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Posts tagged ‘Italy’

No. 343: Papa Francesco


I have had so many remarkable experiences during my three years in France, but one of the most memorable and awe-inspiring moments happened this summer in Rome while I was serving as a short-term nanny for a dear friend’s 4-year-old daughter and I was included in a private audience with Pope Francis. I took this “job” not because of the papal possibility, mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille, and I always jump at the chance to spend time with them. The prospect of meeting the Pope was appealing, but I did not actually think it would happen.

But then it did.

As you may know, I was raised in an extremely liberal Catholic church (oxymoron, yes) during Vatican II, when Catholicism was (in some ways) being rethought, rejuvenated and adapted to the modern world. There was this whole exciting movement to bring the Church back into the realm of hands-on social justice and working for peace. Of course then Ronald Reagan came to power, and the USA began our slippery slide into supposed “Christian/Focus on the Family” values and the Catholic Church did a complete three-sixty turnabout, and gave up on Vatican II.

That is when I left the Catholic Church. Which is not to say that I haven’t been to mass in 25 years. I have. Which is not to say I don’t pray. I do. Which is not to say I am not spiritual. I am. But, I have been sorely disappointed in the leadership of the Catholic Church for decades.

That was until Argentinian-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Papa Francesco on March 13, 2013. He chose Francesco/Francis to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, who describes as: “a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.


Throughout his cleric life Pope Francis, “has been distinguished for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths. He is known for having a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by choosing to reside in the Domus Sactae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace  used by his predecessors…and he (also) favors simpler vestments void of ornamentation…” plus he has a wonderful, genuine smile, and he loves le foot.

source: Saint John's University

source: Saint John’s University

In my opinion, this Pope has potential, and possibly lots of it. Papa Francesco is the first Pope from the Americas, the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European Pope since Pope Gregory III in 741—1,272 years ago! A non-Eurocentric Pope—now this I love. (Another fun fact in his favor: before starting his seminary studies, Papa Francesco worked briefly as a nightclub bouncer.)

So, by the time the hope of meeting Pope Francis became a reality, I was pretty darn excited. When the day came, we were finally forwarded all the papal protocol. What to wear? Dark colors, covered shoulders. Kiss the ring, or shake his hand? Either, although shaking his hand seemed to be his preference. Take pictures with the Swiss Guards? No, no, no. Except if you have a bambino. Does the Pope accept gifts? Yes. Many in our audience brought books, prayers, and small objects. Can a curious and precocious 4-year-old survive 4 hours of waiting, hundreds of steps through glorious rarely seen Italian galleries, and a 45-minute audience? Yes. Thank you Haribo gummy bears and good parenting from her maman.

The whole day was astonishing. From the moment we stepped into the Papal Palace and began winding our way up the marble staircases through the art filled halls, graced with gilded ceilings, mosaic floors, and Michelangelo frescos until we finally arrived in the splendid Hall of the Consistory, I felt like I was in a dream.

I also wished I was walking those stairs and hallways with my own faithful maman and my loving, no-nonsense, fierce Catholic Busha. I was deeply moved by the experience and Pope Francis’ remarks on religious freedom. I hoped these two strong women who are no longer with me were looking down from above and smiling at me. And with Francis at the helm, I ended the day with a smile and a feeling of hope about the direction that the Church may be moving.



mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille: but because I love my friend and her daughter

To read more about what Papa Francesco had to say to our papal audience from Saint John’s University, click HERE.


No. 342: Arrivederci Tuscana

So long charming beauty,

cobbled streets, steep, stone stairways and solitary cypress.

À bientôt windswept hill towns,

vast valleys, medieval ramparts,

and burnt Siena edges.

Ciao for now silvered olive trees,

Romanesque chapels, streaming sunlight and painted sunsets.

Arrivederci aromatic Brunello and salacious Chianti,

already missing the rustic Italian good life and countryside pace…

No. 341: Tuscan Wines


On my short visit to Tuscany I have discovered many things to love, not the least of which are the wine, and the lovely and genuine winemakers and sellers we have had the pleasure of getting to know. I have entirely enjoyed the Chiantis and the Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. I think what makes Tuscan wine so divine for me is the whole experience: the luminous young grapes, the tidy, leafy vineyards and the rolling vistas that scatter their blues and greens like waves breaking on the sand. It is nice to take the time to really taste and chat and feel the harvest’s link with the land—to be in the moment and greet the terroir.


terroir: the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. “Literal-minded fundamentalists love to call terroir the soil and climate of a specific vineyard, but in truth it’s about husbandry, about sensitivity to place and its careful management so that the best of things can be delivered of it.”

No. 340: Exceedingly Edible Eats in Italy

lunch_tuscany_italy_vineyard.jpgIn alphabetical order…and, a little bit obsessed with Italian pizza…






Gelato Artigianale




Olive oil




…and one rather strange one…French fry pizza?

…and one rather strange one…French fry pizza?





No. 334-339: Five + 1 Things to Love About Tuscany

I know it is another stretch of a post to add Tuscany to things I love about France, but very simply, we would not have driven to Italy if we didn’t live in France. Travelling down through the south of France, we thought, “What the heck, let’s go to Tuscany!” It has been on the bucket list forever, and there is no time like the present, non?

