Tag Archives: Italy

463 Steps to Reflection

I first went to Italy five years ago with my high school Latin class. I don’t remember much of it anymore, but I do remember climbing all 463 steps to the top of Florence’s Duomo and being awestruck by the beauty of the Tuscan city below me. I had no way of knowing at the time that I was looking at the place I would call home only four years later, and I certainly didn’t know how much that trip would impact the next few years of my life.

Much to my parents’ dismay, I returned home from my ten day trip with a new goal for my upcoming college search: finding a school with the opportunity to spend a semester in Italy. I had many reasons for eventually choosing Smith, but one of the biggest selling points was the full-year program in Florence. My drive to return to Italy pushed me to study the language for the first two years of my college career. The next thing I knew, I was back at the International Terminal of the Boston airport, once again headed for Italy. However, the circumstances couldn’t have been more different. The first time, I was with some of my closest friends and many of our classmates,  setting off excitedly for the best April vacation we’d ever had. The second time, I was saying a tearful goodbye to my parents, not knowing when I’d see them again, one solo plane ride away from the adventure of a lifetime.

I don’t think it truly sunk in how far I had come in four years until I was about six months into my time abroad. One of my best friends from Smith was visiting me, and we decided to head to the top of the Duomo, a place I hadn’t visited since high school. Back then, I was too starry-eyed to take in any information about the city’s rich history. This time, I was serving as my friend’s tour guide, telling her everything I could remember about the Duomo itself and everything we were seeing in the city below us. Although the view was about the same as it had been four years prior, I was seeing it through completely different eyes. In this particular photo, I had originally only seen the beautiful red roofs that adorn the city’s skyline. However, after six months of living in Florence, I was now seeing the streets I’d walked every day for six months, my bus stop, and, if I squinted, my house. I couldn’t help but look back on the first time that I stood on that observation deck as a tourist. I was sixteen years old, still dealing with braces, low self-esteem, and all of the friendship drama that comes with high school. Only four years had passed, but it felt like a lifetime. All of my experiences, both at Smith and in Florence, had made me bolder, wiser, and more confident than the teenager who had walked those 463 steps all those years ago. As I continued to watch the sunset with my friend, gazing upon the city that I’d begun to call home, I knew that all of the choices I had made and the time I had spent in the Florence program had been worth it.

Kaity O’Neil

Kaity O’Neil is a senior from Norwell, MA, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education and Child Study. She took part in Smith’s JYA Florence program for the 2016-2017 Academic Year.



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Word on the Street

In the summer of 2016, through my Book Studies Concentration at Smith College, I had the amazing opportunity to intern in the rare book room of the American Academy in Rome. One weekend morning, on vague instructions from the gentleman that ran the guesthouse I lived in for the month, I walked over to the Porta Portese Flea Market. It was morning, but the light was already brilliant and hot. I had been told to find three staircases, which were shortcuts to get down to the port. The first was a slightly dilapidated wide case at the edge of Monteverde, while the second seemed to take me through a small jungle.  I began to seriously wonder if I would spend another day lost among the labyrinth of Roman streets. But when I got to the third set of stairs, I could see the main road beyond speckled with the tents of the market. The staircase was expansive and enormous in the typical Roman way where everything— from buildings to statues—seems bizarrely huge. As enormous as it was, there was no one else scaling the steps.

I had come to Rome worried that my shy and introverted ways would make me a lonely sight far away from my children and home. And in Rome I was truly alone for the first time in perhaps over twenty years. While I made many fine acquaintances at work, I spent my free time utterly alone. Before I arrived, I had worried that I would feel awkward and terrifically lonely. In some ways I did. After all, I am me. But something unexpected happened. Once there, perhaps as a result of my own maturity or coming into my own as it were, during my time at Smith, I allowed myself to enjoy, rather than lament, being by myself. I gained a perspective upon myself that allowed me to finally accept my reserved nature.

