What road led you to Rome?
I majored in Classics in college and came to Rome for a semester at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies on the Giancolo. After that, I was hooked. I came here to live when my first husband was offered a job teaching Classics at St. Stephen’s.
What were the main challenges when you first arrived in Rome?
I spoke some Italian, but soon realized that functional walking-around Italian was not sufficient for a social life. You couldn’t have Italian friends without speaking Italian—I’m sure that’s a familiar vicious circle. My breakthrough came when I joined a mostly Italian choir. Although the members were very friendly and tolerant of language deficiencies in people who were just passing through, they were tyrannical if you actually lived here. But at least they’d talk to me.
What was your first job?
Between college and graduate school, I was an editorial assistant at House Beautiful magazine. The editor I assisted was a difficult person, but I did learn quite a bit about getting words into print in the pre-PC days. I knew absolutely zip about kitchen equipment, interior decorating, or any of the other practical topics covered by the magazine and wished I could work at Harper’s Bazaar, which was elsewhere in the building.
Who was your biggest inspiration in your life?
I wouldn’t imitate everything about her, but if I could be half as strong, perceptive, funny, and kind as my mother, I’d be doing well. She was widowed at 45, left with two young children and an elderly mother in a tough world she wasn’t ready for. But she made it.
Can you share a bit about your childhood, family life?
My maternal grandfather and one of his brothers died of the flu in 1918 in Philadelphia. The third brother died the same month in France a few days before the armistice. My mother was three years old and never got over it, so I grew up in the shadow of this terrible loss. I only mention it because it has been much on my mind lately, of course.
My mother married a New Yorker, but went back to Bryn Mawr to have me. We lived in Manhattan, always in the same place, first a brownstone, later an apartment building on the same site. I still have a postage-stamp pied-à-terre there, my mother’s home till she died just short of 95. Within a radius of a block and a half we had the Morgan Library, B. Altman’s (sniff!), and the long-gone armory with a tower modeled on Palazzo della Signoria. Grand Central was less than ten minutes’ walk up Park Avenue, and thanks to Jacqueline Onassis it still is. I never really wanted to leave New York. I went to Broadway shows with my school friends, and before that to children’s courses at the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA, which in those days we called the Museum of Modern Art. I also had a weakness for department stores and have never forgiven you-know-who for demolishing Bonwit Teller.
I went to Marymount through fifth grade, then to Nightingale-Bamford, a small private girls’ school, and twice a week to music school, once a week to ballroom dancing school. It was another world! My parents tried to get me to learn various sports, such as figure skating and tennis, but I was never any good at any of them. My best subject was Latin, but I also had a (not unrelated) affinity for the mechanics of English.
Could you share a brief snippet of your career?
It’s a career? Seriously, I’m very proud of my books and also that, at an age when sensible people retire, a friend and I started a business, Elifant Archaeo-Culinary Tours. We had just got it to a good point when the pandemic idled us for two years. But things are now looking better than ever. I’m also proud that I’ve never been at a loss for what to do with myself—if I didn’t have a job for a while, I’d invent a serious project. The AWAR cookbook fits that pattern. Earlier in my life I was the English editor of an FAO magazine, and when that closed (because the US refused to pay its UN dues!), I started an editorial services company. I was also writing and editing for Italy Italy magazine, published here in Rome, and then somehow became a food writer for the New York Times travel section.
Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, a source book I worked on with Mary Lefkowitz, a distinguished classicist (and great writer and wonderful person) is now in its fourth revised edition. Dictionary of Italian Cuisine, which I compiled with my friend Howard Isaacs, is out of print but still respected by the few who know about it. Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way, written with Oretta Zanini De Vita, was a James Beard finalist and won an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. My self-published (in 1992) Eat like the Romans: the Visitor’s Food Guide was plagiarized, which I guess is some sort of distinction.
If you could change one thing about Rome what would it be?
The city doesn’t treat its citizens very well, especially if they’re pedestrians. I’d fix the holes in the sidewalks and repaint all the zebra crossings, to start with.
What was your favorite AWAR memory?
You mean besides working on the cookbook and a year and a half of Zoom meetings? Here’s one. In the 1980s I invented and taught a little writing course through AWAR. The star pupil was Dr. Susan Levenstein. Fast forward a few decades to when she came to present her book, Dottoressa, at an AWAR General Meeting: she mentioned the course and how my teaching had helped her in writing her (excellent) book.
What does AWAR mean to you and how has it impacted your life?
I joined AWAR twice. When I was new in Rome, it was interesting less as an American refuge than as a place to find American women who knew how to make a life in Italy. As a result, I absolutely advise people not to avoid other Americans if they want to get acclimated, but rather to meet people who can show them the way. I dropped out of AWAR when I got a job and rejoined a few years ago and was soon up to my neck in AWAR stuff. Working on the cookbook last year during lockdown was about as rewarding as anything I’ve done in quite a while.
If you could take only one thing or person on a deserted island what would it be?
Franco, of course! And a mask and fins.
What are some of your hobbies, passions?
My hobbies and the various aspects of my work are interchangeable—travel, cooking, books, and the like. I used to be very active in the performance of early music, which never became a job (just a lot of work). Pilates at the gym is more medicine than hobby, but I do like to swim and look forward to the few days each summer I get to snorkel off Ventotene and sometimes also Sardinia.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Rome?
