Italian Hot Springing

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As tricky as I have found it in Italy to satisfy my raw organic snack cravings, down shots of wheatgrass juice, or locate bikram yoga studios within walking distance from my home- the word “benessere” (well-being) is anything but foreign to Italians. The difference, from what I have come to understand, is that Italians have a holistic yet sporadic approach to benessere. As opposed to what I consider well-being: a lifestyle, 24-7, 365, non-stop mentality and habits… the Italians I know look at the business of well-being as dedicating a week here and a week there to fortify mind, body, and/or soul- then back to the grind (and gluten, cigarettes and brunello) until the next time.

And with this approach, I have become familiar with the plentiful hot-springs hotels, spas and agriturismos spread throughout the various regions of Italy. Of course, the idea of public bathing is anything but modern… when it comes to Italians.

Bathing in public played a major role in ancient Roman culture in many levels of society. Today, Italians are said to seal business deals “alla tavola,” seated around grand tables in bustling restaurants for major meals. In ancient Rome, however, business was done while bathing. And not only business- the Roman baths were utilized for purposes of courtship, relaxation and health. According to some sources- sacred pools were blessed by the gods to cure disease. Well, bring on the sulphuric swimming!

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised the first time I spent a weekend at one of the many hot springs scattered throughout Italy to find men and women of varying ages and provenances all convening for a dip in vast natural bathtubs. From the northern region of Lombardy, down to the southernmost point of Sicily- one has the possibility of dipping their toes (and other body parts) into wild hot springs, natural pools, and thermal parks.

A large portion of the natural hot springs throughout Italy have been exploited by luxury hotels, boasting anything from spas to golf courses- but (fortunately for us) steaming water charged with mineral salts, bubbling up from the earth’s crust is plentiful in this country…thus, for the frugal traveler, an abundance of gratis thermal baths can be unearthed with ease. And truth be told, hot spring water is hot spring water– whether you are paying 500 Euro a night or happen to take a dip for free.

Now, hot-springing is not for the faint of heart. Literally: “please be aware that extreme geothermal temperatures can be exceedingly hazardous in combination with physical conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.” And figuratively: Let’s be honest here, running back and forth between different pools, fountains, torrents (both natural and not), choosing the most comfortable underwater lounge chair or best positioned jet…while dodging bits of floating algae, “don’t worry it’s naturally plant based,” and risking smelling of rotten eggs for weeks, skirting wrinkled senior citizens rolling around in mud as their nurses hold their shower-capped heads out of the gunk, while praying that the large chunk of slimy brown stuff floating dangerously close to your face is pond scum and not what you think it is, then you are in business!

I remember my first visit to a thermal spa. The valet opened the car door for me and even before I set foot on the ground, the stench hit me. Without missing a beat, the kind gentleman responded to the fear in my eyes crinkled nose by telling me that, “ci si abitua” (you get used to it). And get used to it, I did. Once I let my guard down (and began breathing through my mouth), I actually began enjoying the experience of thermal bathing. Consequently, throughout the duration of my time here in Italy, I have spent a number of weekends traipsing through medicinal mud and lowering myself into therapeutic waters in order to cleanse my body (in hopes of maybe one day cleansing my soul).

Italy’s hot springs are soothing, rejuvenating, and fortifying. Most sites are located near pleasant little villages boasting terrific rustic restaurants (if you don’t get pulled into the prix-fixe tourist traps) and relaxing atmospheres. And despite fact that your fingers will resemble raisins for the duration of your visit, the hot springs can be quite romantic as a weekend getaway.

Below is a list of the four hot springs I have visited thus far in Italy. These destinations were discovered through friends and fellow travelers, magazines articles, and travel site reviews. And as objective as I have attempted to remain in my sentiments, please keep in mind that my experiences (like all experiences) have been mildly altered by weather, state of mine, and mostly- the people with whom I shared my thermal encounters.

Bagno Vignoni. Tuscany. Above Val d’Orca.

A bit to the east of Montalcino, Bagno Vignoni is a small village whose thermal waters were valued and frequented by both the Etruscans and Romans. From the 12th to the 13th centuries, Bagno Vignoni became a destination for Christian pilgrims traveling to Rome. The healing waters of Bagno Vignoni have been bubbling to the surface for thousands of years and the miniscule village is a typically magical Tuscan community, comprising great wine, food and that oh-so-very-famous Tuscan sun.

A group of friends and I spent the day at Hotel Adler Thermae: http://www.adler-thermae.com/en/

In short: Beautiful structure, decent massage, great baths and spa facilities. Luxurious, pricey and well worth a visit. The actual waters of the baths are not the highest quality, compared to other hot springs found throughout Italy but the service is excellent and the surroundings can’t be beat.

Saturnia. Southern Tuscany, Province of Grosetto.

Close to the village of Saturnia, 800 litres (per second) of sulphurous water at 37 degrees celcius pours into a cascade of natural pools formed by calcareous rock deposits. The waters of Saturnia are known for their therapeutic properties and have a chemical make-up of sulfur, carbon, sulfate, bicarbonate-alkaline, earth, hydrogen sulfide gas and carbon dioxide. Each liter of water contains nearly three grams of dissolved minerals. There are a few different facilities found in Saturnia in which one can enjoy the thermal springs. Depending on budget and time, choices range from the famed luxury resort to the thermal waterfalls of either Mill Falls (located at an old mill) or the Waterfalls of Gorello. I recently stayed at the Le Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Resort http://www.termedisaturnia.it/en/ for a romantic weekend getaway with the hubby.

Positives: very close driving distance from Rome, high quality waters, some of the best spa treatments around. Negatives: STRONG sulphur smell, incredibly expensive, very few healthy choices on the lunch/bar menu. In short: it was a rejuvenating and much-needed romantic few days away. We will go back. (*note: Don’t listen to the concierge’s restaurant suggestions. I Due Cippi in Saturnia came highly recommended and was terrible service and terrible food at a terrible price. On the other hand, we loved everything about our dinner at La Posta in Catabbio. Order the Pici all’Agliata.)

Sorano

Sorano is another town in the province of Grosseto. It is an ancient medieval hill town positioned over the Lente River. Sorano is commonly referred to as a “citta del tufo” (city of volcanic tufa) because it was founded on a base of the sedimentary rocks of volcanic origin. The Sorano thermal springs are positioned only a few kilometers from the village of Sorano (and those of Pitigliano, Sovana and Scansano as well).

I stayed at the Terme di Sorano Residence http://www.termedisorano.it with a large group of friends (small children included) for an extended weekend. The facilities were pretty basic and the hot springs were so-so. The place is a bit dated, but it served its purpose. The driving distance from Rome is convenient and the location is great for exploring the surrounding villages. All in all, it’s a humble little residence with nice pools and reasonable prices. (*note: We went horseback riding on a beautiful trail by the stables located almost next door to the hotel. The reception will be happy to set up the excursion).

Colà. Lombardy, right next to Lake Garda.

The thermal baths of Colà are found just off the Lake Garda. The grounds in which the hot springs are located are surrounded by cypress and beech trees in the Villa dei Cedri park: http://www.villadeicedri.it/en/

It is quiet and serene. The park includes pools (lakes) of different sizes, jets and a grotto. I only spent an evening in the hot springs of Villa dei Cedri (next time I hope to spend at least a weekend at the villa, taking advantage of not just the thermal springs, but the spa and wellness center as well). The few hours I did spend there were fantastic… the pools are open until 1 am and the lighting creates an idealistic, almost enchanted atmosphere, while the thermal waters do their healing and rejuvenating jobs. (*note: two wonderful nearby towns worth visiting are Lazise and Bardolino).

And the following is a list of the next four Italian hot “springs” spots I hope to visit in Italy:

Sorgeto, Ischia http://www.terme-ischia.it/sorgeto-ischia.htm

Fosso Bianco, Bagni San Filippo. Tuscany http://www.bagnisanfilippoterme.it/Fosso%20Bianco.html

Bagni Nuovi, Bormeo. Lombardy http://www.bagnidibormio.it/en/

Laghetto di Fanghi, The Volcanic Mud Baths of Sicily http://www.travelviaitaly.com/vulcano-therapeutic-thermal-springs-and-mud-baths/

As always, I’m open to any further recommendations or pointers. In the meantime, happy dipping!