I made my way down the enormous staircase. Because I had no one to meet, no agenda, and no one else to please, I had the novel experience of following my own fancy: following my eye, simply stopping, looking, photographing, or being absorbed by whatever impulse led me. At the bottom of the staircase I turned around to take in my grand accomplishment—I had found my way down the hundreds of steps! That was when I saw the mural painted on the risers of the steps. It was marvelously unexpected, though art is everywhere in Rome. It is through art that the voices of the past and present communicate most profoundly with us. I knew that at any other time in my life I would have felt compelled to hurry forward. I would have felt obliged to get there. But in Rome, the streets were always talking to me. I was richly rewarded when, in my solitude, I finally learned to trust myself enough to stop and listen.


Jessica Ryan J17′ is an Ada Comstock Scholar. She will be graduating Smith College in January and going on to pursue her master’s in library sciences at Simmons College.

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Notes From the Field: On Being a Travel Writer

I’m a travel and lifestyle writer and editor, though sometimes people seem to see me as a unicorn or some other mystical creature. When I introduce myself, my interlocutors often express incredulity that I’m able to make this lifestyle work—sometimes I’m incredulous myself. Since I went fulltime freelance last February, I’ve spent 86 days on the road, including 26 days in Italy, 12 days in Australia, 8 days in Portland, Oregon, 5 days in Madrid, 4 days in New Orleans, and a weekend in Marfa, Texas—and that’s just the beginning. I’ve logged hours on planes, trains, cars, boats, and a helicopter. I couldn’t even tell you how many pages I’ve written—suffice it to say a lot. I feel very lucky and privileged to have my dream job, but it’s not magic. I’ve worked extremely hard to get where I am, and I hope my path will inspire others to follow their dreams too.

Villa Carlotta, Lake Como
Villa Carlotta, Lake Como

When I’m not on the road, I’m in Brooklyn—where I share an apartment with three roommates—working from home, a coffee shop, or library. A typical day starts at 7:30 am, when my alarm goes off. Some mornings I go to the gym or yoga class, shower, and sit down to work on my laptop with coffee and some yogurt. Depending on the appointments I’ve scheduled, I might head into Manhattan to meet a publicist or colleague for lunch or coffee. In the evenings I often attend industry events, like previews for new hotels, book release parties, new menu tastings, or just meeting over drinks or dinner to talk shop. Though writing is a solitary activity, I’m always out and about gathering intel about travel industry news and learning about places to visit and write about. Writing for travel magazines and websites, there’s a lot of pressure to keep track of the hottest new openings and predict what people are going to be talking about, which I find both challenging and thrilling at the same time.

So how did I get here? In a way it started at Smith, where I began to learn how to channel my passion for traveling, cultural immersion, and writing during my Junior Year Abroad in Paris. Back then, I penned notes in small journals never intended for publication, though they would become the basis for some personal writing I did in grad school. Some of my fondest memories are just sitting in Paris cafes nursing a café au lait and recording my observations and thoughts about the city around me. I kept journaling after I graduated from Smith and went to live in Rome. Being a writer still seemed like an impossible dream until I showed friends some of my vignettes and they encouraged me to do something with them. When I got into the creative writing MFA program at Columbia’s School of the Arts, I knew I had to go.

After two years spent teaching English and writing constantly in Rome, I moved to New York for the two-year grad program and quickly immersed myself in life in the city. I began looking for opportunities to get my work out in the world and started writing for, and then editing, an online magazine called Untapped Cities run by a then-grad student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning (GSAPP). I wasn’t getting paid, but I was gaining experience writing, assigning articles, managing an editorial schedule, and editing work by fellow students. The Huffington Post and Business Insider syndicated some of my articles, and from there I started getting paid assignments. I took a job as a fact checker for Travel + Leisure—which I had long upheld as the gold standard in travel magazines—and for whom I soon began writing and editing.