For traditional Roman, Checchino dal 1887, in Testaccio, where the sixth generation of the same family guarantees authenticity, great wines, and a tranquil atmosphere. For a mid-level to go to with friends and acquaintances, Grano, centrally located and attractive without being fancy. The menu is varied enough so you can take people there without worrying that they won’t like anything. For a special occasion, Il Convivio Troiani. The Troiani brothers have worked hard since they were practically kids to perfect their high-end restaurant. I find Angelo Troiani’s creations artistic and incredibly tasty.
What are you passionate about?
Grammar and language in general. I have political passions, but we don’t want to get into that here. People are always telling me I love food, which is just silly. Of course I like food, but as much for what it represents as for how it tastes.
Characteristic you value most in others?
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re by yourself?
I can’t remember. It’s been so long since I was by myself! But my favorite solitary activities include writing letters to my friends, reading of course, and fighting the ongoing battle against chaos in my closets and workspace. I love my Mac and am always exploring and delving to learn new tricks.
Are you a cat or dog person?
I’m allergic to both, but I’d have to say I admire dogs more. I love dog movies and dog fiction. Go figure.
What’s your favorite pizza place in Rome?
It was Giulietta, on via Marmorata, but it closed. I haven’t replaced it.
How would you want your loved ones to remember you?
I would hope to be remembered as kind, enthusiastic, and there for them. If they thought I was funny, that would be good too. Something to live up to …
What are some of the biggest challenges facing AUR now?
There’s no mystery about this: Covid-19 and the havoc it is wreaking on international higher education. The public safety concerns, the slow down of student mobility and the oscillation between in-person and online learning have been difficult for everyone in the community. Despite these challenges, I have been deeply impressed by AUR's resilience, tenacity and collective spirit to get through this year.
Tell us something about your organization that would surprise us.
With around 500 students, we are small. Our size, however, translates into students getting to know their professors very well and receiving a lot of individualized attention and mentoring. We are also truly global: we have students from 50 different countries with 28 languages represented. We believe that discussing academic topics in such a globally diverse setting is one of the most unique and important features of an AUR education.
What creative things are you doing to attract new students?
While we have launched several new recruiting initiatives this year, the most important element is our renewed focus on high quality teaching and academics and ensuring that students have an exciting experience of discovery and self-discovery in the heart of Rome.
Why would we choose AUR?
Because our faculty are brilliant and an AUR education is about offering a life-changing learning experience. To truly benefit from what AUR offers, a student will likely have an explorer’s spirit, be someone who seeks out different people and different ideas, who will take advantage of the direct access to Rome’s cultural and political institutions, and aspire to a life and career in an international setting. It’s an American education “made in Italy” that would be impossible to find in the US.
What could AWAR be doing more of to help you at this time?
Perhaps your members might want to sponsor a scholarship, facilitate fundraising around commonly-shared projects, or provide internship opportunities to our students. We would also like to invite speakers from AWAR to campus to discuss specialized topics such as women’s leadership. I’m sure there are many more things we could do together.
Can you share a particularly funny story during the past year?
This past Thanksgiving, which occurred during a lockdown, we contracted with a local Italian chef to make and deliver turkey dinners to our students. Because the chef had never made American-style stuffing, he found the chunky texture strange and decided to “improve” it. When the students found pureed stuffing in their dinner packages, they were perplexed! In the end, they found the concoction quite tasty, even if the texture was off.
Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?
My undergraduate professors at the University of Washington. College radically changed my life by teaching me how to think for myself and appreciate life. Even after all these years, I see that experience as a turning point in my life.
Can you share a recent interesting story about a student?
A recent graduate in Film and Digital Media, Rocco Anelli has, within a year of graduation, directed two operas in Milan & Puglia, was the assistant director on a documentary in Kenya & Morocco, had his own short film presented at the 2020 European Film Festival, and is in the process of writing his first book! I’m not going to tell you that this is typical of all our graduates – but the spirit and determination Rocco has shown certainly is.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but a year-long study abroad experience in Europe dramatically changed all that. After learning French and falling in love with European literature and culture there was no turning back. That youthful and counter-intuitive choice somehow puts me in Rome today. I hope that all of our AUR students have a similarly transformational experience.
Can you share with us what road led you to Rome?
My family has visited Italy several times, and Rome has a special place in our heart. The access to art and culture, the living history, and the ability to take our family to the beautiful parks, lakes and beaches in Lazio is really a dream for us. Last year, when offered the Head of School position at AOSR, our family packed our bags and haven’t looked back since. To roam the streets of Rome, taking in this open-air museum, makes me realize how fortunate I am every day. I have lived overseas for over twenty years, and every city is a new experience and new adventure. If home is where one's roots are, in terms of childhood memories and extended family, I am proud to say I hail from New York. Yet, Rome is quickly becoming my home!
Our student population is about 40% American, and about 80% of our teachers are American. Specifically, core subject areas are taught by teachers hired from the US, while world language teachers may be Italian or European. While our population hails from the United States, our mindset, is one of global-mindedness.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing you now?
The American Overseas School of Rome is blessed with excellent facilities that allow for in-person learning, and our faculty have the experience to give the care needed for students to succeed, while also creating learning opportunities that are challenging and enriching. Still, Covid has created some obstacles to the way we traditionally educate students. Particularly in the field of education, we must ensure that our students are safe, emotionally secure, and intellectually challenged. With some adjustments to adhere to Covid safety protocols, we are able to do just that.
I started my career in education teaching French and English in rural Louisiana through a service program called Teach For America. I moved to North Carolina to continue teaching and to serve as a high school Guidance Counsellor. While in North Carolina I married my husband Brett, who specializes in technology. We moved to Poland to work at the American School of Warsaw, where we stayed for 11 years, and had all four of our children. From Warsaw we moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where I served for five years as elementary principal. From Tashkent, we moved to Munich, where I was the deputy head of school at Munich International School. Once my oldest son graduated, we were ready for a new adventure, and we were so fortunate to be offered positions at AOSR!