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Rome Recs (restructured)

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Two years ago, I published a post entitled “Three Days in Rome,” highlighting my favorite haunts and hangouts in this wonderful city that I happen to call home. Shortcut here: https://morganinrome.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/three-days-in-rome/

Italy is a country that although is not unchanging, is slow to alter or transform itself. The customs, the places, the people. Italians hold tradition close to their hearts and therefore, are less willing to let go of certain practices and conventions than other cultures. This is not necessarily a negative aspect of the country- some things should never change. And here, some things never do. A large number of several of the most notable establishments- hotels, restaurants, institutions, organizations, shops, cafes and businesses- have been in existence for longer than I have been here on this earth, to say the least.

I now write my newest recommendations with two more years of discovery, two years of meeting new people and evaluating new places. And although many of the establishments here in Rome have stayed exactly the same, I, on the other hand, have changed. Groups of friends have swapped or been replaced, my tastes and preferences have transformed- my scope has widened and my palette has expanded.

Therefore, I thought it was a good time to overhaul my list of recommendations in order to include some of my new favorites- some of which have recently made it to the scene here in Rome and many others that have been here all along- just waiting for me to discover them.

For Breakfast:

Italians don’t really “do” breakfast. They do coffee. And they do cornetti (the Italian version of a croissant, yet lacking the buttery flakiness of the French species- more like sweetened bread, rolled into the shape of a croissant).

In any case…check out any or all of the below cafés for a great shot of espresso or warm cappuccino.

Cafés:

  • Ciampini In piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina- one of my favorite Roman piazzas for a coffee or shopping. The piazza boasts stores ranging from Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Louboutin and CarShoes, to Bonpoint, Nespresso and YSL. http://www.ciampini.com/en/
  • Tazza D’oro A classic roman coffee shop- good coffee, good atmosphere, central location. http://www.tazzadorocoffeeshop.com
  • Rosati Great for people watching, right in Piazza del Popolo… and their chocolate muffins are really good when fresh. http://www.barrosati.com
  • Sant’Eustachio Probably the best coffee in all of Rome- and a café with a history almost as rich as its roast. http://www.santeustachioilcaffe.it

As I mentioned in an earlier post, during my pregnancy I was only interested in eating “American food.” i.e. mostly crap. But I did come across three establishments well versed in satiating my demands for bagels and cream cheese, buttermilk pancakes with sugary syrup and a variety of omelets accompanied by large mugs of American coffee (also known as watered down espresso).

So if this is what you are looking for, either stick to breakfast in your hotel or go to

  • The Perfect Bun. Brunch only on Saturdays and Sundays. Exciting bustling atmosphere, buffet-style American brunch with more choices than you know what to do with. http://www.theperfectbun.it/Risto/
  • The Bakery House. I don’t love the area but it’s a sweet little café with everything from croissant sandwiches and bagels to cupcakes and Red Velvet Cake by the slice. And btw, THEY DELIVER! http://www.bakeryhouse.it
  • Haus Garten Bagel Bar. It’s in Piazza Monte Grappa, which not really my area. But the bagels are great, the place is cute, and it’s worth a shot if your looking for something other than bready croissants and double espresso’s after a long night of drinking. http://www.hausgarten.it

Otherwise, you could go the British route and grab a seat at Babbington’s, right next to the Spanish Steps for (delicious yet incredibly overpriced) scones, eggs, sausages, and some of the best baked goods in the city center. It’s also a tea shop. http://www.babingtons.com

Aperitivi (pre-dinner drinks and snacks)

  • Hotel Rafael– a hotel around the corner from Piazza Navona with one of the best views of Rome from the rooftop terrace. Not to be missed. http://www.raphaelhotel.com/the-terrace-raphael-hotel-in-rome.htm
  • Hotel Locarno– A charming hotel situated behind Piazza del Popolo with a nice aperitivo scene. Good drinks, decent food (mostly fried, but does the trick), chic crowd and central location. http://www.hotellocarno.com
  • D.O.M. Hotel Roma– Now, before I go into a long description of the abundant positive attributes of this hotel, bar, and restaurant- let me preface this by saying that I am 100%, unequivocally, completely biased. DOM is my husband’s hotel and therefore- it is extremely close to my heart. At the same time, being as objective as humanly possible, it is one of the coolest new spots in Rome and DEFINITELY worth a visit (and it’s not just me saying that- Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and numerous other international publications agree as well). Here’s the site: http://domhotelroma.com

Restaurants:

Most places on my list are typical Roman Trattorias, being that I often experiment in my own kitchen with raw, vegan, organic stuff… because when I do go out, which is about four times a week, I like to stuff my face with with great pasta, yummy wine, and all the fixings for a deliciously satisfying characteristically Italian meal. Below is a disorderly, yet meticulously tested- tried and true list of what I consider to be the best dining establishments in Rome.

  • Da Pietro. Neighborhood favorite. Very busy, friendly and familiar. Great pasta, great meat, and Pietrino (the owner)’s mom makes all the desserts fresh- try the cherry crostata. http://www.hostariadapietro.com
  • Dal Toscano. Another much-loved local preference- the restaurant is located a bit outside of the city center in Prati, but all Romans know it for its delicious food. I normally order an insalata di ovuli (when in season) fagioli all’uccelletto, and Pici all’aglione. http://www.ristorantedaltoscano.it
  • Matricianella. Still, after all of these years, my most beloved trattoria in Rome. Order everything. http://www.matricianella.it
  • Caminetto. Again, a bit outside the historic center but great food, always busy, large and very very “Roman.” They have a great appetizer- caprese calda. http://www.caminettoroma.com
  • Da Francesco. Right in the noisy and exciting Piazza del Fico, next to the famous/infamous bar del Fico but with better food. Good pizza, heaping platters of pasta, and pretty much anything else your heart desires when in Rome. http://www.dafrancesco.it
  • Roscioli. The best food in Rome. Possibly the best food in all of Italy. Hands down. (Three fundamental rules for eating at Roscioli: make reservations way in advance, don’t get upset if the wait staff treats you like shit – it’s just the way it is, and order the burrata.) http://www.salumeriaroscioli.com
  • La Gensola. Great little restaurant in Trastevere. Hidden gem with delectable food and warm atmosphere. http://www.osterialagensola.it
  • La Barchetta Warm atmosphere in winter, decent to good food, great wine list, fantastic desserts that they bring in multiple jars to the table….don’t go there if you don’t plan to over-do it on the sugar. They don’t have a site. Google it.
  • Maccheroni. Just really good pasta. http://www.ristorantemaccheroni.com

For more of a scene:

  • Casa Copelle. New hot-spot designed by the same guy who did Hôtel Costes in Paris. Food is pretty good but most people go more for the atmosphere than for the flavor. http://www.casacoppelle.it
  • The Deer Club @ D.O.M. Hotel Roma. Obviously. http://domhotelroma.com
  • Oliver Glowig. Inside the Aldrovandi hotel, Villa Borghese. Two Michelin stars. Great take on a fusion of Italian tradition and culinary art. http://www.oliverglowig.com

For seafood:

  • La Rosetta– famous chef Massimo Riccioli’s restaurant with ridiculously fresh fish, oysters all year round (and if I may add, as a vegetarian and friend of Massimo’s- he makes an excellent plate of pasta as well!) http://www.larosetta.com
  • Pierluigi. Terrific ambiance, request a table in the piazza if it warm enough to eat outside. Tasty food- from carpaccio and catalana to a selection of pastas. And the restaurant is never, ever empty…good cocktail bar as well. http://www.pierluigi.it/index.php?lang=en
  • Assunta Madre. Hip crowd, cool atmosphere, tons and tons of fish- cooked and raw, in pasta and not, good wine list, recently opened in Mayfair in London, which has to say somethinghttp://www.assuntamadre.com

Pizza:

