There’s Something to be Said for a Simpler Life



Like my mom always says, “life was better when I was young!”…at times I really think she is right! With all that we have, we are also missing a more simple life where we can appreciate the treasures of nature and the people around us.

I’m not sure who wrote this story, but it was taken from a post by Cinzia Rocchi. It really made me think about our lives and made me wonder how I, personally, would do moving to the country and living a simpler life. In my present-day life, I do try to incorporate a more genuine way of life into my daily routine as best I can, mostly by cooking fresh food with fresh ingredients. I guess that’s the Italian in me!  But I dream to do more – I’d love to be able to walk or ride my bike to buy my groceries, and chat with my neighbors on a regular basis. Sadly, these are almost non-existent for me. The first is almost impossible since I don’t live within walking distance of any stores and if I were to ride my bike, it would take too much time – time I don’t have. And the second is hard, too, since everyone around me is so busy working that no one is ever outside (me included!). This is sadly typical of life in the Silicon Valley. But am I just having romantic notions of life in the country? Is it really so idyllic?


(The English translation follows at the bottom of this story)

Un padre ricco, volendo che suo figlio sapesse che significa essere povero, gli fece passare una giornata con una famiglia di contadini.Il bambino passò 3 giorni e 3 notti nei campi.

Di ritorno in città, ancora in macchina, il padre gli chiese:

– Che mi dici della tua esperienza ?

– Bene – rispose il bambino

Hai appreso qualcosa ? Insistette il padre

1 – Che abbiamo un cane e loro ne hanno quattro.

2 – Che abbiamo una piscina con acqua trattata, che arriva in fondo al giardino. Loro hanno un fiume, con acqua cristallina, pesci e altre belle cose.

3- Che abbiamo la luce elettrica nel nostro giardino ma loro hanno le stelle e la luna per illuminarli.

4 – Che il nostro giardino arriva fino al muro. Il loro, fino all’orizzonte.

5 – Che noi compriamo il nostro cibo; loro lo coltivano, lo raccolgono e lo cucinano.

6 – Che noi ascoltiamo CD… Loro ascoltano una sinfonia continua di pappagalli, grilli e altri animali…

…tutto ciò, qualche volta accompagnato dal canto di un vicino che lavora la terra.

7 – Che noi utilizziamo il microonde. Ciò che cucinano loro, ha il sapore del fuoco lento

8 – Che noi per proteggerci viviamo circondati da recinti con allarme… Loro vivono con le porte aperte, protetti dall’amicizia dei loro vicini.

9 – Che noi viviamo collegati al cellulare, al computer, alla televisione. Loro sono collegati alla vita, al cielo, al sole, all’acqua, ai campi, agli animali, alle loro ombre e alle loro famiglie.

Il padre rimane molto impressionato dai sentimenti del figlio. Alla fine il figlio conclude

– Grazie per avermi insegnato quanto siamo poveri !

Ogni giorno, diventiamo sempre più poveri perché non osserviamo più la natura!!!


A rich father, wanting his son to learn the significance of being poor, made him spend time with a family of farmers.

The boy spent 3 days and 3 nights in the fields.

Upon returning to the city, while in the car, the father asked “how was your experience?”

“Good”, the boy responded.

“What did you learn?” asked the father.

  1. We have one dog and they have four.
  2. We have a swimming pool with treated water that sits at the back of our garden. They have a river with crystal clear water, fish and other beautiful things.
  3. We have electric lights in our garden, but they have the stars and the moon for light.
  4. Our garden finishes at a wall, whereas theirs goes all the way to the horizon.
  5. We buy our food. They grow it, reap it, and cook it.
  6. We listen to CD’s. They listen to a symphony of parrots, crickets, and other animals.
  7. We use the microwave. What they cook has the flavor of a slow fire.
  8. To protect ourselves, we have fences and alarms. They live with their doors open, protected by the friendship of their neighbors.
  9. We live connected to our cell phones, computers and televisions. They are connected to life by the sky, the water, the fields, the animals, their shadows and their families.

The father was very impressed with the sentiments of his son. At the end, the son says,

“Thank you for teaching me how poor we are!”

Every day, we become poorer and poorer because we no long observe nature!!