Christo's Floating Piers at Lake Iseo
Christo’s Floating Piers at Lake Iseo

In a way, the year-and-a-half I spent in T+L’s office was like a second grad school. I was constantly learning about the world through the lens of the talented writers and editors who contribute to the magazine, and I was seeing first-hand how print magazines are produced at a time when print media was working harder and harder to hone the power of the web and social media. Shortly after I started, the longstanding editor in chief retired and a new one took over, ushering in a new era for the publication. Many of the editors I worked closely with over that period have since left, but like old classmates and friends, we’ve stayed in touch and continue to work together at the other magazines and websites they’re now editing. I really can’t overstate the importance of maintaining a strong network of collaborators, especially for freelance journalists. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I still have those frustrating days when it seems like no one is interested in my ideas and none of my writing is any good, but I have to remind myself that it’s a job like any other. There will be frustrations and setbacks—days when time seems to drag on at a glacial pace—but the rewards of traveling to beautiful places, meeting fascinating people, and contributing to society in my own small way keep me forging ahead toward new challenges and opportunities.


laura-itzkowitx-in-palemrmoLaura Itzkowitz is a New York City-based writer and editor. She spent her junior year on Smith’s Paris program and lived in Rome for two years after graduating. She holds a BA in French from Smith and an MFA in creative writing & translation from Columbia. She is a contributing editor at Untapped Cities, and her writing has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Brooklyn Magazine, Surface, Architectural Digest, and others. She co-authored New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants and contributed to Fodor’s Brooklyn. She was named a New York expert blogger by Time Out New York and one of the Top 20 NYC bloggers by Hotel Club. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lauraitzkowitz.

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To Photograph or Not

One afternoon in August 1973, I jumped off a train with two friends to see the mosaics of Byzantine Ravenna. I first saw the resplendent images  formed with glass cubes depicting the Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora, and the starry vaults in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (Regent of the Western Empire, on behalf of her son Valentinian III, AD 423-427, daughter, half-sister and wife of Emperors), projected on a large screen in ART 100.  At that time, there were few books on Byzantine mosaics with color pictures. I wanted to see them in person and take photographs.

We visited the mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, and took a bus to Sant’Apollinare in Classe (consecrated AD 549) six miles from town.  The apse offered a synopsis of Byzantine cosmology.  Apollinaris, the first bishop of Ravenna, stands facing the viewer, his arms raised, with palms up, in prayer against an intricate backdrop. A green field dotted with trees, rocks, and a few small birds and sheep in rows, lies below a gold sky with floating breadstick–like clouds and two half-archangels to either side of a jeweled cross within a star-filled orb, all below a tiny hand of God at the very apex.

The next morning, we took the bus back to Ravenna breakfastless. A raccoon, chewing through a cotton backpack, had eaten our breakfast peaches as we slumbered, leaving a gooey mess that I did not photograph. Traveling without a telephoto lens, I was hopeful that we would have a closer view of the mosaics in the smaller Mausoleum of Galla Placidia because the floor had been raised five feet from its 5th century level to protect it from rising Adriatic coast water.

We went first to the octagonal Church of San Vitale to see the mosaic panels of Justinian and Theodora in their official robes, crowns and jewels, offering bread and wine, respectively, for the Eucharist.  Like worshippers, we stood looking up at them, to the left and right of the windows below the mosaic-filled apse, engaged by the intense eyes of the weightless figures and rich colors set off against gold fields.  A large, youthful Christ on a blue orb flanked by two archangels, San Vitale and the founder of the church, Bishop Ecclesius, offering a model of the church, filled the conch. In the camera viewfinder, they looked small. The story continued over all the walls, the Lamb of God presiding in the apex of the center vault. I bought postcards.