I still stand by my long-time favorite Pizzeria Gusto http://www.gusto.it However, I have recently discovered Bonci Pizzarium. And this discovery changed my life. I only regret that it took me this long to acquaint myself with Mr. Bonci. So…Bonci is this tiny, ugly, pizza-by-the-slice, with no seating, out of the way place. But it is soooo yummy. Being that there is no seating and it is not really in an area I like to frequent- when the “Bonci mood” strikes, we generally hop on the motorino, take a whirl around the Vatican, park outside of the pizzarium, wait about 30 minutes in line, then buy out all the marinara and margherita pizza to the chagrin of the customers awaiting their turn behind us…wrap it up in boxes and fly home to sit on the couch watching either True Detective or House of Cards on demand and stuffing ourselves with Bonci’s exceptional pizza. Now, just to be clear- Bonci’s pizza is one of those things I would put on my “stuck on a deserted island and only have one thing to eat” or “last meal” lists. Do. Not. Come. To. Rome. And. Miss. Bonci. http://www.gbonci.it

To see and to do:

My most recent forays into roman tourism have come in the form of exceedingly lengthy walks. Since the birth of my child, I no longer have the desire to run around, I barely ever get the chance to breeze through the shops on Via Condotti during the random shopping sprees of old, or jump from one location to the next whether on business meetings or pleasure. So…what do I do? I walk. Slowly. Pushing a baby carriage with one arm, pulling on the leash of my large disobedient dog with the other- and still, after five years, I continue to marvel at one of the richest cities (in terms of beauty, architecture and history) and its jewels.

Walking Itineraries:

  1. Piazza del Campidoglio to the Fori Imperiali (imperial forums), Coloseum, arch of Constantine, Palatine Hill, and finally ending up at the Pantheon.
  2. The trifecta: Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) to Piazza Navona to the Trevi Fountain.
  3. Villa Borghese and Piazza del Popolo to Campo de’ Fiori and finally making the way across the river to Trastevere.
  4. Jewish ghetto to Trastevere: Largo di Torre Argentina, Piazza Mattei, Portico d’Ottavia, The Synagogue, Isola Tiberina (the small island in the middle of the Tiber), and finally Trastevere.
  5. Trastevere walk: Ponte Sisto, Piazza Trilussa, Porta Settimiana, Villa Farnesina, Palazzo Corsini (rich with art ranging from Titian to Caravaggio) to the Orto Botanico…botanical garden (even though I am not a fan of gardens, this one is pretty great) and finally Santa Maria in Trastevere. You can also simply lose yourself in the maze of small streets in the heart of Trastevere.
  6. Piazza San Pietro, Basilica di San Pietro, the Vatican Museums (if you have interest and/or time), to Castel Sant’Angelo and finally to ponte Sant’Angelo. When you are done, take a stroll along the Tiber…in either direction.
  7. This walk starts at Via Giulia but can be a continuation from Castel Sant’Angelo, depending on energy levels and light in the sky: Via Giulia, Florentine Church, Palazzo Sacchetti and Chiesa di San Biagio, Oratorio del Gonfalone, Palazzo Ricci, Palazzo Farnese and finally to Campo de’ Fiori, which has a great market if you make it there early enough in the day.

*of course, each of these itineraries is filled with historically important facades, palazzi, monuments and works of art. It would take me far to long to include everything of note in this post so my best advice is to purchase a guidebook, research any of the plentiful online resources, or do as I do: walk, stare, gape, marvel, and once in a while snap a picture or write down a street name in order to later figure out what it is you were admiring. Remember, there is no right way and there is no wrong way to experience the eternal city.

Now, I do have one final important point to make. In my original “Three Days in Rome” post, I mentioned that Rome is “almost as good as Paris” when referring to evening walks along the river. Now, however, after another two good years in this city, seeing it through different eyes – the eyes of my baby girl- innocent and fresh… I would like to rescind my earlier opinion and clearly state that Rome, is in fact, way better than Paris. 😉 Enjoy.

Babies. Before and After.

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I knew that having a child would change almost everything about life as I knew it- and there are a million explanations as to “why”…with the catalog of reasons lengthening each day. I spent 33 years and 21 days (to be exact) childless- fulfilling the role of daughter, granddaughter, friend, lover, confidant, student, sister…and later entrepreneur, boss, and wife. I am only in the seventh month of a role that will be with me forever…that of “mother”… and the differences between “pre” and “post” are astonishing. Below are just a few. 5 things one enjoys before having babies.

  1. Spontaneous weekend trips. Packing a small bag, stopping by the bookstore for a new Lonely Planet and piling into the car (or hopping onto an airplane) in search of something new- new wonders, new cultures, new emotions.
  2. Watching the sunrise after a long night of frivolous behavior: those extended crazy hours of partying with friends…knowing that you can spend the entire next day lazing around in bed, eating junk food, and watching terrible romantic comedies. And 2a: Sleeping in. Truth be told- I am incredibly fortunate and currently have a live-in nanny who in theory, would allow me to sleep as long as I want. However, hearing that little voice- whether it’s laughing or crying, motivates me each morning to throw myself out of bed, toss on some clothes and grab that tiny little body to smother with kisses.
  3. Making long-term plans. Everyday is a new discovery. I didn’t know what pregnancy would be like, how painful giving birth could be (although I had my doubts), or what limits would arise with having a newborn in my care. Now I do. However, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what it is like to have a 1 year old, or a toddler, or a 5 year old. I don’t know what it will be like- what the limits and difficulties will be. And therefore, I cannot even begin to envision my life a month from now, a year, 10 years. I can’t plan anything if I can’t even imagine the world I will inhabit.
  4. Selfishness. I had always believed that having children, for the most part, is a somewhat selfish act. Why do we procreate? To create a living legacy for ourselves- for our lineage to continue once we are dead and gone. Or we have children so that in old age, we will have someone to look after us- to keep us company. We have children to validate ourselves…to prove to the world “look what I made!” Yet the only thing we want for them is their own happiness- and that happiness and health comes at a cost. I have always lived selfishly- I am the first to admit it. But now, there is someone else who comes first. And from the moment I found out that I was pregnant, her well-being has come at the cost of my own comfort- my own pleasures. I will never go to sleep at night thinking only of myself again. Everything is for my child.
  5. Extreme sports. Maybe I have become, overnight, one of those anxiety-ridden crazy mothers- and maybe it is just a phase…but I don’t think I will ever again throw myself out of a plane, attempt to icepick my way up a glacier, or scuba dive a deep wreck or tricky cave at night- for fear of never coming up. I think that the only thing worse than dying would be leaving my daughter in the world without her mother. This, in itself, has become my greatest concern.

But it’s not all bad. No, it’s not all bad at all. There are certain things about having children that one learns only once the deed is done. And there are things that I experience now, everyday, that bring light to my life- and illuminate even the darkest hours. Each day I am learning more about being a mother- both the good and the bad…I am less than a year on the job, but there are certain things I couldn’t imagine living without. Five reasons to get up in the morning once becoming a mother:

  1. That new baby smell. Scientifically, babies give off pheromones that are meant to have their mothers fall in love with them. Furthermore, researches have proven that the brains of new mothers are more responsive to the scent of babies. Whether it is science or simply the soap I use for her baths, there is this “baby smell” that all mothers know and love- and it’s this intoxicating scent emanating from the top of their heads to their very last toe that is better than anything in the world.
  2. That smile. As I have mentioned, I have never been a lover of babies. And don’t get me wrong, having one of my own hasn’t changed this fact- however, it does make one look at babies and enjoy their particulars. The moment when the corners of my child’s mouth turn up and she bares her toothless gums, her eyes sparkling with joy, and she bounces on her little tush out of excitement- I feel as though I have just won an Olympic gold medal. It’s like an accomplishment. Her very happiness is my greatest achievement. (Let us not forget the laughter of babies…it’s like the voices of a thousand angels singing).
  3. Dreaming. For her. I used to daydream about all the places I would see- the far corners of the earth I would discover with my journal, camera and IPod in hand. I dreamt about the people I would meet and the sights I would see. Now I dream of my daughter’s future. I dream of her “firsts.” Her first words, where she is finally able to express herself, her first movie, her first bite of pizza, the first time we make a mess in the kitchen baking cookies together, her first Halloween trick-or-treating (I am aware that I will have to bring her to America for this one), her first ride on “It’s a Small World” at Disneyworld. I dream of the first time she falls in love, the first time she wins Color War at sleepaway camp, her first sleepover with her first best friend. This new phase of my life begins, that of motherhood- in parallel with her very life. And as tough as life can be sometimes- I hope and plan to provide as many joys as possible for my little girl- giving her many firsts filled with all the happiness that this world has to offer.
  4. Innocence. The more we see, the longer we live, and the more people we encounter- the more disappointments we become privy to. With disappointment comes cynicism. I don’t know exactly when it happened but there came a point when I stopped looking at the world through the eyes of an excited child and I started seeing things with a veil of skepticism. This distrust- this suspicion is the product of a number of defeats and failures. It is the product of a loved-one disappearing in a moment of need or a trusted friend betraying your faith. And this loss of innocence sometimes makes life unbearable. However, now that I have a child…I have gained a bit of that innocence back. I am starting to see the world through her eyes- where everything is new; everything is beautiful- she has yet to learn about cruelty or malice. Where I saw unkindness- she sees consideration. Where I saw spite, she sees reinforcement. And she is helping me learn to see the gentler side of things. She is teaching me innocence.
  5. Watching my baby sleep. It has been said that a sleeping baby is the most calming sight in the world. And how true it is. On those rare nights I place my sleeping daughter next to me in my large bed, I barely sleep. I lay awake watching her tiny chest rise and fall as a smile spreads across her lips. I wonder what she is dreaming about. I touch her little hands and her warm head and let her fingers methodically and automatically wrap around my own. I could stay awake all night like this, allowing her warmth to stave off my sleepiness.

