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.
What road led you to Rome?
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.
Can you share with us a few highlights of being a member of AWAR?
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.
What are you most grateful for?
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.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
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!
Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?
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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