How can AWAR and AOSR help each other?
AWAR is really an excellent organization to support my work in so many ways. As a school leader, I would love to have the members of AWAR mentor our students, particularly young women. We have an amazing student body, with high school students involved in the Global Issues Network, National Honors Society, and Model United Nations. Going back to our mission, by offering the ‘best in American-International Education’ AOSR seeks to offer real world examples of highly achieving women in all areas of life. My goal is to continue to find artistic, entrepreneurial, and professional role models and mentors AOSR students. Given the diverse experiences and expertise of the AWAR membership, this could be a wonderful partnership.
What creative things are you doing to attract new professors?
This year, we are using three international search organizations, The Global Recruitment Collaborative, Search Associates, and International Schools Services. These companies vet prospective candidates to ensure that only the best teachers are considered for our school. We then interview candidates via Zoom, Meets, or Skype, and we have created an AOSR confidential reference form that asks all employers to rate the expertise of each teacher. To ensure that we truly offer to exceptional educators, we ask candidates to record themselves teaching. It is a rigorous process to become a teacher at AOSR! We only take the best.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of my family, as most mothers are. Balancing a career and a family is never easy, and to do so successfully took a great deal of support. I seek to serve as a role model for women leaders, to demonstrate a balanced and personal approach to my work, and to always offer the best to our students. I consider it my calling to provide our youth with the foundation needed to solve the problems of the future.
Can you tell us something about AOSR that would surprise us?
AOSR is the oldest independent international school in Rome. Maybe that is not a surprise, but I find it impressive! American families have been coming to AOSR for over 70 years, and our campus is filled with tradition and history. We have innovative programs, like engineering, computer coding and design, but we also have a classical approach to education that allows our students to attend elite universities like Stanford, Oxford and the United States Military Academies. Our co-curricular activities are also surprising- we have an American-style Cheerleading Squad that are phenomenal!
Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?
The greatest inspiration in my life is my mother. She taught me important life lessons: Always wear your best dress on your darkest day; always strive to see the other side of a problem; and always treat people as you wish to be treated. So far, her advice has always served me well. Knowing how greatly my mother has impacted me has made me keenly aware of how important role models are to young women. Obviously, young men need excellent role models as well, but as a woman, I feel a strong obligation to support girls as my mother supported me.
What creative things are you doing to attract new students?
We offer ‘The Best of American-International Education’. To start, this means that we select experienced teachers from elite US and International Schools. Our faculty bring out the best in every student. Our programs, including both the AP and the IB, are rigorous and rewarding, as such, our students are routinely accepted to top ranked universities around the world. Finally, as an American School, our athletics and arts programs remain unparalleled. We stick to what we do best, and this approach is what continues to draw American, International, and Italian students and families.
I came to Rome as a result of a professional assignment. In 2004, I was appointed as the first Director of the Resource Mobilization Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations (UN) specialized agency headquartered in Rome. Prior to that assignment, I was the Director of IFAD ’s North American Liaison Office and managed two offices at once: one in Washington, DC, and the other in New York City at UN Headquarters.
In that role, and since 1987, I had regular opportunities to travel to Rome, at least four times a year, to attend IFAD Board and Governing Council meetings. As a frequent visitor to Rome, I came to enjoy its many wonders. In 2004, I readily accepted my new assignment and stayed in Rome until my retirement in September 2010. I had a chance to return to the US or choose another location in Europe to settle, but in the end, I knew I wanted to stay in Rome and make the Eternal City my new home. I was drawn to Rome by its many splendors of beauty, architecture, history, and art. But most especially, I was drawn to a wonderful network of friends, many of them AWAR members. I greatly appreciate the Italian way of life, and the Italian joie de vivre; so informal and welcoming. In 2021, I am making another decision; now that my beloved husband, Emmanuel, is no longer with me, I have decided to return permanently to the United States to spend more time in California and be closer to my son and my three beautiful grandchildren. However, I will still remain a member of AWAR and plan to come back to Rome on a regular basis as a visitor. This path will allow me to continue my love affair with the city and maintain my links with my friends.
Can you share with us a few highlights of being a member of AWAR?
As an AWAR member, I’ve gotten to meet many wonderful women and establish lasting friendships and relationships. In addition, as an AWAR member, I am also a member of the Federation of American Women ’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO). This has furthered my connections with other FAWCO clubs and their members, enabled me to build and broaden my friendships, and to contribute internationally to the FAWCO ’s global agenda. I am especially proud of the years I served on AWAR ’s Board (2010 to 2014). In chronological order, I had the opportunity to serve in four Board positions: Sustaining Member Chair, Vice-President, FAWCO Representative, and President (2013-2014). I particularly enjoyed serving as AWAR ’s President and as FAWCO Representative. I very much enjoyed organizing special events for the organization, such as Gala Dinners, the FAWCO regional meeting in Rome, and other special outings; like wine tastings and winery excursion visits.
What word sums you up or your power and why?
Determined. I am a very focused and determined individual. Honesty and truth are my key barometers for measuring human relations. I consider these qualities essential for an enduring relationship. They have served me well with my friends and colleagues. People who know me well know that I am a very reliable person and will get the job done; no matter what obstacles might be placed in my way. I am a strategic thinker, a problem solver, and do not suffer fools easily. I consider myself a trusted friend.
Where do you find inspiration either personally or professionally?