And it is with these gifts that my daughter has bestowed upon me- her smell, her smile, her innocence and all the possibilities of her future- that I am slowly letting go of the past… and surprisingly doing what I have always tried in vain to do- thoroughly enjoying the present.

Rome- California Style

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“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.” –Woody Allen

Rome has been considered, on many levels, one of the most hedonistic cities in the world. Just take a look at the latter part of the Roman Empire. Hedonism, as defined, is “the school of thought that argues that pleasure is the most important intrinsic good.” In other words, hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure- and to be honest, I moved to Rome in exactly that: the pursuit of pleasure. Needless to say, I found what I was looking for. My life in Rome, for the last five years, has been a decadently self-indulgent feast of delights.

Rome is thrilling- it’s exciting. It is beautiful and delicious…a city just begging to be devoured. The food is exquisite- refined and satisfying. Campari cocktails on a rooftop garden on a warm summer evening can be better than sex, and what is more gratifying than a plate of Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe and a bottle of Barolo in a quaint trattoria on a winter’s eve? An unbridled pleasure exists in simply walking around Rome for even half a day- winding through crowded vicolettos, between Bernini fountains and Michelangelo masterpieces. Significant art is abundant, history is rich and passion is profuse. In Rome, beauty abounds…and so does the cigarette smoke. Which brings me to my next point.

Life, in Italy, is about enjoying the moment. Which is great. However, enjoying the moment doesn’t necessarily mean living to see “tomorrow.” Therefore, after a number of years living in an unadulterated hedonistic fashion (of which I regret not a single moment), I decided to take a step back, read a few books, and reconsider a number of the choices I was making when it came to what I was (and was not) putting into my body. And as my research concludes, I was doing a pretty good job at treating my body like a trashcan, as opposed to a temple. Then my daughter was born, my life and priorities were turned upside-down (or right side up?) and it was then that I knew some major changes had to be made.

I have been a vegetarian since I was about three and suffice it to say that there has always been something inherently granola-y about me. Therefore, I took it upon myself to consult some of my fellow tree-hugging friends (mainly located in California) and embarked upon my most recent adventure: super-juicing, alkaline eating, ecologically friendly household product buying, seed sprouting, organic farming, raw nut milk making, homeopathic, pH mania.

I know this seems extreme, and it probably is. However, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that “green living” is nearly as addictive as MSG, aspartame, caffeine, additives, flavor enhancers and genetically engineered food products. With the expansion of knowledge and heightening of awareness, it has become increasingly evident that the “dolce vita” doesn’t really go hand-in-hand with a “healthy vita”…and Rome is not the easiest of cities in which to begin a naturally wholesome journey. But then again, nothing is impossible.

Admittedly, I am only at the very beginning of a long process of innumerable lifestyle changes. But I have, in the meantime, unearthed feasible ways in which in which to establish a balance between hedonism and health. Below, I have put together a list and tips for anyone (expat or Italian) interested in, or searching for, ways in which to live and eat sustainably in Rome- despite the abundance of tempting cafés, pizzerie, trattorie, osterie, and ristoranti- and lack of accessible organic farmers and Whole Foods markets.

Books. An introduction. Lifestyle. Diet. Well-being in general:

  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell PhD (An incredibly important and sometimes terrifying book on health, diet and, nutrition. A game changer.)
  • The pH Miracle by Shelley Redford Young and Dr. Robert O. Young (To be read with a bit of skepticism but will get you on the right track)
  • Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr (Kris, from what I understand, has begun an entire movement…and her story may change your life)

Cookbooks:

  • Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr (with Chef Chad Sarno)
  • Raw Food Kitchen by Dunja Gulin
  • The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon
  • Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw
  • The Wheatgrass Book by Dr. Ann Wigmore

Sites:

  • www.detoxinista.com (some of the best recipes I have found thus far ranging from paleo, grain free, vegan, vegetarian and raw. Also a number of great recipes for babies. *Note: the pumpkin spice muffins- and their variations- are to die for)
  • www.kriscarr.com (recipes, tips, recommendations and inspiration. She’s also great to follow on Facebook)
  • www.officinanaturae.com (awesome eco-friendly household products and cosmetics delivered right to your door)
  • www.thisrawsomeveganlife.com (vegan recipes)
  • www.alkalinesisters.com (alkaline “basico” diet information and recipes)
  • www.101cookbooks.com (one of my all-time favorite recipe sites- even before this crazy raw vegan phase. Everything is delicious and the site is beautifully done)

Tools:

  • Blender (Classic KitchenAid received as a wedding gift, along with the KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer which I use for baking)
  • Juicer (I upgraded from a centrifugal juicer to a masticating juicer and I love it. The juicing culture in Italy is pretty much inexistent so it took a while to make this choice, while comparing and contrasting with the abundant brands, styles and types in America) It’s a Hotpoint Ariston SJ4010 AXO bought at www.euronics.it)
  • Wheatgrass Juicer (Mine is a Lexen bought from http://www.amazon.co.uk)
  • Seed sprouter (Seed sprouter is a Geo 3-tier, bought at NaturaSi….see below.
  • Wheatgrass sprouter (Lexen wheatgrass sprouter and kit bought on http://www.amazon.it)
  • Dehydrator (my latest splurge). (I ordered an Excalibur (recommended by Kris Carr), 5 tiered dehydrator from www.ukjuicers.com. They also sell seeds, sprouters, and a number of other great appliances and products. Delivery is free for orders over £250).

Natural “bio” Supermarkets and shops in Rome:

  • NaturaSi (Organic supermarket chain selling a wide variety of organic veggies, baking supplies, prepackaged food, oils, seeds, grains, spices, household and cosmetic products, etc. I make a weekly trip to my local shop. http://www.naturasi.it)
  • La Capra Rampante (Another great organic supermarket with an array of products, many differing from those of NaturaSi. They also have freshly baked goods and a great selection of organic cosmetic and beauty products. http://www.lacaprarampante.com)
  • Castroni (Rome’s most famous international supermarket and specialty shop chain known for its delicious coffee and Italian and exotic food products. It’s where I buy most of my spices, coconut milks and oils, nuts, dates, and seeds. There are locations scattered throughout the city. http://www.castroni.it)

Organic Handmade Cosmetics and Hair and Body Care Online/Delivery:

  • Double B Tailored Beauty http://www.tailoredbeauty.bio Natural, safe, healthy, artisan, beautifully packaged, organic products. I swear by them and FINALLY, the site is up for online orders and delivery.

Organically farmed produce delivery:

(This is, by far, my favorite discovery)

  • Zolle.it Zolle is a delivery service sourcing fresh and processed food in Rome, working with small and medium organic farmers located in the countryside around Rome’s Lazio region. All farmers involved adopt non-intensive production methods and adapt to seasonal cycles and regional varieties of produce. Products include: fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, wine, honey, cheese, juices, bread, jams and pasta. I have a standing order, delivered once a week to my front door containing 7 variations of veggies *depending on what’s in season, 3 fruits, 2 cheeses and 6 eggs for less than 40 Euros. Does it get any better than that?

