3 Tips to Help You Plan Your Puglia Summer Accommodations

seaside ruins melendugno puglia

Planning a summer trip to Puglia? These three tips will help you avoid a hotel disaster.

Five Favorite Flavors From Ferrara and Modena

Flavors of Ferrara and Modena: Fresh tortellini and tortelloni for sale in Mercato Albinelli

To ring in the New Year, my family and I rented a farmhouse for a few days on the outskirts of Ferrara. Thinking back to the trip, the timing wasn’t ideal. Ferrara was freezing and on New Year’s Eve, the fog was so thick on our drive into town to watch the fireworks over Castello Estense that we wondered if we should even go out at all.

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Five Lessons Learned While Living and Traveling in Italy

Roman Forum - Thinking Girl

Reflection is part of the prescription for moving from one year into the next. So while I wanted to write a year-end round-up a month ago, I realized that such an article would not fully capture the joys, sorrows, and idiosyncrasies of being an expat resident and traveler in Italy.

Five is an arbitrary number, of course. I’ve learned far more than five lessons learned while living in Rome and traveling throughout Italy. But here are a few of the important ones:

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Everything is Authentic

Trying to decide if a travel experience is authentic or not is like trying to separate “travelers” from “tourists.” That debate separates those who travel along class and age lines, with travelers proclaiming their experiences better, richer, more true than those of the tourists. There’s even a famous quote by G.K. Chesterton that delineates these … Read more

Rome Revisited: What Has and Hasn’t Changed

Rome in one photo

Rome is changing. Rome has changed. You hear those phrases around Rome all the time these days. Crime, corruption, unemployment, immigration, unreliable public transit, trash collection, the euro – Italy is in crisis and the prevailing mood among its citizens is one of resignation and exhaustion. This was most recently expressed cinematically with La Grande … Read more

August in Italy: The Things You’ll Need

Air conditioning units outside Sicilian apartments

The prevailing travel wisdom about Italy has always been to avoid going to the country in August. “Don’t go to Italy in August!” they say, because it’s hot, many shops and restaurants are closed, and the cities are emptied out of residents and replaced by other tourists. All of this is quite true. But if … Read more

The Roman Spring of Tennessee Williams

In the late winter/early spring of 1948, American playwright Tennessee Williams arrived in Rome in need of a change of scenery. Williams, of course, is known for his writing set in the American South, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” (written in 1947) and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” (1955), both of which earned him Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. But few people know — or, perhaps, they have forgotten — that Tennessee Williams was also inspired by his short stay in the Eternal City.

“As soon as I crossed the Italian border, my health and life seemed to be magically restored. There was the sun and there were the smiling Italians.”

Tennessee Williams, Memoirs

Before Frances Mayes or Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about their Second Acts as foreign women in Italy (this blog calls such books the “Women Who Go Wild in Italy” genre), there was The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. In 1950, Williams published his novel about Karen Stone, an aging American screen star who finds herself alone and widowed in Rome, but with enough bank to afford to live in an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps.

In order to cope with her fading beauty, Mrs. Stone takes up with a young Italian gigolo named Paolo di Leo. In true Williams fashion, the story of Mrs. Stone is complex, evoking in the reader a range of emotions, from pity to shame to indignation to bemusement.

Behind the story of the widow and her young lover, however, is a vivid portrait of Rome in the spring and summer.

During Williams’s first sojourn in Rome, he stayed for a time at the Ambasciatori Palace Hotel (reservations), located on the Via Veneto. Williams dated many of his 1948 letters from the “Ambassador Hotel.” His observations of the movements of the city, from the urchins who trolled the Spanish Steps to socialites who held court in swanky restaurants, are on display from the opening page of the novel:

At five o’clock in the afternoon, which was late in March, the stainless blue of the sky over Rome had begun to pale and the blue transparency of the narrow streets had gathered a faint opacity of vapor. Domes of ancient churches, swelling above the angular roofs like the breasts of recumbent giant women, still bathed in gold light, and so did the very height of that immense cascade of stone stairs that descended from the Trinità dei Monti to the Piazza di Spagna.

All day that prodigally spreading fountain of stairs had collected the sun-crouching multitude of persons who had no regular or legitimate occupation, and gradually, as the sun lowered, this derelict horde had climbed higher, like refugees of a flood climbing into the hills as the floodwater mounted. Now what was left of them crowded upon the topmost steps to receive the sun’s valediction.

Tennessee Wiliams, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

Warner Brothers turned Williams’s novella into a film in 1961 starring a 47-year-old Vivien Leigh as Stone and Warren Beatty (“the biggest new name in American entertainment”) as Paolo. Although Beatty’s turn as an Italian, complete with an accent and (painted on?) tan, is slightly laughable, the film, which was shot on location in Hertfordshire, England, and Rome, it’s an enjoyable look at the early 1960s Dolce Vita-era in Rome.

Tennessee Williams visited Rome and Italy several times after 1948, staying in the Ambasciatori Palace or Hotel Inghilterra (reservations) when not in an apartment at 45 Via Aurora. He seems to have been invigorated by Rome, both because of the friendships he developed (e.g., with Italian film star Anna Magnani) and because of the city itself. In a May 1948 letter to his grandfather, who he was preparing to meet in London, Williams said:

It is difficult to tear myself away from Italy which is the nearest to heaven that I have ever been, the people so friendly, gentle and gracious and the days so tranquil and sunny.

In The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Williams may have portrayed Rome as gritty, as an aging beauty full of dark secrets. But when it came time for him to describe his true feelings about Rome, he sounded nothing less than giddy.

If you’re a fan of Tennessee Williams or simply enjoy experiencing your travels through the eyes of literature, a read through  The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams: 1945-1957 is worth your time.

For this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable, we all wrote about “Spring.” Have a look at the others’ posts on this topic.

The 7 Hills of Rome: What Are They and What Can You See?

7 Hills of Rome Map

Rome is a city of many hills. But the seven hills of Rome are the original hills on which the ancient city was founded.

The Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Dario Fo "Earthquake in L'Aquila"
Dario Fo "Earthquake in L'Aquila"
Dario Fo’s “The Earthquake in L’Aquila”

Calling Italian playwright Dario Fo a “Renaissance” man would probably irk him given his long history of questioning authority and mocking the status quo. But Fo, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997 (one of six Italians to have won the literature prize) proves he is worthy of this nickname with the new exhibit of his art at Milan’s Palazzo Reale.

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Rooted in Italy: The World’s First Botanical Gardens

Orto Botanico di Padova

It has been said (too many times) that all roads lead to Rome. But did you know that you could trace botanical medicine and even the environmental movement to 16th century Italy? It was here in the city of Pisa (1544) then Padua (1545) that the world’s first botanical gardens were set up. This month’s … Read more

Braving the Elements: A Rare Snowfall in Rome

Piazza San Pietro

Over the past weekend, Rome got pelted with eight inches of snow, the largest single snowfall in the capital since 1986. The rare snowfall prompted the closure of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and other tourist attractions. Many businesses had to close because workers were unable to access public transportation or get their … Read more