My inspiration comes from many sources. On a personal front, I love to travel and explore new places and cultures. During my time in Italy, I visited so many beautiful places in Italy and other countries in Europe, as well as other regions of the world. Similarly, I love to read and write. I am currently in the midst of writing my first book. It will be dedicated to my loving husband, Emmanuel. On a professional front, I am very motivated by the desire to help others and am now devoting my time to advancing the work of women entrepreneurs. A few years ago, I co-founded a new organization, Brighter Ventures, and am working with my partners in supporting and promoting women entrepreneurs.
This is the start of my third career. I have learned so much in my previous two careers and now I want to give back and help others while also learning something new. My motto is: a day without learning something new is a day lost.
What is your favorite movie of all time and why?
My favorite movie is: Gone with the Wind, a true classic. I have seen the movie at least 5 times. I saw it, for the first time in the late 1950s in my birth county: the former Yugoslavia and now Croatia. I was deeply moved by the story of the civil war in the United States. The movie made a great impression on me - and it stayed with me throughout my life. In addition, I loved the main actors in the movies, played by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. I found Vivien ’s characters (Scarlett) full of strength and determination. Her will to fight and struggle to rebuild after the war was impressive and endearing. At the end of the movie, Scarlett stands on her land, having lost everything except her now-devastated plantation Tara, and exclaims, “tomorrow is another day.” She leaves the viewers believing that neither her spirit nor her will was broken. She promises to return and rebuild her life. I love this message of optimism and hope, expressed even in the time of adversity.
What is the best advice you ever received and what advice would you offer to future generations?
The best professional advice I received was to always be true to myself and to my value system. This advice has allowed me to keep my integrity in place. Early on in my relations with others, it helped me establish clear expectations and set boundaries. I have employed this lesson in both my personal and professional lives and it has served me well. This is still valid advice to pass on. However, I would add two more points: 1) Never stop learning and acquiring new skill sets; this will help you prepare for the future and its changing demands and requirements, and 2) Be ready with a quick and honest response if your superiors ask you to do something, which you believe, is not in the organization ’s best interest. Before responding, ask them if they would like you to give them your best advice or any advice. This allows you to set parameters. If they choose the “best advice” option, you will prevent potential mistakes to be made and they will thank you for it later. If they choose the “any advice” option, have them own that choice and explain the consequences. Even if you have to carry out that directive, your integrity will be intact.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about learning. I continue to stay active both physically and mentally. I am interested in world affairs, and I follow domestic and international politics as well as business affairs. I love discussing these issues with friends, and to work to find solutions.
As I've mentioned, I am presently spending my time building Brighter Ventures, a new organization devoted to advancing women-led entrepreneurship. I wish to support and give opportunities to women as they develop and flourish with their business ideas and enterprises. I like how entrepreneurial spirit creates innovation and spurs economic growth in communities. I am determined to support women entrepreneurs and help them identify opportunities to operate in this space, while also supporting them with advice, coaching, and financing to succeed in their business ventures.
What are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for my wonderful family and friends. I consider them to be the most precious gifts of life. My son and his family, especially my beautiful three grandsons: Hayes, Reeve, and Keane are now my joy and inspiration. They are my hope for the future. It is through them that I hope to leave a legacy and imprint those values that are so dear to me; I have great hopes and aspirations for them.
My friends are my rock, and I deeply cherish their friendship. Without them, I could not have made it through 2020. They were my support and lifted my spirits up and showed me incredible love and attention during a very difficult period in my life. While 2020 was a difficult year for all of us, it was especially hard for me. While we all went through a global pandemic, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and while I was in California getting cancer treatment, my beloved husband, Emmanuel, passed away in Rome on June 29. Through it all, I still remained grateful to God for all the gifts he bestowed on me; large and small. I will continue to rebuild and refocus my energy and give my attention to building Brighter Ventures and pursuing some of my other interests.
What's your all-time favorite memory living in Rome?
I have so many wonderful memories. But I will only highlight a few: 1) The time I spent (7 years) living in a beautiful apartment facing the Colosseum, in the Piazza del Colosseo. I never tired of that view and loved the many celebrations and parties we had in the apartment: we saw beautiful New Year ’s fireworks, World Cup and other national parades, all watched from our balcony. 2) The time I represented IFAD at the inauguration of the new Pope, Benedict XVI. I was seated with the full diplomatic corps on the Vatican steps and watched the inauguration ceremony. It was a magical moment. 3) While I remember many AWAR events, the Gala Dinner of 2011, held at the VOI Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli, was the most memorable event. The venue was gorgeous, and the Association successfully raised substantial funds in support of AWAR selected charities.
(This interview begins a series of spotlighting Friends of AWAR. John Cabot University is a Platinum Member of AWAR.)
What are some of the biggest challenges facing John Cabot University now?
The biggest challenges we are facing today are the same as those of other schools: keeping our operations going during the pandemic, which forced us to move our education online last spring. This called for a massive move to remote teaching, which normally John Cabot University does not offer. Thanks to our great Faculty and Staff we were able to make that move successfully.
Tell us something about JCU that we may not know.
You might be surprised to learn that John Cabot University, an overseas American University, is one of the leading Italian Cultural Centers in the world. In the last decade about 20,000 students have been exposed to the language and culture of Italy while studying at JCU, and have learned to love the country and its capital. Probably less surprising but still worth noting, the Frohring Library at JCU has one of the largest collections of academic publications in English in Italy.
What is the student mix at JCU?