Then again, we are talking about ITALY, aren’t we? PM me for my recommendations of the best pizza around and I’ll be happy to oblige. Everything in moderation. Even hedonism.

Baby (to-be) Steps

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I discovered I was pregnant last year on the fourth of July. I was nine weeks in and pretty shocked… to say the least. Independence day, from that moment on, would forever hold an entirely different significance. With the new knowledge of my impending motherhood, July 4th meant everything but independence. To make matters worse- I had done everything in those two months that a pregnant woman definitely should not do. When that miniature pink line showed up on the pregnancy test, I told myself that if my baby made it out “OK” after what I had put her through- she would be a warrior. Thus, seven months later, Tpr. Giulianna was born.

After the numbing combination of disbelief, distress and alarm passed and the feeling returned to my limbs, I figured there were a few steps that should be taken, a few things I needed to do. I.e. tell my mom and best friends about the imminent amputation from my current world, quit smoking, find a gynecologist in Rome, and start hunting for a new house with an extra room.

If only it had been as easy as it sounds…

Step 1: Announcement

Telling those closest to me was an interesting experience. And by interesting, I mean pretty damn sucky.

My mom’s reaction: “well, if you’re happy, I’m happy.”

Mother-in-law: “…took you long enough.”

Best friend: “Wow, morgs, I thought you didn’t want to have kids.” (she is now my “ex” best friend. Obviously.):

I mean, like, seriously???

*Reminder: Add “get some new friends” to my pregnancy to-do list.

Step two: Quit smoking.

I was a “social smoker.” I’ll admit it: I loved smoking the occasional cigarette. And living in Italy was quite conducive to converting a social smoker to “smoker.” period.

What’s better than a steaming cappuccino, a leisurely cigarette, and a view of the eternal city’s cupolas to start out your dolce day? In truth- this step was the easiest of all. The mere thought of that tiny baby growing inside me, completely helpless and entirely at the mercy of my decisions (good and bad) to maintain healthy and viable conditions in her little womb was enough for me to never want a cigarette. Ever again.

And that was it.

I was no longer a smoker. Mind you, there are some Italian (so-called) doctors that tell their smoking-mother-to-be-patients to keep smoking, being that, (get this), “the stress of quitting will be worse on the fetus than the toxins these mothers are ingesting by smoking cigarettes.” Because surely stress is worse for the unborn child than nicotine, arsenic, cadmium, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and a host of other if not deadly, than radioactive chemicals. I highly doubt it. But I will get into my thoughts on medical professionals here in Italy in a bit… see: below. Step three.

Step three: Find a gyno

Maybe I am too American, or maybe there is something acutely and inherently amiss with the medical profession in Italy- but getting (and being) pregnant here opened up a Pandora’s Box of horrors. In short, if I were part of the international medical community- I would make it my mission to revoke at least half of the licenses to practice medicine in this country.

An even more chilling realization is that the fault is not totally in the doctors’ hands. It’s also the population. The patients: There exists this inexplicable underlying sentiment here that doctors equal god. What the “dottore” says, goes. Period. No one questions. I mean, how could a doctor make a mistake? Worse even, how could a medical professional possibly have ulterior motives when prescribing one thing over another? No one raises any doubts. Maybe, just maybe, the Primario (head physician) of the hospital is in this powerful and prestigious position due solely to political motivations. Cosa??? Ma nooo…. (Because Italy has never been known for the questionable legitimacy of certain assignments and offices.) Furthermore, barely anyone understands that “a second opinion” may be a good idea at some point. And no one, ever, EVER, researches options or alternatives. Now, I’m not talking about buying stock in webmd.com or getting lost in exhaustive essays printed in medical journals…but come on, people– your doctor isn’t the only person in the world with a brain. You, too, young patient, have grey matter between your ears. Use it. Think. Investigate. Discover.

I have been so thoroughly scandalized by these patient-doctor relationships that I’m beginning to wonder in what other industries/fields/professions does this sheer ignorance exist.

Of the many books I devoured during the last three months of my pregnancy- on bed rest- I read Einstein’s biography by Walter Isaacson (yes, the same Isaacson who wrote the Steve Jobs bio). At one point in the book, Einstein is quoted as stating, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” And so it is. I see these women- some friends, some acquaintances met in waiting rooms, or grocery store lines, or online forums…who are so misguided in their very own pregnancies that I oftentimes remain wide eyed and jaw-dropped as they tell me about their experiences. But then again- maybe ignorance is bliss. Whereas, I spent endless hours on the Internet investigating- technologies, studies, analyses, philosophies, and practices in modern and ancient medicine with regards to pregnancy and childbirth. Maybe it’s the American in me. Or maybe it’s just me.

For example, amniocentesis in Italy is an industry. Mothers and mothers-to-be, upholding blind trust in their doctors and healthcare specialists, put their pregnancies at risk because the doctors, clinics, labs, and pharmaceutical companies have too much to lose letting the patients know about the other options- or telling them about the existing dangers.

I am the first to believe in choice- and it is 100% a woman’s choice whether she wants to do any kind of test during her pregnancy….but I believe in education. And I believe in having options. And here- there is very little of either.

Needless to say, I went through four gynecologists until I found one worth spreading my legs for. I could write a ½ humor ½ horror book on my experiences in stirrups but personally, I would rather not relive the first five agonizingly ill-advised months of my pregnancy.

Luckily, by my third trimester, I had finally found a wonderful doctor who treated me like a well-informed, sophisticated, intelligent individual…and actually looked me in the eyes when she spoke to me as opposed to those of my husband. (But that’s another story for another day).

Step four: New home.

House hunting in Italy entails a few unwavering fundamentals. I.e. 1. Know someone who knows someone who knows someone who might know of someone who is renting a great house in a great area. 2. Be ready to part with a exorbitant sum of money to the current renters, known as a “buonuscita” (literally: good exit)- to get them out of their dwelling in a timely manner. And 3. Own or know someone who owns a construction company because that previous renter, who you dare say paid far too much money to leave- will have left your new home in disrepair. They will have ripped even the 4-euro Ikea mirror off the guest bathroom walls, their closets will smell of 500 year old mothballs and something akin to a morgue, and their fixtures, flooring and many doorways will be rotten with mold and other natural misfortunes.

Luckily, I have a husband who took care of the aforementioned headaches as I worked on forming a “Morgan” sized indentation in the couch, suffering from desperation of my imposed bed rest, ingesting Progesterone, TUMS, and Fonzies (Italy’s version of Cheetos- slightly less neon in color yet worth trying) and watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model seasons 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.

I have to mention, however, that the greatest thing to come out of my pregnancy, other than my darling baby girl…is the fabulous new house we moved into two months before she was born. When one door closes another one opens, right? My husband and I closed the doors on the very first house we moved into together- a house in which we threw some mind-blowing parties, a house in which we woke up in the morning of our wedding vows, the very same house where my husband and I spent evenings alone (i.e. kid free) dancing to Nat King Cole in the living room, illuminated by the subtle glow of candles while the Cyprus trees danced outside the windows with the moon. Most importantly, that house will also always remain the house in which I found out I was pregnant.

Then we moved two houses down- at a distance of about 300 meters, one flight of stairs, and a large sum paid to the old-tenant to get her ass out. My husband, an architect, spent months remodeling what has now become the home in which we started our family…and on New Years Eve 2013, he carried me from the bed in our old home and crossed the threshold into our new one. And as we ate bowls of lentils and he drank rosè champagne (for the three of us), we toasted to the newly painted walls and stripped floors, with the knowledge that they were to become the very same floors on which our little girl will take her first steps.

New beginnings. They’re the best.

Last step (step 5): Childbirth.

Breeding Abroad

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I have been advised, in many a circumstance, by those both wiser and more foolish than myself: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Although never going so far as to make this my mantra, I have done my best to assimilate in my four years in Rome. I have done as the Romans do. I have become, as many Italian friends note: “italianizzata.” I have spent the last four years eating wonderful food, drinking exceptional wine, loving deeply, living passionately, and everything else we commonly associate with Italians- all the generalizations and stereotypes. (They’re all true, btw.)