At last we circled the brick exterior of blind arcades and entered into the ‘porch’ of the cruciform Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, now the admissions desk and gift shop. It was built in AD 425, on the south end of the narthex of a church, Santa Croce, which is no longer there.  Passing stacks of books and glossy postcards, we entered the chapel ready to be amazed. I was amazed. It didn’t look quite like the pictures, which focused on the mosaics. Not everything was illuminated and the lower half was covered with marble revetment. The light filtering through alabaster windowpanes was soft with a yellow cast. I walked around and my eyes adjusted. I could get closer to some of the mosaics and see the slight, tipping of tesserae to enhance the reflection of light. In the dome, golden asterisk stars circled, filling the space around a golden cross, the pattern adjusting to the increasing dome circumference.  Some visitors snapped pictures when a guard flipped some spotlights on and then off.   Again it took some time for my eyes to adjust.  Someone flicked a cigarette lighter and I could picture how the chapel would look lit by Byzantine lanterns.  Amazing, but impossible to photograph.  In one moment, the professional glossies seemed deceptive, somehow insufficient.  Abandoning my camera eye, I continued looking.

Instead of a picture from Galla Placida, here is a photograph taken in downtown Northampton, March 1971.  During a photo class critique, the professor decided that it was not a photograph, but maybe a snapshot, mostly because there is no focal element.  Nonetheless, it has a subject, everything recorded by a certain amount of light acting on film in the camera at the moment when the shutter was activated.  There is nothing dramatic, no element has more importance than any other but the image is not a random snapshot.  I had been walking, on the lookout for a photograph and almost had taken one or two that had not struck me as interesting. Suddenly this scene was interesting. I took the picture.  


vess_2016-02-08-author-imageClaudia Vess ’72 has used the Minolta 101 carried in Ravenna as a paperweight for many years because it needs repairs. She prefers to carry a lightweight digital camera (Cannon SX280HS or G1-X) to use in her work as an artist, gallerist, archivist and Alexander Technique teacher. She has worked in museums as a curatorial researcher and photo-archivist, in galleries and with community art organizations and exhibits globally. Her work is in private collections and a few museums too. (Smith ’72, American University, MFA ’76).


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The Importance of Intentional Smell

Last summer, through the Sustainable Food Concentration and funding from an International Experience Grant, I interned at the Spannocchia Foundation in Tuscany, Italy.  I was a tuttofare (literally, “do everything”) intern on the farm and primarily tended to the vineyard.  One of many incredible privileges my fellow interns and I experienced was a weekly education program— covering everything from pasta to my personal favorite: wine. Jessica, our education director, had carefully constructed a wine tasting in order to  expand our knowledge and appreciation for the seemingly infinite tastes of the wine world.

Jessica’s final words before we started smelling were, “And, remember, it’s just grapes.”

Shot glasses were on the table, but, instead of being filled with nocino or lemoncello, each shot glass had an object intentionally placed in it. One had a burnt match; another had fresh juniper; another had soap.  We were paired up and told that one partner would be blindfolded while the other partner chose which shot glass would be gingerly sniffed. As I went into this exercise, I thought, “These are all scents I have smelled many times. This will be easy.”  

I was incredibly surprised with how few scents I could detect, and, of those I could detect, how few I could accurately identify. Many scents were familiar, yet hard to place. Juniper was pine; soap was nothing; cinnamon was nutmeg. Smelling before tasting added an incredible depth to the experience.  We can taste sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (savory), but how can we further develop our palate?  Recognizing and identifying smells prior to tasting wine can help detect those flavors.  Wines can smell and taste woody, earthy, nutty, floral, fruity, or herbaceous.  Within those broader categories exist specific smells and flavors such as freshly cut grass, mold, diesel, asparagus, soy sauce, violet, coffee, oak, or… wet dog.  These smells we detect end up being the flavors we describe.

HaleyCrockett.Davis-Wine-Aroma-Wheel1When tasting superb wine, it is possible to detect differences in flavor year to year depending on how much sunlight the vines received, how much rainfall, whether there was a frost, and soil quality (there is even a French wine that requires a specific mold to grow on the grapes).