John Cabot University has a rather unique model which mixes, in more or less equal numbers, degree-seeking students from all over the world, with visiting US students, both freshmen and more advanced, who spend one semester studying in Rome at JCU. The pandemic has practically led to a screeching halt the number of US visiting students. We are confident that, once we put Covid 19 behind us, we will be once again at full capacity.
What creative ideas have you implemented to attract new students?
For the past two decades, John Cabot University has been on a trajectory of expansion in all the areas of its operations which has made our university increasingly attractive to prospective students. Among the many areas of growth the following are noteworthy: First, we have three campuses and two student residences in the marvelous Trastevere area. Second, there are 35 outstanding full time Faculty members who together with our Adjunct Faculty provide a first-class educational experience. Third, we have the new Frank J. Guarini Business School, the Institute of Entrepreneurship, and the Institute for Future and Innovation Studies. And lastly we expanded the Career and Internships Office. In addition to these important developments, we offer many extra-curricular opportunities to our students, both on campus and in the form of organized travels to the most important Italian and European cities.
Can you share a brief snippet of your career or some of the things that you are proud of?
I was born in Rome, and I spent the first 20 years of my life in this city, in a typical Italian family, attending Italian public schools. After a brief stint at the University of Rome, I decided to continue my studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I graduated with a double degree in International Affairs and Chinese Studies. After my B.A. I continued my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where I received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science. I lived in the United States for 10 years, eight years in Ann Arbor and two years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a research associate. During my tenure as Dean first and then as President, the University has grown from 150 students in 1996 to roughly 1,400 in 2019 (pre-Covid numbers), becoming regionally accredited and acquiring a reputation as an outstanding liberal arts university. The marvelous community we have built at JCU over the years is certainly a source of great pride and joy for me.
Can you share with us a few reasons why JCU is an AWAR Sustaining Member?
JCU’s relationship with AWAR goes back many years. Our university has long recognized the potential of women and their role in society, and appreciates the opportunity to strengthen the common threads of promoting educational, cultural, and social exchange within the context of American values and ideals.
JCU’s activities, including lectures, events, and community service, are significant complements to our academic programs, and we have often collaborated with AWAR to inform and enrich our students, faculty, and friends. JCU study abroad students are usually newcomers to Rome and face challenges similar to those encountered by new AWAR members.
JCU’s Women’s Leadership Initiative group has organized panel discussions such as “Far from Equal: The Gender Gap in the Workplace,” and our Community Service Program encourages civic engagement by offering students the opportunity to play a vibrant role on and off campus by helping those in need. As you can see, we share many common goals, and our partnership continues to be exciting and productive for both of our organizations.
What can you tell us about JCU’s American connection?
John Cabot University is an overseas American university, and deeply intertwined with the United States. Our Board of Trustees is composed of the majority by American citizens, most of them living in the States. We are located in Trastevere, but entering the University really means stepping into an American style environment, with English serving as the main medium of communication. As mentioned above, half of our students are American, and almost a quarter of our professors and staff members are also American.
What word is your power word?
Trust. If you do not inspire trust, you cannot lead.
What are you most grateful for?
My family, my years as an administrator at John Cabot University, and having met outstanding academic intellectuals, who have given me great gifts and taught me a great deal.
What advice would you give to future generations?
First of all, do not lie to yourself. Be true to what you really want and what you do not want, and be compassionate, as compassion is the best food for the soul. Second, I would also encourage future generations to be life-long learners and never stop exploring new things. The world is in a period of exponential technological transformation, and remaining updated on the changes upon us is an imperative for our young people.
What is your favorite memory living in Rome?
As a Roman, I have many fond memories of my life here. Probably those that left a lasting memory are the birth of my first daughter, my meeting with Pope John Paul II, and, perhaps less important but still truly memorable, being present at the Olympic Stadium watching the AS Roma soccer team win the Italian Championship.
Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?
My father. He had a good mind and a good heart. I learned a lot from him.
We would like to introduce Giulia Di Ruscio as our February AWAR member spotlight. She is one of the many mother-daughter members within AWAR. We are using an audio podcast format for this interview for the first time. We hope you will enjoy this uplifting interview conducted by her mom and member Wendy Holloway.
My first trip to Rome was during the 1960s while on vacation with my parents as a study abroad student in Aix-En-Provence, France. When we arrived in the Eternal City, the atmosphere was so familiar and welcoming that I did not want to leave! Via Veneto seemed like a beautiful movie set, and the energy of the city was enthralling. I even attempted to enroll at La Sapienza, but I realized it was best to finish my junior year in France. I knew that one day I would be back, but I could not imagine that Rome would become “home” one day. I met my husband in Chicago, and our first posting together was Johannesburg, South Africa. We returned to Rome for a few years after our first posting, and left again for Vienna, Austria, New York, Rome again, and then Japan.
My husband’s Head office was located in Rome, and we returned to Rome every 5 years after a posting abroad. My husband and I returned to Rome in 2000, and more recently we have been dividing our time between Italy and the U.S.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago, and although I appreciated the wonderful environment where I lived, I dreamed of traveling abroad to learn about and experience other countries and cultures. I envisioned myself working at the United Nations as an interpreter or at an embassy to promote cultural exchange.
What was your first job?
After receiving my M.A at the Sorbonne in Paris, the French Consulate in Chicago offered me work as a press/public relations assistant to the famous actor and mime, Marcel Marceau, who was performing in the city for a few months. Initially I hesitated to accept the job, as I had never worked in that type of role before. My first day on the job I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of this great artist, but things went so well that I was asked to stay beyond my contract. It was an unforgettable experience.
What does AWAR mean to you and how has it impacted your life?