And then, in the blink of an eye, I became the mother to a *half* Italian baby.  

This was bound to happen. It’s the natural evolution of things. I proliferated. And after nine months of a shitty pregnancy, an 11 hour delivery, the total shock of transitioning from absolute freedom to absolute parenthood, a move, a war with the Neapolitan in-laws, a bout of post-partum depression, and a beautiful little girl who has blessed my life with more emotions I ever thought possible- I’m back, and here write about it.

My break from blogging came in the form of writing letters to my unborn fetus- pages and pages filled with love and fear…of promises and uncertainties…but most of all, of the unsettling questions regarding everything I didn’t know. I had spent most of my 33 years exploring: in search of myself, of the world, of adventure. Now, I’m not going to preach about motherhood being “the greatest adventure of all” because- let’s be real here: motherhood, at least in the beginning, is the anti-adventure. I was stuck at home, breastfeeding every 3-5 hours so that my little one wouldn’t die of hunger, and when not obsessing about crib death or worrying about dropping the poor thing on her head every time I picked her up, I would begin contemplating (and cursing) the long and winding road of new worries and fears waiting around each corner.

Now I admit, I am not the most maternal individual in the world…and that mythological “instinct” that was supposed to kick-in as soon as one gives birth, was a bit delayed and somewhat incomplete.  For me, as a new mother, my days are long and my nights are interminable. Even leaving the house with a baby for 10 minutes is like the most complicated affair in the world- lest I forget a dummy cap or disinfectant wipe or clean diaper- I have to haul the ridiculously heavy (but so costly that I am sure to “fare una bella figura”) and super-techonolgical stroller back up the two flights of stairs, elevator, alleyway, and through the three gates to the front door so that the baby wont implode without her “necessities.” At the end of the day- I’m starting to believe that the baby-stuff-industry has really done a number on me. I think, on a purely individual basis, that I would have been better off in a third world country with a well worn sheet wrapped around my body, my little monkey slung over my back, and her own thumb to suck instead of a super-duper-powercharged-nonBPA-nondyed-malleable pacifier (and its carrying case, clip, and cleansing cloths should it become unclipped, fall to the ground, and lose its cover in-flight.)

Now try doing all of this in a foreign country, sans family, with foreign customs and conventions- inexplicable rituals pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth, and ideas with regards to raising children so far removed from how I was raised that I felt like I had been transported to another planet. Come to think of it, Mars probably would have been better than Rome. But you know what? I made my bed. And then I got pregnant in it. 

I was never one who dreamt about settling down and starting a family. I didn’t have marriage in mind when I packed my life up and set out for indefinite and infinite horizons, and I definitely didn’t want children. Marriage just sort of happened- and then I let down my guard for ONE second and got myself pregnant. And in this process- of growing a baby inside of me and then becoming- literally from one minute to the next- a mother- I have discovered so much more about Italians, their society, the life of an expat, and moreover- about myself. And how inherently American I truly am.

Therefore, before I begin grumbling about experiencing pregnancy and motherhood as an American national in Italy (and I promise, there are many posts to come), let me begin with a small glimpse into my life over the past year: three lists, of three essential items, in three trimesters.

Must reads: For those interested in getting pregnant abroad, or for those who have found themselves in a similar situation to mine: the books that will serve as your local female community, your best friends, your next door neighbors, your mothers, sisters, psychologists….and even, in my oftentimes desperate case, a gynecologist. I go through amazon.co.uk

  1. What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi E. Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
  2. The Day-by-Day Pregnancy Book by Maggie Blott
  3. Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Must eats: For some unexpected reason, my body totally rejected ALL Italian food during pregnancy. My palate regressed to its less evolved, original American state and I lived on:

  1. Burger King French fries and fountain coke with crushed ice
  2. American sweets: Rice Krispy Treats, cookies and banana bread made with real Tollhouse chocolate
  3. Applesauce (which pretty much doesn’t exist in Italy)

*note I: numbers 2 and 3 were made possible solely due to the aid of one of my very best friends who raided the American Embassy’s commissary and lovingly baked for me during the longest nine months of my life.

*note II: this was definitely not the ideal gestational diet for my darling unborn child. But it was the best I could do.

And finally, the three greatest lessons that pregnancy in Italy taught me about the world:

  1. My mother-in-law knows better than all doctors, medical researchers, and even Google.
  2. The Italian word for pregnancy is “gravidanza,” and once again, the Italians got it right- pregnancy in Italy is GRAVE.
  3. If I didn’t give up being a vegetarian after 30 years, my baby would have survival issues.

Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013. We did it.

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Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013. Amazing Experience, Amazing Women, Amazing Change. $300,000 raised for three non-profit African organizations:

• Shine On Sierra Leone: the construction of a school for 300 children;

• OrphanAid Africa – Ghana: the development of a survival center in for 100 families;

• Sumbandila – South Africa: scholarships providing secondary education to underprivileged children in Southern Africa.

***

“On Sunday June 16th 2013, the Cash & Rocket 2013 Tour arrived in Rome for it’s final leg. Arriving, in a procession one behind the other, the 35 cars participating in the charitable venture entered into Italy’s capital city escorted by a police brigade, coasted along the exterior of Villa Borghese and finally reaching the Coliseum, where they parked in a semi-circle in front of a crowd of tourists and inquisitive locals intrigued by the honking red parade.

The all-female teams then proceeded to drive in the direction of Piazza Venezia, where the cars were on display in the stately ambiance of Via dei Fori Imperiali, at the Roman Forum. The last stop for the Roman motorcade in the heart of the city was the entrance into Piazza del Popolo, where the participating women of the charity initiative finally turned their engines off.

Julie Brangstrup, founder of Cash & Rocket, issued a statement to Italian television expressing her enthusiasm for the reception that the city of Rome displayed paying tribute to the 70 women involved in the tour’s solidarity project.

Welcomed for a light lunch into Maison Valentino, one of the sponsors of this year’s tour, the ladies were received by the co-designer of the historic atelier, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who was also one of the Cash & Rocket 2013 Tour drivers. Chiuri thanked the participants for their dedication and commitment to the tour supporting other women and their children on the African continent.

The evening’s Gala Dinner, whose dress code rigorously adhered to Cash & Rocket’s red, marked the culmination of this year’s edition of Cash & Rocket.

In Hotel De Russie’s beautiful garden in Rome, the international and Italian guests, and the 70 participants hailing from around the world including countries such as the U.S. and Mexico, found themselves present for the final fundraising rush: the vital charity auction.

The dinner began with a cocktail on the terrace where, little by little, the splendid guests arrived in their haute couture red dresses, many by Valentino, one of the main sponsors of the 2013 Cash & Rocket Tour. Accompanied by Veuve Clicquot, another of the evening’s partners, the ladies and their gentlemen, all strictly dressed in tuxedos, lent themselves, smiling to the numerous flashes of photographers, posing in front of the wall of sponsors for the first official shots of the evening.

The menu by Hotel De Russie offered a succession of delicacies including a sliced tenderloin as a second course, accompanied by the fine wines of Castello Del Terriccio, generously provided by Count Gian Annibale Rossi di Medelana, who was in attendance for the evening, and who in addition, generously donated bottles for the auction including a rare six liter magnum of 2007 Mathusalem Lupicaia worth more than the sum of 1,300 Euros.

Among the celebrities and the glitterati present at the dinner were the elegant Maria Grazia Chiuri, seated at the table with her co-designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, noted photographer Terry Richardson, actress Alessandra Mastronardi and Carlos Souza, Milly Carlucci and her daughter Angelica Donati, model Jodie Kidd, organizer and creator of the Cash & Rocket project Julie Brangstrup, former Victoria’s Secret angel Selita Ebanks, Margherita and Teresa Missoni, Delfina Delettrez Fendi, Riccardo Ruini flanked by his new wife, model Karmen Pedaru, entrepreneur Olivia Mariotti, owner of hotels Il Pellicano and La Posta Vecchia Marie Louise Sciò, Patricia Arquette in a beautiful original Indian sari, Jo and Leah Wood, Luigi Abete, Corto Moltedo and the Saudi princess Reema Bandar.