While in Italy, we were able to visit a biodynamic winery that did not amend their wines at all.  This is risky because not adding sulfites and other stabilizers could mean that a whole batch of wine is terrible one year. Sulfites are the main contributors to headaches and hangovers after drinking red wine. Biodynamic farming practices rely on only harvesting, trimming vines, and amending soil when the moon is in specific phases of its cycle.  Diversity in color, flavor, consistency, acidity, alcohol content, and sweetness is usually frowned upon in modern wines, but biodynamic farming embraces and strives for interesting differences.

In Italy, unimaginable care and pride goes into winemaking.  If you are privileged enough to taste excellent wines, you should mirror that commitment and artistry while tasting.  Jessica taught us that when tasting wine, first you must smell and then swirl the wine and examine the color.  Contrary to popular belief, this swirling has a purpose other than trying to impress your date.  Swirling the wine oxidizes it, bringing out the flavors. When tasting the wine, you want to makes sure to swirl it around your entire mouth.  While tasting the wine you should slowly suck in air to continue to oxidize it. Finally, try to determine which aromas and tastes you pick up from the wine. The mouthfeel of the wine is equally important: for example, if it makes your mouth feel dry, those are tannins at work! Tannins exist in the skin of grapes, and since the skins are left on in the process of making red wine, red wines are often much more tannic than white wines. This all looks ridiculous, but embrace it.

While it is important to appreciate handcrafted wine, few of us have had this experience. I like to remember that inexpensive table wines also have value in bringing people together. Some of my favorite memories at Smith occurred when sitting in my room with a bottle of cheap wine talking about “the big issues” with my friends in Lamont. Wine brings people together, and it does not have to be of the highest quality in order to spark memories and create new ones. I find myself very present when I am drinking wine in a group, yet there is something comfortingly familiar with the experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the science and art behind wine. Remember, it is just grapes.


Haley Crockett- JVTFHaley Crockett graduated from Smith in 2015 with a Major in American Studies and a Minor in Sustainable Food. She is currently a fellow at Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham, Alabama. She works in a middle school where she teaches sixth, seventh, and eighth graders about food and nutrition using a school garden. Her major interests in global issues revolve around food justice and sustainable practices.


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The Pistoiese Pedagogy of “Buon Gusto”

“‘Lo spazio esprime valori, pensieri, ha un suo linguaggio silenzioso.’” [1]Space expresses values, thoughts, and has its own silent language.

While studying abroad in Florence, Italy, I interned as a teaching assistant for an early childhood education center in Pistoia. I cared for children aged 4 to 18 months. I helped them in the beginning stages of language acquisition and acted as a role model for positive social behaviors. 

As I reflect on my experiences in Italy, I am still moved by the principles I learned, particularly the notion of la pedagogia di buon gusto, “the pedagogy of good taste.”  The Italian expression buon gusto refers to good taste in all aspects of life, from fashion to decor. Being courteous, being a great cook, and making a good impression at a meeting or a dinner party also exemplify buon gusto, as does the Pistoiese approach to early childhood education. The notion of buon gusto is what makes the Pistoiese approach to early education stand out from the rest. The pedagogy of buon gusto is part of a Pistoiese teacher’s service of providing for the harmonious development of children. Students have a need for beauty, as well as a right to it. The attention to aesthetics is also a very Italian way of being and doing.  “This special care for the look of the environment and for living space …. with the design of spaces that encourage social interaction, are essential elements of Italian culture ” [2]. The teacher honors a child’s right for beauty in their care and choice of materials. All schools make their own culture and possess a unique essence, which is influenced by philosophical, political, spiritual, and moral forces.  

@Michaela Chinn
Newcomers are asked to make their own chain from everyday materials such as bolts, wires, and jewelry, and to write a message. Once the chain is hung, they are welcomed into the school community.

Pistoia’s strong emphasis on community engagement is reflected in its school systems. An attention to aesthetic is part of a Pistoiese teacher’s service.