So far we have not been disappointed, although, I don’t know about the whole under-the-Tuscan-sun-thing. For most of the time we have been under the Tuscan clouds, but yesterday, the sun finally came out. That said, the light has been extraordinary in the clouds, mist, and sunshine, and the family time more than precious. Even for this dedicated Francophile, it has been nice to have a short break from France (although there are so many French here, some days it feels like we never left). The Italians have been gracious and gregarious (except for the Florentines, who can definitely give the Parisians a run for their money on the unpleasant and rude front) and the food, of course, has been fantastic.

Here are a few favorite things I have notice (and loved) about Tuscany on this trip:

Laughing out Loud Loudly

I had not realized how much I miss hearing other people laugh out loud loudly. It is so very rare to hear French people laughing out loud without reserve in public. In Italy it seems like a requirement to laugh out loud.

I am a big laugher, not an annoying one, but I do like to laugh, so being back in a culture where it is okay to express your happy self in public is terrific. I also love watching (and hearing) Tuscans talk to each other. At first I thought every conversation was an argument, but it seems like they are simply just very animated (loud) here. It is liberating to not feel like you have to be reserved and talk in hushed tones all the time. As much as I love the quiet restaurants in France and the French desire to keep their private lives (and observations) to themselves, it has made me quite happy to see strangers laughing it up in public and wearing their emotions on their sleeves.


The Lack of Litigiousness

Compared to the USA, both Italy and France fall in line with this lovely lack of litigiousness. We enjoy the fact that it is possible in both countries, to do and see things that in America would be a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen. In the States you can sue anyone for anything. No one takes personal responsibility for anything.


If you trip on a crack and slightly injure yourself on your neighbor’s driveway in Colorado, go ahead and sue them. The potholes are too big after a huge snowstorm and your scalding hot MacDo coffee burns your leg as you drive down the highway? Sue the city for the lack of immediate street maintenance and Mickey D’s for making their coffee too hot. In France and Italy it is the opposite. Climb a narrow winding 700-year-old staircase with your enthusiastic dog, but without railings or proper lighting to capture the perfect sunset over Siena, do it at your own risk. Ride the crazy whirly-doo at the local town fair without seatbelts and be encouraged to stand up and dance in the middle and drag a few strangers with you, bien sûr! Have as much fun as you want. Just remember, it was your decision, you are responsible for the outcome.



Italians do plazas and grand gathering spaces really, really well. As much as I love café sitting in Paris, it is just not the same as sitting in the sunshine in one of these grand piazzas and being overwhelmed by the history of those who have come before you, and those who are living the experience with you at the moment. Nothing beats an Italian Piazza for people watching.


The Italian’s answer to the French’s champagne. I love them both, but sipping Prosecco with your family and friends on your terrace overlooking Chianti is pretty darn magical.


source: wikipedia

Burnt Siena Rooftops

The rooftops in Tuscany are very different from the Paris rooftops, but equally as lovely. After spending a few weeks in Tuscany, I now understand where all those colors in the 100-pack Crayola crayons come from. The rolling waves of tiled tops make me want to paint.

Teeny Tiny Cars

As I have posted previously, I am nutty for the teeny tiny cars of France. (Remember I come from the environmentally unfriendly land of the mighty SUVs and Humvees.) So while in Italy, I have forced my family to stop every time I see an adorable mini car. Cliché moi especially loves the itty-bitty Fiat 500.


No. 333: Tuscan Sunsets


No. 332: Vespas

vespa_pink_france.jpgWe have now made our way to Italy, so it seems appropriate to write about their beloved and iconic Vespas. I have actually been collecting photos of these lovable shiny scooters in Paris and around France over the years, and now that I am in their homeland, I am thinking that it is time do a little poetic waxing on the subject.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never driven a Vespa, never taken a ride on one, and never even sat on one. I guess I am just plain chicken when it comes to anything with only two wheels, except for my beloved vélo. Still, in my mind’s eye, I see myself on one of these snappy, multihued machines, tooling through the French (or Italian) countryside or zipping between cars on the Paris streets, harmonizing helmet protecting my noggin. I have a couple of girlfriends in Paris who brave the wacky French drivers, and scoot about on their Vespas, and I must say, they look quite marvelous, and save a lot of money on petrol to boot.


The Vespa came about as a response to the realities of post-WWII Italy. It was a cheap and reliable mode of transport for struggling Italians who needed to get around the bombed out country. However, had it been only a form of transportation, I doubt we would still be talking about them; but a fashion statement, now that is another story.

original 1946 Vespa…source:

original 1946 Vespa…source:

The original prototype designed by the Piaggio Company was based on the small motorcycles made for parachutists and nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape. Not quite right, the head of the company ask for a redesign. Using their technological and design know-how gleaned from designing rail carriages, luxury coaches, seaplanes and of course, airplanes, propellers and engines for the war, and “unfettered by any preconceptions about what a motorcycle or scooter should look like”, the slick, sporty Vespa was born. Equally important to function and drivability was comfort and style. The Vespa was designed to keep its driver looking smart, not disheveled, but perfectly intact for any photo-finish. Piaggio decided to call its creation the wasp (vespa) based on the sound of its engine, its aerodynamic form, and its lean, but curvy, and sexy shape. Once he introduced the snazzy and sleek colors, we were all goners.

vespa_montepulciano_italy.jpgNowadays the Vespa is an intrinsic part of Italian (and French) social history. Riding one today, I imagine you still feel a kinship to the “Dolce Vita” years. Maybe someday I will have the guts to jump on one and ride through the splendid countryside or romantic cities of Italy and live my own “Roman Holiday”…I can picture that…


Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Viva la Vespa!