The representatives of the three non-profit organizations, Leigh Bristow (Sumbandila), Tiffany Persons (Shine on Sierra Leone) and Lisa Lovatt – Smith (Orphan Aid Africa), gave speeches, introducing to the public and the press present at the event, the individual projects to be implemented with the proceeds raised through the donations.

Finally, a sparkling Milly Carlucci, in a mermaid-style dress studded with crystals, oversaw an abounding auction of 29 lots, including a three-day holiday on the Mediterranean on Parsifal III, the three-masted yacht, raising a figure of 42,000 Euros. The kindness and savoir-faire of Milly Carlucci effectively involved the guests, and all items donated by various sponsors were purchased, increasing the entire amount raised during the tour to $300,000.

The evening at Hotel de Russie ended with a performance by singer and actor of Scottish descent, Darius Campbell, who entertained the guests with a live performance accompanied by his musicians. The evening continued in the private home of one of The Cash & Rocket 2013 Tour drivers, Morgan Witkin, who together with her husband, architect Antonio Girardi, welcomed guests to their terrace prepared with a bar and DJ set for a night of dancing until the dawn.”

****

Main Sponsors of Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013: Valentino, Loewe, Maserati, mophie, David Morris, Julien Mcdonald, Maison Veuve Clicquot, Vitaviva.

Supporting Partners of Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013: Bentley, Cavalli, Vault Couture. ****

http://www.cashandrocket.com | follow Cash & Rocket on Twitter | like Cash & Rocket on Facebook, Instagram @cashandrocket

**** 

p.s THANK YOU to all of my friends, family and supporters. My co-pilot, Chantal Sciuto and I (team 34), in our NISSAN JUKE (thank you to Nissan too!) raised a total of $7, 450 WITH YOUR HELP! You’re the best. xx

Dolce Vita Do-Gooding

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Once in a while an opportunity arises and proves itself to be too fabulous to pass up.

Every so often we are given the chance to give back.

This time, I have the opportunity to bring this dolce vita of mine to another level….

This time, I get to give back too.

I am about to embark on a new journey….getting on the road (less Kerouac, more Forbes style) for a great cause along with my dear friend Chantal Sciuto and a group of inspired and inspiring women. We will be participating in the Cash & Rocket 2013 tour, spending four days on a European road trip raising funds for three incredible charities building schools, providing education and aiding children and families in Africa.

So here I go again *but this time not on my own…

For More information about Cash & Rocket and its incredible CEO and founder Julie Brangstrup, please go to www.cash&rocket.com

On Thursday June 13th 2013, the second edition of the Cash & Rocket tour will launch. 70 successful, philanthropic women will be behind the wheels of high powered, luxury and vintage automobiles, wrapped in red, with the aim of collecting funds for three non-profit organizations in Africa: Shine On Sierra Leone, OrphanAid Africa in Ghana and Sumbandila in South Africa.

The group of women will convene at Hotel Arts in Barcelona where from 11:30 a.m. onwards, their fiery red cars will be parked in front of the Hotel Arts at Port Olimpic in Barcelona. The opening meet-and-greet for the women will take place during their luncheon, organized by  Loewe, in their flagship store Loewe Galleria located on Passeig de Gràcia. The evening will give way to the official Cash & Rocket Launch Party at Hotel Arts where the first live fundraising event of the tour will take place. The dress code and theme of the evening will be “flamboyant flamenco.”

On Friday, June 14th, the women of Cash & Rocket will finally take off. The 35 teams will get behind their wheels at 8:30 a.m. and begin their first leg of the tour, the road from Barcelona to Cannes. The arrival at Hotel Martinez on Boulevard de la Croisette is scheduled for early afternoon where passers-by will witness the rows of blazing red modern and vintage cars. After their lengthy five-hour drive, the ladies will be welcomed  at the Martinez beach club for a leisurely lunch by the sea. The second day of the tour will wrap on the French Riviera with a glamorous event, dress code “elegant white.” 

The Italian leg of the tour will begin on the third day, Saturday June 15th. The group will make their way to Forte dei Marmi where they will have lunch at Twiga, a famous waterfront locale on the Versilia Riviera in Tuscany. The drivers and their co-pilots will depart after the break and head towards Florence, arriving at Hotel St. Regis in the city’s historic center. The 35 cars will be on display in Piazza D’Ognissanti creating a striking exhibition of vibrant red. Roberto and Eva Cavalli will open the doors of their private residence to the women of Cash & Rocket for a dinner party where the meal will be prepared based on traditional Tuscan cuisine. 

The grand finale of the tour will take place in Rome on Sunday June 16th where the drivers of Cash & Rocket will make their way to a luncheon at Valentino hosted by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, the extraordinary creative directors of the renowned fashion house. Throughout the duration of the day, the fleet of red cars will be parked in Piazza del Popolo in the historic center of Rome. The tour will conclude at Hotel de Russie with a black-tie gala including dinner in the gardens of the hotel and a charity auction presided over by Italian television presenter Milly Carlucci. The dress code for the evening will be “Cash & Rocket” red for women and tuxedos for the men, in order to create the perfect atmosphere for a refined evening ending in a memorable celebration. Guests partaking in the evening will include Italian celebrities from the movie and music industries, international entrepreneurs, socialites, and royalty. Last year, Cash & Rocket raised over $ 250,000. This year’s goal is to exceed that figure.

The funds raised, thanks to the influence and determination of the participants and the help of their friends and supporters, will be donated and distributed amongst three charitable foundations including:

Shine On Sierra Leone: The construction of a primary school for 300 children; OrphanAid Africa – Ghana: The development of a survival center in Ghana for 100 families; Sumbandila – South Africa: Scholarships providing secondary education to underprivileged children in Southern Africa.

Main Sponsors Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013: Valentino, Loewe, Maserati, mophie, David Morris, Julian Mcdonald, Maison Veuve Clicquot, Vitaviva. Supporting Partners Cash & Rocket on Tour 2013: Bentley, Cavalli, Vault Couture.

To donate and support my team, the lovely Dottoressa Chantal Sciuto and I…in a VERY cool fiery red Nissan, so generously provided for us by Nissan Italia, please do. RIGHT HERE:

http://www.crowdrise.com/Team34CashandRocket

I must say, I am extremely proud to be part of this extraordinary group of women raising awareness and supporting these noble causes- and incredibly enthusiastic to begin this new adventure.

Viva la Dolce Vita in Beneficenza!

Italianopea (part II)

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I came across a quote a number of years ago in which Charles the Great (Charlemagne) stated, “to have a second language is to have a second soul.” I thought about this concept for a long time. I wrote about it three years ago and now, after another three years of “Italian living,” I have to say that my initial thoughts remain true.

I had concluded that: maybe another language doesn’t supply a second soul, but possibly a mirror into another aspect of one’s soul.

The Italian language, above all, is a romance language (sounds better than Vulgur Latin, doesn’t it?). Living in “Italian,” I see myself  as more of a romantic. By romantic, I don’t mean that I make candlelit dinners and place rose petals on the duvet. Not at all. What I do mean is that in Italian, everything appears more beautiful- a sunny day has now become squisito (exquisite), a nice dress is stupendo (stupendous) and a good lunch is meraviglioso (marvelous). My sentences have dreamier tones to them when I speak and there is a slight possibility that some of my rough edges seem more tender. My extreme Passion, on the other hand, has always been a bit exaggerated. Yet in Italy, it’s normal- and accepted- and no one blinks twice.

The entire language is like onomatopoeia: “a word or grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing.” It’s like whatever you are feeling- is right there in the sounds that are coming out of your mouth. Ugly is brutto, beautiful is bello, love is amore and war is guerra. To walk across the street is to attreversare and a before dinner drink is aperitivo– and all these words have rolling r’s in the middles and end in vowels that softly tumble instantly into the next words. Italy is probably one of the most beautiful countries, aesthetically speaking, in the world. So it makes sense that the language would reflect that.

I would be exaggerating if I said that I am fluent in Italian, but I think that I’m almost there. More importantly, I live my life in Italian. Meaning: when I remember them, my dreams are in Italian- when I play scrabble, the first words that come to me Italian- and when I get angry, I curse in Italian. Naturally.