School is a place where  children begin to formulate their understanding of the world. So, it is very important that they feel a sense of security and freedom to move in an environment that is not home. Pistoiese teachers understand the importance of the classroom as a learning instrument, and they orchestrate this space in a way that provides the children with the comfort to explore. In the Pistoiese model, the learning environment is cited as a third teacher– after adults and children.

The first observation visitors would make upon entering the classroom in which I worked at Il Lago Mago would be the friendly and tranquil energy of the space. Plants are interspersed  among the many books on tiny bookshelves, low enough for the students to grab their own books. Documentation of students’ play or work (play is work), as well as their photos and quotes of their own words decorate  the walls around the room.  Visitors notice the organization of the environment and how it evokes a sense of order, harmony, and tranquility. There is minimal plastic. Instead, there  are musical instruments, wooden building blocks, items to play pretend house, books, and old cellphones. The predominant colors of orange, green and yellow instead of black, red and white is no coincidence:

I visi famosi (le aree bambini):   This is one of the games for children; these large blocks put over the head; children can be Jaxon Pollock, Andy Warhol, or another famous face. There is a balance of imagination but also representations of real people.   @Michaela Chinn
One of the games for children with large blocks that they can put over their head to be Jackson Pollock, Rousseau, Andy Warhol, or another famous person.

These colors energize but also calm the spirit.  The natural light from the large windows does not have a draining effect like artificial ones and saves money for the schools. In the corners of rooms children can play away from the watchful eyes of adults. The beauty of this classroom design is that children are encouraged to choose the space that best suits their type of play, whether it be alone, with another child, or in a big group. The large windows in the corners of the room are low enough for the children to look out beyond the classroom, giving them visual access to the outside world. Children can sit with others or by themselves, watching the leaves fall from the trees. They can watch and wave to the people walking their dogs in Park Puccini. Thus, the children are not hidden behind the walls of the school, but rather can participate in the surrounding community.  Visitors might also notice the soft pillows around the school, and how elements like these encourage the teachers and students to relax and sit comfortably together while reading stories.

The Italian Lunch    

When it comes to their food philosophy, Italians emphasize variety and the use of local produce in making healthy creations that still satisfy the tastebuds.  Everyday in my school, teachers and students sat together for their meal. A beautiful table cloth was placed on the table.  Actual utensils and glass cups, not of plastic, were given to students. The one-hour lunch at school followed the same sequential plate order the Italian children follow at home (first course, main course, side dish, something sweet, and then, coffee for the teachers). The staples of bread and olive oil were always present. In all early childhood centers in Italy, the children are fed hot delicious meals from their on-site kitchen. The children know the cook of their school very well because she frequently visits them during meal times to see if her food is popular. Lunch is a very important ritual where Italian traditions are preserved and learned. The children begin to construct a bond between appreciating  food, learning not to waste, and only taking what they need to satisfy their hunger. They internalize the standards they learn, which follow them throughout their lives.

I was given a unique opportunity to reflect on a country’s investment in its future generation and also compare and reflect upon my own early childhood education experience in the U.S. with that of the Pistoiese pedagogical philosophy in Italy.  What are the desired societal and adult outcomes?  For Italians, the preparation of life as a citizen begins in early childhood education centers for these children.  Might applying this philosophy of buon gusto in our American schools guide our own children to become engaged citizens?

[1]  A.L. Galardini (2003, p. 49) qtd in T. Terlizzi (2013), “Il pranzo all’asilo nido: tra alimentazione e convivialità ” in E. Catarsi e E. Freschi, (2013) Le attivitá di Cura nel Nido d’infanzia  (pp.57- 76). Parma, Italia: Edizioni Junior. pp. 62.
[2]  L. Gandini (1998), “Gli Spazi Educazionale e Curati”, in C. Edwards et al.  I Cento Linguaggi dei bambini [100 Languages of Children] (pp. 161-178).  London, UK: Ablex Publishing. pp. 168.