AWAR has been a significant part of my life for several years and many of the women I met many years ago continue to be my good friends today. I have learned the importance and value of volunteerism and I have experienced the positive energy generated by women working together in friendship. I am grateful to have served as President five times over four decades, and to have been given such unique opportunities of expression.
Can you share your most challenging experience as an AWAR member?
A significant memory goes back to 2001 at our first board meeting on September 11th that adjourned with the news of the terrorist attacks in the US. In spite of the uncertainty of the times and the potential threat to the American community, we were committed to moving forward with our program for the year. We succeeded beyond all expectations.
The most memorable event for me was our visit to the Quirinale in 1995 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of AWAR. I had the honor of representing our Association when we presented the President of the Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro with a medal to celebrate friendship between Italy and the United States.
I am grateful for a wonderful life that has been filled with love, adventure, and fulfillment. My husband’s work with the Italian Government allowed us to live in countries such as South Africa, Austria and Japan. Our family enjoyed the benefits of learning from diverse cultures and cultivated life-long friendships. These experiences have certainly influenced the development of our children, and has encouraged them to embrace a global perspective of the world.
Who was your biggest inspiration in life and why?
I have been inspired by more than one person in my life beginning with my father, who always encouraged and supported me to follow the paths I had chosen, without criticism or judgement. His balanced approach to life coupled with his moral integrity represented an ideal role model for me. Several teachers and professors have influenced me by sharing their knowledge and motivating me to always open more doors to intellectual enrichment.
How has AWAR changed over the years?
When I joined AWAR in 1985, there were wonderful programs and events offered to members, including the monthly meetings with a distinguished guest speaker. Many of these traditions continue today. The office was located in the Hotel Quirinale, where we also had space for classes and meetings; it really was a hub for activity! Fortunately, AWAR was founded on a solid constitution and by-laws, providing our members with a stable structure and defined guidelines to follow throughout the years. Of course, the times are constantly changing, and our association reflects these changes: it is increasingly complicated to balance work, children and volunteer activities. This has made it more challenging for women to make a commitment to participate in events and involvement on the board. However, I am confident that we will continue to find new ways to adapt and engage with members of the community. The mission of friendship and goodwill that has always held AWAR together remains as relevant today as ever.
I came to Rome to study art history for a year and never left. When I first arrived in August 2015, it was hot and my feet hurt so badly from walking ten kilometers a day on the cobblestone streets. I loved the pizza al taglio and the small-town feel of Trastevere, where I had my first apartment. Everything about Rome was perfect, it was an exciting city with a small-town vibe.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
When I was 15 I went abroad for a year in France with the Rotary. Up until that point, I had been going to the same girl’s school in Charleston, South Carolina since forever, and I largely lived in a utopian bubble. Moving to the countryside of Vendôme in the Loire region was a difficult experience, from living with a host family that wasn't always understanding, to learning a whole new set of social norms, to socializing with French kids in a language I could barely speak. After a few months of total immersion, I spoke fluent French, understood the ins and outs of French culture, and even started to make friends. Over many trips to Paris, I started to take a serious interest in art history, too, which I later pursued a degree in.
The reverse culture shock I experienced when I came back from France was even harder than the culture shock of going there. Back in Charleston, I tried to settle in but I had a new understanding of myself as a citizen of the world. I can remember the feeling like yesterday—the world was my oyster. I couldn’t wait for my next adventure, wherever that might be. The next summer at 16, I begged my father to send me to bartend at his friend’s bar in Antigua, Guatemala called Café No Sé to learn Spanish. I think you can imagine how that went over. Nonetheless, I managed to swing an age-appropriate, low-budget European summer in Spain, England, and France staying at friends’ houses I met from Rotary with my little sister in tow. I especially loved the time I spent in Southern Europe, and I knew college was my chance to do something serious. It was becoming more and more clear that Italy, with its rich culture and art history, could be the next place for me.
All of these experiences abroad at an extremely impressionable age made me a third culture kid in certain ways. The citizen of the world mindset I first felt at 15 has become ingrained in me, and I mostly believe that home-is-where-the-heart-is. I have found a second home abroad, but at the end of the day, no place or person could ever replace the way that Charleston means home to me.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
I am a Virgo, and as such spontaneity is not something I’m known for. But my friends and boyfriend have definitely brought tons of spontaneity into my life. When the lockdown ended in Italy and we could move from region to region, my boyfriend and I woke up on Saturday morning with no plans and jumped in the car to go to the sea. We made it all the way to Naples and then booked a hotel in Praiano. We had the entire Amalfi Coast to ourselves that weekend! And this approach to life has become my mantra these days: less thinking, more doing.
The cookbook! The cookbook was such a fun project to take on during the weirdness of the Italian lockdown and subsequent social distancing. Cooking and learning about food is one of my favorite hobbies, and it was exciting to be a part of making a book that revolves around everything I love—telling stories through recipes and cooking. Eating meals together is so important, and sharing written recipes, or photographing dishes, was like a replacement for our normal ritual.
I would like to think that from a young age I had a very sophisticated palate. At 10 years old, I told a local Charleston newspaper what my favorite food was, “lamb lollies”, aka frenched roasted lamb rack, roasted whole and then cut into lollipop-like pieces. I also told them that my dream was to become a food critic. It’s no surprise, because growing up my family lived and breathed food. They still do. For now, if I could change career paths, I’m dreaming about working for the Michelin Guide’s Star Committee to try all of the best restaurants in the world.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Rome?