Port of No Return – A Book Review



Historical fiction novels about Italy during World War II always seem to fascinate me – probably because the stories hit pretty close to home since my parents lived through this horrible time in Italy.  Neither one of my parents, though, remembers it as being really terrible – I guess they were the lucky ones.  But after reading several accounts of the atrocities that occurred in Italy, I am devastated to learn that so many innocent people lost their lives – and if they survived, they lived through some pretty horrible experiences.  My parents speak about the poverty, but their stories tend to be more human interest stories rather than accounts of despair and fear.  My mother tells a great story of her and her sister going to collect the rationed jam, of which each family was only allowed one jar per month. The two little girls, aged 8 & 7, were sent by their parents to go and pick it up.  On the way home, they decided to sample some. One spoonful for one, another spoonful for the other, and by the time they got home, the jam was all gone! My mom says that it tasted so good that they just couldn’t stop!

Michelle Saftich’s novel, Port of No Return, speaks of life in Fiume, a town now a part of Croatia.


Back before the war, it was a part of Italy, and during the war, it was occupied by the Germans. Towards the end of the war and even afterwards, it became a hotbed of political tensions between the Yugoslav Communists (or Partisans) and those who worked for the Germans. Families were just trying to eek out a living to support themselves and therefore found work wherever there were jobs.  Many of those jobs involved working on German projects.Tensions became so high that the Partisans fought everyone they felt supported the Germans. Families had to split up and flee their homes, taking refuge in refugee camps.  This story tells the story of the Sartoro family – mother, father, nonna and 5 children.  Ettore, the father, had worked in the naval yards run by the Germans, even though his allegiances were always to Italy. Word got out that the Yugoslav’s were coming to even the score with the Germans, and everyone involved with working for them was fair game. Ettore ran for his life, leaving behind his entire family. Months passed and the family had to escape Fiume as well.  They had to leave everything they had ever known.

The story tells of the hardships that both Ettore and his family faced, and their struggle to find each other.Even after the war was over, life was still unbearable – they were living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps – but their spirit remained strong and their commitment to family was beautiful.


They were determined to create a better life, and this meant leaving the world they knew and venture to unknown lands. The end of the book finds the family embarking on a voyage to Australia and to the new life awaiting them there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that a sequel will follow that tells of their new life in Australia.

Turning to Stone – Part 4 of the Roma, Underground Series



The series continues with our friends Bianca, Dante, Ferrugia, Gennaro, Silvio and Alessandro as they head to Naples. This time their work involves solving counterfeit money and bond crimes associated with the biggest crime organizations in Italy.  Ferrugia goes undercover as a member of the Camorra, while everyone else is trying to solve who is responsible for a high ranking official’s death.  This official’s nephew joins the group and turns out to be a big asset to the team. Secret meetings take place between the different crime families, but someone is leaking the information of these meetings to a band of ruthless Sicilian women on motorcycles.  Once these women appear at these meetings, automatic gunfire and death occur.

Bianca continues to consult her online “friend” Loki for advice and clues.Loki responds with riddles and anagrams to solve.  How Loki has all this information is beyond me, though, and at times I’m left wondering who this person can be.  During the story, though, we are enlightened as to who a possibility might be, but it still doesn’t make much sense to me.

This book was tedious to get through.  I felt like the same scenarios kept getting replayed time and time again without any real resolution.  I’m still just as confused to the identity of Loki and why Loki would have the answer to everything. As at the end of Threading the Needle, I still feel lost and without answers to any of the questions that I have conjured up in my head.  Perhaps that’s the author’s purpose and that’s what keeps you wanting to read the next book in the series. We’ll see if I have the energy :(


Here are a few words from the series author, Gabriel Valjan!

A culinary sampling table: Italian style

“Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Boticellis and Berlusconis.”

Beppe Severgnini, the author of La Bella Figura, said that. Although he is what Italians call a furbo – someone who is crafty, clever, and astute, with an undercurrent of guile – he speaks a truth. He would also tell you that his Italy is not postcards of Tuscan hills, or the E.M. Forester novel and James Ivory’s film A Room with a View. Italy is, to my mind, the comeback kid of Europe, and with it comes backhanded comments, such as Napoleon was French when he won, Italian when he lost. The di Buonaparte family hailed from Tuscany.

