The Story of Leggerezza

8 May

The story of leggerezza begins … well, I don’t really know where it begins, exactly. All I know is that it ends in a tattoo on my upper arm, about t-shirt sleeve length and width, inked on my the weekend of my 35th birthday in Amsterdam by easily the world’s best tattoo artist EVER (Marco Serio I heart you, yes I do!) and designed by the world’s best friend and best artist EVER (Ele my dear you are the one for me!).

Folks, what can I say? In June I will mark eleven years since I first came to Rome. That’s a lot of time in my world.

Ten years with the man I met on the first day in the city, a fairly smooth divorce—if that’s not too much of an oxymoron—and a now on-really-good-terms parenting relationship, as we are in fact parents to three, yep count ’em!, three, kids. A four year old and TWIN two year olds. Many of you who know me already know all that.

But wait!!

As in all compelling informercials, as well as in life: there’s more!

An almost-completed MSW back in the States, a string of really interesting jobs including youngest director ever of one my former organization’s study abroad centers (the one here in Rome), stints in kundalini yoga, Buddhist zen meditation, and courses in astrology, Spanish, and “natural” childbirth.


A love for Yogi Tea, not enough time to continue zazen (but to be continued…), a fairly good grasp of what it means to have Sun in Taurus conjunct Mercury in the 11th house forming a T-square with Saturn and Uranus (in short, it’s not easy), the ability to politely say “oiga!” in Spain to get someone’s attention, and two C-sections resulting in three children. So, as with all great expectations, some turn out, some don’t. I figure I’m par for the course.

Successfully starting, managing, and then closing my own business due to a move back to the States, and having to start all over again, for the nth time, at just 30 years old.

Enjoying a rooftop garden house for years in the heart of old Trastevere, living in a shoebox shared student apartment without enough water pressure to even rinse my hair, a hellish hospital stay post-birth here in Rome, getting a second driver’s license at 26 and learning how to drive in a way that purposely ignores most of the rules of the road.

Learning to loosen up, accept life as it comes, and above all, realizing that very little of that which makes up this life is actually under my direct control. And that being, all things considered, not such a bad thing. And that life, all things considered, shouldn’t be taken quite as seriously as I often take it.

Someone who played a very pivotal role in my life here in Rome was once telling me about all of his woes. Since I tend to be silly and sarcastic with the people I enjoy, I started making light of it. He looked kind of upset. I said, “Hey, lighten up. I’m just trying to bring a bit of leggerezza into your life.”

He said that leggerezza is one of the most beautiful words in Italian, both for its meaning (“lightness” — it always makes me think about taking things lightly and less seriously, the epitome of our “lighten up” phrase in English) as for the fact that physically, when you pronounce it, since it has a double “Z” you are practically forced to smile when you say it.

I found all of that quite poetic, and even if it was contrived, I didn’t care. I knew that was going to be my new key word for the forseeable future. Leggerezza. Yes, I like that.

And so, there you have it. My word, my artists, and lest we forget, my beloved swallow:

In addition to indicating that a sailor had sailed 5000 miles, swallows are also associated with the idea of return. This “return” symbolism is rooted in two ideas. The first was the swallow’s famous migration pattern, always returning home to San Juan Capistrano. Second, it was believed that if a sailor dies at sea, birds carry his soul home to heaven.

(Thank you Sailor Jerry!)

So, to mark my return trip, my logging of 5000 miles and then some, and my overall journey in general, I got inked. In Italian, in Amsterdam, by a New Yorker, who also is Portuguese, and did a stint in a tattoo shop just around the bend from the illustrious correctional facilty at Rikers Island. It’s like six degrees of tattoo geography. And all without one shred of regret.

And no, it did not hurt. (You try raising three kids ages 4, 2, and 2, and then come back and tell me if you think a tattoo hurts. No? I didn’t think so.)

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Me before it all began. Don’t I look nervously happy? Yes, indeedy!

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That’s what a stencil looks like, folks. Just so you know. You can still run away screaming at this point, without any permanent markings.

2012-04-27 14.10.53
Yes, needles were involved. Three for the outline and eight simultaneously for the coloring-in. Delirious fun and laughter was had by all.

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Just cool smeared ink is all.

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No, that’s not blood, you silly! It’s red ink!

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Don’t let tattoo-haters try to talk you out of your first tattoo by being all “OHMYGAWD it’s going to be so painful and so red and irritated and blah blah frickin blah blah.” Um, hi. I have like the world’s most sensitive skin and this was about as gory as it got. This is literally like moments after it was finished. Yeah, there’s like a couple drops of blood. Deal.