I have heard that the Native Americans believe that humans are the only animals narcissistic enough to actually believe we have souls. Although we are the only animals intelligent enough to form a concept of a soul, and beyond that- the only animals with sufficient language to communicate the concept of the soul, I think that the Indians had a point. So to say that I have a number of souls due to the languages I speak, as Charlemagne would have noted- I think it would be going a bit overboard.

What I can say is that thinking in another language has broadened my thought process. The way that I look at things changes through the words that denote the meanings of objects and events. Italians, like in the business they do, always leave open ends- the meanings of phrases can be interpreted in one of 100 ways. And although this can be frustrating at times, I’m finding it quite useful. “Ci vediamo,” literally means, “we see each other.” In daily discourse, it means, “see you soon.” But it can also mean, depending on the person you are speaking with and the context, “see ya sucker,” “I’ll see you tonight,” “I’ll see you around,” “I’ll see you later,” “or “I’m being polite but I truly have no intention to ever see you again.”

Going back to this mirror into the soul, I have repeatedly wondered about how the words I use shape my thoughts- and not the other way around. Therefore, by broadening the expressions I use to describe things through an entirely different language- my world has been expanded. A sunset is not just a sunset- it can be, in English- sundown, dusk, nightfall, twilight, the day’s end- and in Italian- tramonto, sera, crepuscolo and calare del sole. See what I mean? I now have 10 ways to refer to the setting of the sun. And that, in turn, changes the image that comes to mind when I describe a sunset.

On another note, rather than a second soul, or even a mirror- languages help us to understand our souls…being that it would seem somewhat obtuse to ascribe only one language to each soul. In understanding my own soul, I have noted that I spent years with Spanish. From growing up in Miami, to taking hours upon hours of the language throughout high school to doing my MBA in Spain- I should speak Spanish better than English by now. Not the case. Spanish never stuck with me- it didn’t agree with my character. Yes, it’s useful. Yes, it’s a simple language to learn. Yes, it’s very similar to Italian. Yet with all that- I never “took to it.”

I can speak Spanish. But I don’t like to. Whereas, speaking Italian, for me, is like singing. I find joy in it. I find that I am more capable of expressing my true feelings in my limited Italian than I was ever able to in Spanish. Sometimes, I find that when describing something- I describe it more aptly in Italian than even in English. So as some friends like to say that I have become “italianizzata” (Italianized), I think that maybe I have always had an Italian soul- and the language has only helped me to become acquainted with it.

The Swiss Family Girardison: Tree Houses, Lavender, and Wind Turbines

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I adore weekend trips from Rome. They are unbelievably easy to coordinate: hop in the car and within a few hours, voilà: you are vacationing in a lovely location that isn’t “home.”

I spend about half of my weekends outside of Rome- visiting friends in the U.K. and Spain, exploring European capitals, northern Africa, but mostly- roaming around Italy…. And until a recent experience, I had not yet found one angle of this country that I hadn’t fallen in love with.

Here’s what happened…

A few of months ago, I overheard some friends mentioning a recent trip to an “agriturismo” (fusion of agriculture and tourism…generally, a vacation spot in a farm house resort anywhere in Italy) in Arlena di Castro (a commune in the province of Viterbo in Lazio). I don’t remember the exact conversation but the operative words “tree house” and “lavender fields” got me going. A few weeks later, we (my husband and I) found ourselves driving on a dark and wet autostrada on the way to “the tree house in over the field of lavender.” It wasn’t close (2 hour drive) and it wasn’t cheap (nearly 500 dollars/night).

It’s true- there is a house and it is situated in the trees over a field of lavender. It’s not a “tree house” per-se because it’s built on a wooden structure with a hole through the terrace for the tree’s trunk. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s not necessarily wrong to define it as a tree house. Misleading, maybe. It’s definitely not a Swiss Family Robinson interpretation of tree house (as my misinformed expectations had lead me to believe).

But it is a house. Having something to do with a tree.

On the other hand, there was lavender. An abundance of lavender. And it was beautiful. The whole thing was beautiful- relaxing, immersed in nature, and all the other irritating adjectives I found on the agritrusimo site, travel blogs, and whatnot.

Yet what the reviews failed to mention was that there was absolutely nothing to see. Arlena di Castro is one of the saddest “communities” I have ever visited. And trust me, I’ve seen some bad ones. For anything decent to eat (other than at the agriturismo breakfast), one must drive at least 30 minutes to Viterbo.

The unsuccessfulness of the weekend was probably my fault. I brought the wrong book, I had lofty expectations, or maybe I am just too a.d.d. to be stuck up in a tree for three days.

Apart from the house in the tree and the lavender, there were wind turbines everywhere. The wind turbines (referred to by me as “wind things” until an informative Google search 30 seconds ago) were hands-down the highlight of my weekend trip. I have a great affection for wind turbines; my deep reverence for them was born during our first encounter on a road trip between Barcelona and Bilbao about five years ago. They are glorious, almost regal… In the middle of bare and uninhabited terrain, these colossal stark white structures take you aback. Although utterly out of place in nature, they seem to fit. As you witness them from the road, or the sky, you know that they are the future…or an attempt to make up for the errors of our past.

At least that’s the way I like to think about them.

We got so bored that we went on an impromptu wind turbine tour. After a search that took up an entire afternoon, we found one that had been left open at the base.

We pulled into an eerily abandoned field, (illegally) stopped the car at the foundation of this mammoth structure, and stepped out of the vehicle. The moment I opened the car door…I lost my nerve.

Have you ever been close to a wind turbine in an all but silent field? Scary stuff.

We were totally isolated and completely vulnerable under a disconcertingly dark grey sky, with no sound but the sinister whirring of the wind thing. And it wasn’t a subtle peaceful whoosh. It was an otherworldly, “Men in Black,” alien invasion type whirring. Wind turbines are immense and although there wasn’t enough sun to make a reflection on the ground, we were quite aware of the persistently revolving blades above our heads.

I got scared and stayed in the car with the Michael Bublé’s Christmas album (the only CD I had on hand) on full blast.

With Bublé’s exasperating vocals as the soundtrack of my moment, I looked around and wondered what it was that impelled me to go there? Why was I so adamant about going to the tree house and wasting my three precious vacation days i.e. where you really can go anywhere, and trekking my ass to a mediocre area of Italy to sit and stare my husband in the face as we consumed biological lavender cookies?

“Etruscan tree house” had never made an appearance on my bucket list and the particular area of Italy never intrigued me like the likes of the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre or Sicily. Am I just getting sick of traditional experiences? A weekend in Paris, an urban retreat, Prague, a wine tour in the Tuscan hills? I mean…I would have spent less, smiled more, and not been stuck up in a tree.

And then this whole tree house experience got me thinking. Possibly I am getting older and my capacity for excitement is heightened. For a good number of years, friends and colleagues have referred to me as that traveling girl. I have prided myself on my travels, the places I’ve been and the things I have learned while there. I only had one rule during all these years of travel: never double back. Keep moving forward. See everything and every place you can see and then one day, choose your favorites and only then (wrinkled and grey) you can return…but first, see it all! Am I just beginning to collect experiences? Did I push us to take this weekend in the tree so I can say I have been in a tree house? Did I really think I would gain something from it? Was it tax deductible?

I still don’t know.

If I could, would I do it again? No. I’d go to Berlin and peruse the Art Nouveau galleries or drive up to Monte Carlo for a little bit of sun and a lot of seeing how far I can push my poker skills while drinking dirty martinis.

I would not spend three days in a tree. Three days eating salted nuts I found in the bottom of my suitcase from a NWA (pre-Delta merger) flight because the closest restaurant was too far a drive and I didn’t feel like skidding off an Etruscan road in my smart car only to die in an Etruscan ditch.

Anyhow, that was that weekend. I will never spend any number of days in a tree house again and I never want to hear Bublé singing “Santa Baby” ever…ever…again.

Below are few photos..

The structure is interesting, modern, and beautiful, in a conventional sense of the word. I wouldn’t advise against it for a semi-romantic, relaxing weekend.

It just wasn’t my cup of (lavender scented) tea.

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