I’d advise readers to read John Hooper’s The Italians for a comprehensive portrait of Italy, but let’s evaluate Beppe’s comment. When Goethe visited Italy, the imperial city of Rome was overgrown, in ruination, a literal cow pasture, and yet he romanticized what he had seen; he prefaced his diaries with a German translation of the Latin phrase: “Et in Arcadia ego,” a death-haunted phrase of nostalgia that readers would find again in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The Imperium Romanum had been brought low, but it would bounce back as a dominant forza in fashion, manufacturing, and technological innovator in engineering and the sciences during the Italian Miracle. History shows that Italy, the small kid in the European playground, had anticipated the totalitarian governments of the 30s as early as 1922 with Fascism; foreign interference through the ‘strategia della tensione’ for decades after World War II; wholesale corruption throughout the 90s; and the ‘post-democracy’ seen now in most western countries, including the United States.

It is easy to become bewitched by the history, as I did when I first visited Italy as a second-year Latin student, visiting the northern shore of Lake Trasimene, knowing exactly what happened there between Hannibal and Gaius Flaminius in 218 BCE, or when I stood at twilight at the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino that overlooked the cemeteries in the valley below, knowing what happened there in 1944. In a later visit, I would stand sickened and transfixed as I heard the news of the assassination of the anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino.

What then? How does one know Italy?

Food. Even here, though, there are delicious deceptions, for the food that most Americans call Italian is descended from immigrants from southern Italy and those regional foods have been heavily Americanized. Case in point: the New York pizza is a distant cousin of the Neapolitan pizza, and while Chicago-style deep-dish pizza does exist in Italy, it’s usually reserved for take-out only (pizza da asporto). No sane Italian would order cappuccino after 11am or after dinner; consume a venti at Starbucks; or eat fettuccine Alfredo or Caesar salad because these are considered American dishes. From heel to toe and to the top of the boot, Italians are aghast at American portion sizes. And another thing: it is lasagnE (plural), and not lasagnA (singular). Lasagna is a single layer of pasta. It is like saying ‘new’ instead of ‘news.’ Prego.

In writing the Roma Series, I incorporated food to lure readers into trying some of the regional foods and to encourage them to indulge their senses. My hope is that I’ve corrected some gustatory misunderstandings. Roma, Underground offers the sights and sounds of Roma, as well as meals in restaurants and some street food. Chef Michael Schlow was the inspiration for Chef in Wasp’s Nest. Pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans, often heard in America as pasta fazool, makes an appearance in the first chapter. Chef Schlow had made the dish from scratch for me (and others) at the Boston Wine Expo in 2011. In the same chapter, I poked fun at Americanized Italian words, but please know that I had meant no offense. While Dante literally minted thousands of words in Italian like Shakespeare did in English, Baby Boomers in Italy may well be the first generation that actually thinks in Italian and not in their local dialect. Until the late 19th century, everybody spoke their local dialect, including educated people. Alessandro Manzoni, author of The Betrothed, had to learn to speak proper Italian in Florence before he wrote his novel. His native languages were French and Lombard. Spoken Italian was not standardized until the mid-twentieth century. Written Italian has been stable for centuries.

Wasp introduces some Calabrese cuisine. In Threading the Needle, the third installment, readers will savor both northern dishes and homemade Campanian dishes since Gennaro, the resident curmudgeon, is from Naples, which he visits with his friends in the fourth book, Turning To Stone. Threading explores the ‘strategy of tension’ and Turning meditates on the sociology of organized crime and financial terrorism.

Italy celebrates regional differences, but its northern and southern divide mirrors the prejudices of our North and South. It’s a decent analogy as real as Italy’s north-to-south highway, the Autostrada 1. The north considers itself industrial and progressive, seeing its southern neighbors as retrograde, indolent, and corrupt. Southern Italians complain that their northern brethren are elitist, wield too much power, and are corrupt. While these are broad generalizations, the antagonism is real. The common theme to both regions, however, is foreign footprints. Lombardy has had both the French and Germans on their roofs. Italy and, particularly Sicily, has been the doorstep for just about every world power since antiquity: Carthaginians, Greeks, Muslims, Normans, Spanish and so on. All these “guests” have influenced the local cuisine. If the Thirty Years War altered Germany and the course of Europe, I encourage readers to research The Italian Wars (1494-1594), which, like The Hundred Years War between England and France and our war in Vietnam, forever altered the Italian psyche, especially The Sack of Rome in 1527.