Michaela Chinn PhotoMichaela aims to be an international instructor and impart knowledge for her students’ lifelong learning. She hopes to teach global values and global topics in her classrooms, so that her students are prepared to be conscientious citizens of the world. Michaela’s next international experience will be teaching women’s reproductive health in India in J-term 2016.

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Via della Pace

Looking at this photograph, you might notice well dressed people hanging out at sidewalk cafés, old ochre-colored buildings covered in ivy, cars parked on the cobblestones, and the marble portico of a church at the end of the street. I look at this photograph and I remember making a decision that would change the course of my life.

I was in Rome for the first time, staying in a tiny rented apartment in a narrow street behind Piazza Navona. There was an Italian moka pot—the kind you put on the stove to make espresso—but I didn’t know how to use it, so I went down to the Caffè della Pace for a cappuccino in the morning.

I could tell the place was special, though I didn’t know its history at the time. I know now that the Caffè della Pace is where Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola take their coffee when they’re in Rome. Today it’s about the closest you can get to La Dolce Vita . The café has been around since the 1800s, and it looks the part—all mahogany and marble with sculpted nymphs and an antique cash register. In the summer, they keep the windows and doors open, and patrons sit under white umbrellas outside, drinking espresso in the morning, or Prosecco and Campari in the evening.

Rome in July is always hot, but the heat is not what I remember. Roman heat weighs you down, but I recall feeling light and unburdened that day. I visited the Caffè della Pace many times after I went for that first cappuccino, so I don’t remember what time of day it was when I took the photograph, but I remember how I felt. It was a strange and beautiful feeling, as if I were dreaming. Or maybe the passage of time makes it appear to me as a dream.

The way I remember it, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I breathed in the Mediterranean air, looking at the beautiful people dressed in white and listening to them speak. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but when they spoke Italian, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a series of little operas. I looked around at the marble tables on the terrace of the Caffè della Pace, the ivy-covered buildings on either side of the street, and at the end, the pristine white portico of the church of Santa Maria della Pace. I remember stopping to take this photograph and thinking, I just have to learn this language and come back here to live.

And that was that. My decision was made. I had to learn Italian and live in Rome, no matter what.

I was twenty years old, and had just completed a rather formative year of study in Paris, where I felt I was becoming the person I wanted to be: smart, confident, and poised. I was not intimidated by a little challenge like learning a new language and carving out a place for myself in a foreign country. I had done it once, I could do it again.

Yet, this line of thinking would have been unimaginable before that year in Paris. There, I was faced with the task of reconciling the world’s expectations of me with my own desires. I began to build my identity by noticing little things about myself. For the first time, I acted capriciously instead of planning things out. I learned that I am a person who likes the freedom to act on a whim; who enjoys nursing a café au lait while sitting at a café writing in a journal; who can’t stand feeling rushed; who chooses rather arbitrarily which placards to read in art museums; who sometimes daydreams elaborate scenarios and entire conversations; who decides to do something and stubbornly keeps at it. Eventually, the little things added up to a complete picture.

A year later, I was back in the Eternal City with the intention of staying as long as I possibly could. I stayed for two years, and though I never managed to find another apartment near Piazza Navona, I visited the Caffè della Pace often. Now, the street bears many memories, but none of them would have been possible without the first.


Photo © Laura Itzkowitz. All rights reserved.

Laura Itzkowitz headshot 2 by Melissa Itzkowitz

Laura Itzkowitz is a New York City-based writer and Research Assistant at Travel + Leisure. She spent her junior year on Smith’s Paris program and lived in Rome for two years after graduating. She holds  a BA in French from Smith and an MFA in creative writing & translation from Columbia. She is a contributing editor at Untapped Cities, and her writing has appeared on Fodor’s Travel, Mic, Architizer, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Words Without Borders, and others. She was named a New York expert blogger by Time Out New York and one of the Top 20 NYC bloggers by Hotel Club. She serves on the editorial board of Global Impressions as Alumna Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @lauraitzkowitz.

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