When I first moved to Rome, a Roman brought me to Emma on a date. I fell in love (with the restaurant!). When I moved to Piazza del Monte di Pieta months later, Emma was my go-to. I ate there at least once a week for years, and it is where I learned to order food in Italian. I always asked for the Italian menu when they gave me the English one, and with my forward-thinking gay friend who almost always joined me, we made sure to keep the waiters on their toes! They quickly started giving me, a girl, the check. And the wine list.
Who would you most want to have dinner with?
I want to have dinner with my grandmother, Llewellyn, who knew everything, as grandmothers do. I want to ask her all of the things I didn’t think to ask her. She always knew the right things to say and do. When I am going through a difficult moment, she is on my mind all the time.
Can you tell us a bit about what you are doing now in Rome?
While pursuing my degree in art history and communications, I worked in galleries, wrote articles, and assisted curators and artists. I panicked when I graduated, desperate to have a, “real”, “serious” job, and I went to work at KPMG in consulting. Working with Excel and SAP certainly fast-tracked my decision to enroll in a master’s, which I will finish in March, 2021. Meanwhile, I have started writing for Italy Segreta, an Italian travel and lifestyle brand, and erratically serve as a studio assistant for artist and curator Alessandro Dandini de Sylva.
My straight line to Rome was via Warsaw. I wanted to see the world, and in Florence where I was studying, I discovered CRUEI, the university travel agency. Without telling my parents, I signed up for a trip to Poland and Russia during the Christmas break. I lived on a shoestring budget, but I felt like 007 travelling to the "forbidden" USSR. It was in Warsaw that I met Mr. Right, whom I married and he was an Italian living in Rome. I was 23 years old and interested in learning Italian. Having been to Italy three times and already speaking French and Spanish well, I figured that Italian would be easy to learn. I loved Fellini and Italian movies like "Brancaleone" which I’m amazed that I thought I understood! Italian was cool, although Tuscan Italian with its aspirated "c" did confuse me at first. Hosa? Il hontatore del rishadamento della hasa non funziona? That was in the famous year 1968, and I learned more than I was taught at the University of Florence where I was enrolled in “Lettere.” People say how Italy has changed since then, but I think that Italy was probably the same in Caesar's day, a nation of Extroverted Sensates, as Jung would label them. And I can recall back when Prime Minister Andreotti begged Italians not to go on strike anymore. The next day, there was a nationwide strike protesting his speech! I’ll never understand Italian politics, even though I’ve voted here for forty plus years.
What might surprise AWAR members about me is that I'm half Puerto Rican, and that as a writer I mainly write in English. Technically Spanish was my mother tongue. I love Puerto Rico, and I'm surprised by how similar the Puerto Ricans are to Italians. I'm very comfortable in both places. I write stories for children, mainly because that means nobody expects me to write about the four forbidden (in my day) topics: sex, politics, religion, and money. Two of my children’s books are “Lindsey and the Jedgar,” and "Felisa and the Magic Coqui” and I have others in my head. I'm a very private person who can keep a secret. I talk a lot and say little. I spent most of my early life flying to Puerto Rico every vacation to my grandparents’ house, while my parents saw the world. And, yes, my grandparents spoiled my brother and me! We didn't know how lucky we were. And my family is still very close-knit. It's still my second home. (My parents went away each summer vacation leaving me and my brother to be spoiled by my Puerto Rican grandparents.)
What are some of your hobbies?
I play sports and also guitar and piano. I love languages, and I was proud to learn so many of them. I promised my father I would learn Chinese and German—he knew so many languages and this inspired me. He and my mother were extraordinary people.
How did you find AWAR?
I found AWAR back in the 1970's through a neighbor who was a member and noticed I spoke English so suggested I join. I was newly married and had no job so it was perfect timing. My husband's friends? Their wives were all busy during the day with jobs or children. AWAR gave me the chance to write, to take opera classes, and to follow Shakespeare—really to play! So I had fun.
Can you share a brief snippet of a moment you were the most proud of?
I was a secondary school English teacher in Luxembourg which I loved, but typical me, it was something that I fell into—pure luck. During that time I was proud to earn the title "Generalissima" when I decided that the director of my school didn't deserve to be fired. Anyway he had no contract, got terminated and I organized the protest to keep him on. I fought until the Board of Directors all resigned, and the American- style private school kept its feisty, irritable, opinionated director whom I respected.
Can you share people or things that inspire you?
My biggest inspiration here was probably Rory Stuart, whom I hope you all meet when this Coronavirus ends...some of you already know him. I thinks he's better than Harold Bloom! Or maybe you'll meet Joe Giardina, whom I admire to pieces. You can see him on Facebook. And I met both Rory and Joe because of AWAR! Joe Giardina and Rory Stuart are both geniuses, and I found a perfect fit in the Great Writers Series, which I invented and ran for years. And Joe's opera appreciation is special. I've been a member of both for about 25 years. They exist thanks to AWAR.
What word sums you up?
If I had to say one word, it is the opposite of impossible...what's that opposite? "Possible" isn't strong enough.
What has AWAR given you?
Having AWAR enriched my life; AWAR has given me more than I can repay. I have met wonderful friends and it has been an integral part of my exciting life here in Rome all these years.
What is your passion?
My passion is life itself, and that in itself provides me ample fun. In addition I would say that words are my passion. I'm more apt to notice what people say than what they wear or do. That's why I prefer opera to symphony, and I love poetry and prose and languages. My life is words. Words, WORDS!
What would you change if you could about Rome?
I would change nothing about Rome. Garibaldi was right: it's the world's capital city, and during the lockdown, I continued my touring and my writing. Rome is such a great place to live. It even has a Globe Theatre and certainly rivals my home town of Boston. It even rivals China, "the middle of the world" country.