I invite readers of the Roma Series to consult the cookbooks in my home: Luca Manfè’s My Italian Kitchen (he is from Friuli, northeastern Italy); Rosetta Constantino’s (with Janet Fletcher) My Calabria; Polpo, a Venetian cookbook; Marc Vetri’s (with David Joachim) Rustic Italian Food (Bergamese influence); and for wine-lovers, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch’s Vino Italiano. Italy has a rich wine-with-food-pairing tradition (they use the compound word enogastronomia) and for creating grape varietals (incrocio, in Italian), which is a booming industry because the country’s peculiar geography, climate, minerals or water change significantly every 30 or 40 miles. The northernmost limit of grapevines is creeping more and more north every season. Brace yourself for British Cabernet and Danish Pinot….

Homemade Bruschetta

Part I

I never measure anything. I go by ‘taste.’

Cut up Roma tomatoes; deseed them if you dislike the seeds.

  1. In a nonreactive bowl, place in cut-up tomatoes, seasoned with kosher salt, some pepper and oregano, and add slices of garlic. Beppe reminds me that rubbing bread with garlic is “actionable.”
  2. Pour in balsamic vinegar and whisk in olive oil.
  3. Cover with foil and let sit overnight either on the counter or in refrigerator (it does affect taste).

Part II

  1. Slice baguette slices at an angle.
  2. Grill or broiler bread until light shade of brown, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Top with marinated tomatoes and grill/broil for another minute. Go by ‘feel’ for degree of crunchiness.
  4. Top with fresh basil, or if you like, grate a small amount of Parmesan cheese.

Threading the Needle – Book 3 of the Roma Underground Series


51LbKc8yJjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]This 3rd book in the Roma Underground series finds the characters all back in Italy – this time in Milan.  While there, they investigate the murder of a young American student, Charlie Brooks.  He is murdered right after he meets Bianca at a restaurant and hands her some secret files regarding details of a tank being built by Adastra, a USA defense contractor.  What about this tank makes it so secret that Charlie and his assassins are killed?  That is the answer that Bianca wants to find out, and this involves delving into government secrets and conspiracies.  Loki, Bianca’s online “friend” tells her to stay away from this case, but Bianca doesn’t heed her warnings! Meanwhile this is happening, an aspiring Italian political figure is found dead.  The two cases seem so different, but clues surface which make it seem like the two may be related.

I enjoyed this book more than the other books in the series, and I think it’s because I am now familiar with the characters and know each of their personalities.  This story moved quickly and I liked the descriptions of the locations in Milan…I also liked the history lesson about the terrorism that plagued Italy from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.


Finding my Family’s Roots


I have always been interested in finding out about my Italian family, but the roadblocks were almost impossible to maneuver unless I were to make a special trip to Italy and spend lots of time in the churches or city halls.  But changed all that by making some Italian civil records available online (and they keep adding more)!


Lo and behold, when I looked up what was available, I found that the province of Padova, in the Veneto region, had online records!


My mother’s family “immigrated” from there to Lago Maggiore in Lombardy back in 1936, so I knew that I might have some luck in locating information about them while they lived in Padova.  I began by finding out where my mother and her sisters were born – that gave me the name of the town in the province. People didn’t move around as much back then, so once you have the name of the town, you can usually find loads of family members’ statistics. And I was right!  The records I found contained a lot of information – among them parents’ names, locations of birth, and whether the parents were alive or deceased at the time of whatever event you are researching. The records available online are from 1871 – 1910, and they contain birth, marriage, and death records, and therefore I knew that I should be able to find information about my grandparents within those years, as well as their parents (and maybe grandparents). With just a few simple word clues, you can decipher a lot of information from those documents (of course, it helps immensely if you can read Italian).  For instance, if the words “fu” or “furano” preceeded the names of the parents, that means that they were deceased.  If it said “di”, then chances were they were still alive.  It was tedious going through all the records, but fortunately there were yearly indexes to help with the search.  The hardest part was keeping all the clues straight!  I had to make a spreadsheet and cross reference all the information I found to see if they really were part of my family’s branch of the tree.  I was successful in tracing my grandfather’s part of the family tree back 4 generations!  I also unearthed a mystery which I was determined to figure out!