2012-04-27 15.35.05
Just another satisfied customer. All in a day’s work! xoxo Marco!


25 Responses to “The Story of Leggerezza”

  1. mondomulia May 8, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    What a beautiful tattoo!!! I love the meaning of it, the word leggerezza is indeed beautiful and there should definitely be more of it in my life! The colours are great, I have 3 tattoos but all black, wish I had had the courage to try some colours!

  2. Betsy May 9, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    That truly is a beautiful tattoo – what amazing talent. I myself don’t have a single tattoo, but how funny that I have always thought if I did get one it would be a little swallow! I have always loved swallows. Watching them makes me happy. I was inquiring about a rental house in Abruzzo a few months ago and one of the first questions I asked was, “can you see swallows from the balcony?” The owner said yes and we signed up right there and then. Can’t wait to see them in person. 🙂

    Happy (almost) 11th year living-in-Rome anniversary! And congrats on the gorgeous new tattoo…

  3. tracie p May 9, 2012 at 2:58 am #

    That’s beautiful! And wow, I had no idea what all you were going through. Congrats on coming out smiling 🙂

  4. Catherine May 9, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    Wow. All that upheaval and resolution and strength. Good on you! It is only after a journey such as this that leggerezza bears such massive significance. These are good thoughts for me to start the day. Great tattoo and engaging smile. I bet the swallows will be circling you! Good luck with all xcat

  5. Sara Rosso May 9, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    Now you’re one of the inked ones 🙂 We’ll have to plan #2 together…is this month too soon? hahaha.

  6. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Well then my dear maybe when I FINALLY make it to London (it is on my list, I promise! I miss you and we only met for a brief time!!!) we can go in and get you a color tattoo!!! It’s fun!

  7. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    That is such a great story! I love it! Thanks for your kind words.

  8. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Aw thanks Trace! And your little one is just about as cute as a button and resembles both of you so much! Thinking back to our aperitivo at Friends like what, SEVEN years ago? Holy crap we’ve come a long way!!!

  9. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks so much! It’s so nice to read your words.

  10. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Um, no. It’s just a question of funds. But might I suggest a girls weekend in Amsterdam? Would that be too much to ask? I feel kind of loyal to Marco now. He is so amazing at what he does. And he has the most hilarious personality. We were laughing the whole time.

  11. Sara Rosso May 9, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Ok, my tattoo artist (strangely, she’s Dutch) is still in Florence and a faster/cheaper trip. Means more euro for the tattoo 😉

  12. Nicki Storey May 9, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    That’s a really beautiful tattoo, and done really well too. If anyone needs advice on where not to go get a tattoo done I can help!

  13. Eleonora May 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    You are just so great, Shelley. I hope you will remember it everyday looking at you tattoo!

    I had mine done the same day and – uhm – it hurt actually.
    But I had the really smart idea to have my first tattoo made on the bone!
    Anyway, I’d do it again! I love it!
    Marco is just the BEST.

    I can’t wait to have you here again in Amsterdam, I miss you sooooo much!

  14. Robyn Wilson May 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    LOVE IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOVE YOU

  15. mondomulia May 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    London and me are waiting for you!! 🙂

  16. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm #


  17. Un'americana a Roma May 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm #


  18. tracie p May 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    I know, It’s crazy! I think that was the fall of 2007. You were 5 months pregnant with Vincenzo. You didn’t even look pregnant! I could not have imagined how life would have turned out for me at that point, i was pretty lost in some weird limbo, staying in Italy more out of inertia than anything else.

    Anyway, yes we’ve come a long way and have made 4 human beings between the two of us!

  19. Un'americana a Roma May 10, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    🙂 We rock.

  20. loquensmachina May 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    What a beautiful tattoo, and thank you for sharing such a thoughtful and personal post. I admire your tenacity — what a wild, stressful, but exciting decade you have had!

  21. Un'americana a Roma May 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Aw, that’s sweet of you, thanks for the support. Life is a wild and stressful ride but we always come out stronger on the other side, don’t we?!

  22. Valerie May 12, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Well, I’ve apparently been under a rock since I didn’t know about twins, divorce and Zen stuff – but welcome back to Italia, and congrats on the terrific tat. Beautiful!

  23. Un'americana a Roma May 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    No, I’m sure you were nowhere near any rocks. I only rarely share details of my personal life on the ol’ blog! Thanks for the kind words and glad to be back!


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