I feel that I've been undeservedly lucky, and I'm thankful for having seen so much of the world—over a hundred countries. I’ve had a wonderful life and now I'm on YouTube and Facebook too. And I think that's pretty awesome.
A complete stranger I met on the beach in Nice led me to Rome! It was the summer of 1963 while I was on break from the university when we met. I had been travelling around Europe as most American students at that age but Italy had not been on my itinerary.
I had an enchanting invitation from a woman from Oregon whom I met while sunning myself on the beautiful beaches in Nice. She persuaded me to accompany her to Rome and on a whim, I took off with her. I thought hey why not?
We jumped on the train for Rome and arrived early in the morning. A quick breakfast of a freshly baked cornetto and a cappuccino at Termini got my sugar level energy going. I hopped on the number 64 bus and after 20 minutes of looking at what seemed like an open museum I got off at a piazza that was filled with people, statues and fountains and thought I just landed in wonderland. I knew I would be back in Rome.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?
I'm a gypsy at heart, the one passion in my life is travel, and I have had the great good fortune to roam the world before mass tourism took off, when there was serious diversity in cultures and when it was safe to travel. My fascination with cultural diversity has never waned.
Tell us a bit about your childhood, family life?
My childhood, as the oldest of three girls, was a happy and tranquil one, protected and privileged, a little country elementary school – Hickory Grove – in the Detroit suburbs and one of the best high schools in the state of Michigan. I was very fortunate.
My sisters and I are second generation Americans, our maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Slovakia) the first day of WWI to join her cousin, who had proposed marriage.
There was lots of strudel and goulash and pork roast on our dinner table and polkas and gypsy violin music played on the record player. Mom spoke and wrote four three Slovak languages but sadly never passed them on to us children.
Through the friendship of an AWAR member, I learned about AWAR almost 8 years ago shortly after my second retirement when time was suddenly at less of a premium. My AWAR favorite events were the garden parties to kick off the AWAR year. The events were always in some enchanting place in Rome with women who have become dear friends of mine.
What was the most spontaneous thing you have ever done?
I know this sounds crazy but one hot summer day in Cuernavaca, Mexico, while travelling with a back packing adventurous group of Italians, my boyfriend of 6 years and I decided to leave the pack and get married! For $10 it was a done deal, in Spanish with the mayor officiating and the hunchbacked jailer serving as witness!
Can you share a brief snippet of your career or some of the things that you are most proud of in your lifetime?
After graduating, I left cold Michigan for warm California and was fortunate to get a job teaching although the inner city junior high school was a difficult one. I was 21 years old and some of the students were 15 and 16 years old and of mixed ethnicities who had repeated grades. On my first day, I asked my first class to stand for the pledge of allegiance, but I turned out to be the only one reciting it. They told me they would only pledge their allegiance to the Mexican flag! Let’s say teaching in this school was challenging, but after hard work, and gaining the respect of the students and most importantly the gang leaders, I had a successful program and they excelled. It was the most difficult and at the same time most rewarding year of my life.
After a couple of years teaching, I decided to return to Rome to join that man I had met on the train years before and to live. With no money, no job, and not speaking Italian, it was not easy getting established. I landed a job calculating land usage of the cities of Tripoli and Bengazi for an American international architectural studio. Clients included the King of Libya and the Shah of Iran. Subsequently I worked for the family-run Marshall Field of Chicago publishing enterprise in Rome, for the multinational Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Corp. in human resources, for FAO of the United Nations in publishing for community forestry, and most recently at IFAD as publications consultant.
What word sums you up or is your power word?
It would be eclectic. Eclectic, the value in deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. I strongly feel that variety is the spice of life. This goes for types of music, food, fashion, language, and customs. I love Thai, Viet Namese, Italian and Persian food; jazz, symphonic and country music; Armani and Klein fashion, the Italian and French languages, Passover, Easter and Ramadan holidays. It’s all good, and makes life interesting.
What's your all-time favourite memory living in Rome?
I have many but one fond memory was living in Trastevere in the 1980s, where Marcello Mastroianni was a frequent visitor to the horsetrack betting place below the apartment, where Commandatore Filipetti toasted coffee in the window of his shop below our place, where my elderly neighbors in the building Signora Calo and Signora Rossi who had raised large families in their two-room flats, one child bedded on the kitchen table, one child below the kitchen table, wherever there was space – took me under their wing.
How do you share AWAR’s vision and mission?
Through participation in the AWAR cultural and social activities each of us makes good friends whom we can count on for support and enrichment, many of these friends being from diverse backgrounds and cultures. And it goes without saying being with co-nationals from time to time feels so good too, especially at holiday time when we might be missing home!
My mother was my inspiration. She was an exceptionally strong and determined person with a strong work ethic, whose great sense of humor made her many longstanding friends. She was a part-time paid employee in a medical studio until the day she died at age 93, procuring through various government programs special magnifying equipment and working tools to assist her in her almost total blindness.
What would you change if you could about your life?
I would have had a second child. Our daughter is an only child and would have benefited from a sibling, as I would have.
What advice would you give to future generations?
Save the planet now!
What keeps you a member of AWAR?
The social networking and friendships are what I find valuable in being an AWAR member. In addition, interesting and memorable cultural, educational, and social events and activities are organized for the membership, sometimes to places which are not easily accessible to the general public, e.g. the Italian foreign ministry art collection, SAID chocolate factory, Museum of an Ancient Roman Stadium, Thanksgiving dinner in special venues, etc.
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