My mom’s mother died when she was 9 years old, so she really hadn’t ever spoken to her about her family back in the Padova Province.  But her father lived into his late 60’s so I thought she’d have more information on his family.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  He never really talked about them, other than to say that he had lots of brothers and sisters. Well, from doing the research, I realized why he never spoke of them – when he was just 11 years old, he lost both his mother and father (and baby brother) within one year of each other, leaving him and his 7 younger siblings orphaned.  But who took care of them?  Who raised them?  These are the kinds of questions that genealogy research leads to – these human interest stories that make you want to find out more.  I was like a dog with a bone and needed to find out what happened.  I decided to try something the old fashioned way and did a white pages search (online) for my grandfather’s last name in the vicinity of where they had lived. I found three people with the same last name and decided to write them a letter.  Yes, a real letter! In that letter, I described who I was and mentioned the names of my grandfather’s siblings, in the hopes that one of them had descendants still living in the area. In this letter, I did give my email address so that communication would be easier!  A couple of weeks after my letter went out, I received an email response from one of them.  I found out that they weren’t direct relatives but shared the same last name. She told me that she would be glad to help me find my relatives!  She was so nice and I feel like I made a friend – these are definitely the benefits of putting yourself out there and asking for help.  People are more than willing to help you!

My second response came about a month later and it was the answer to all my questions.  The author of the letter was my mother’s first cousin, whom she never met because she never went back after she moved to Lago Maggiore. Back then, if you moved even only a couple of hundred miles away, you may have well moved to the moon!


Communication, many times, sadly was lost. Not because of family feuds but simply because it was just too hard. Anyway, this letter contained photo copies of pages from a typed manuscript which detailed what happened to my grandfather’s family. Turns out that his parents and baby brother had died of cholera, during the outbreak of 1910 in the Veneto. When they had fallen ill, they had sent the other children (my grandfather included) to live with the grandparents and an adoptive uncle.  This adoptive uncle had, at one moment in time, more than 21 people in his household to take care of!  Amazing that families cared for each other so closely! This manuscript was written like a story with heartfelt words.  But who wrote these beautiful words? How can I get a copy of the entire manuscript, which I’m sure has lots more family treasures? These are questions that I posed to the author of the kind letter after I profusely thanked them for sending me these treasures. I am currently anxiously awaiting their response!  I can’t wait to find out more, and I’m so thankful that my curiosity paid off!

The next part of my search:  my maternal grandmother’s family!  Hopefully I’ll unearth more lovely stories about my ancestors.

The Wasp’s Nest – A Book Review



Continuing with the Roma, Underground series by Gabriel Valjan, this second book finds Bianca (Alabaster) back in Boston and working once again with Rendition.  This time, her assignment is to investigate Nasonia Pharmaceutical and it’s CEO, Cyril Sargent. who is trying to map out the genome for a species of wasp in order to discover a new form of cancer treatment.

Photo by

Photo by

Meanwhile, the case of the stolen antiquities which she had been working on while in Rome, continues with the extradiction of one of the key figures in the crime ring to Boston.  Because of the ties to Italy in this specific case, her friends from Rome, Farrugia and Gennaro, come to Boston as well.  While in Boston, these two uncover a conspiracy from their past, and one in which they would like to “settle the score” with.

At first, the book started off with lots of scientific talk, which I happened to understand because of my science background, but which I felt was a bit too technical.  It made for some dry reading (like reading a textbook) and I found I needed to really push myself to continue.  I honestly feel that if I hadn’t been reading this series for Italy Book Tours, I may have put the book aside.  But, I’m glad I persevered through these part, because the story got really interesting and I ended up enjoying it immensely!

Roma, Underground (Part 1 of the Series) – A Book Review



This suspenseful novel follows Alabaster Black, a.k.a. Bianca Nerini, a forensic accountant, as she tries to hide in Rome from her former “mysterious” employer, Rendition, after one of her contacts disappears and is presumed dead.   While in Rome, she meets Dante and gets involved with his archaeological hobby of exploring Rome’s underground.

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Dante is also an investigator who is trying to figure out who is stealing and selling Rome’s ancient artifacts.

Courtesy of The History Blog

Courtesy of The History Blog

The two of them devise a scheme to trap the thieves by making up a fake discovery.  Meanwhile, while they are trying to figure out who these players are, Bianca learns that she has been found hiding in Rome. Lots of characters are presented, each with lots of personality, as we’re led around Rome, both above and below ground.

The story is fast moving, but at times, I found that I was getting lost trying to keep all the characters straight.  Also, some things were explained in really technical terms and I wasn’t that interested in the details.  But that’s just me, that sort of stuff doesn’t really appeal to me.  I’m sure others will appreciate the technicality of the descriptions!  All in all, it was a fun read and kept me hooked all the way through.