One of the most inspiring expat blogs I’ve come across in Italy must be Mozzarella Mamma which is the creation of Trisha, an American journalist who has been living and working in Rome for the past two decades. She’s an inspiration simply because she has managed to juggle being a professional, bringing up three children, life in the eternal city and has become fluent with Italy on many different levels. It was a real pleasure to fling a few questions at Trisha via email, here’s our interview.
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Rome?
I do consider myself an expat. I didn’t make a conscious decision to lead an expat life. I met my Italian husband while we were both in graduate school at Columbia University in New York. We met in the US and married in the US and agreed that we would live the first five years of our marriage in Rome and then spend the next five in the US and try to go back and forth. We figured we both had pretty movable careers. I am a journalist, he is a professor economics. When I moved to Italy with my new husband it was a bit of a culture shock. It was only then that I began to grasp the whole Italian men and their Mamma business. In the end we have remained for 20 years living in Rome (near his Mamma) and only returning to the US for holidays. I would love to spend a few years in living in the US, but I have finally accepted that that is not going to happen.
For a more colorful explanation, you can check out my blog post How I ended up in Italy.
How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Italy is a fabulous place filled with art and history, fantastic food, gorgeous cities (Florence, Venice, Ravello, Perugia etc etc). Italians are blessed with having both mountains and sea there is the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts with magnificent beaches (Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, etc etc), and the spectacular Italian Alps. The Italian people are probably the best part they are friendly and welcoming eager to share their language, culture, history, food and their country with anyone who is interested.
Name five things I should see and do in Rome?
Well there are the standard tourists spots that one must see: The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, The Campidoglio. I love all the Roman piazzas Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Campo Dei Fiori, Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps.
I also am a huge fan of Caravaggio, so I would suggest hunting down the Caravaggio masterpieces in the Roman churches. Here are a couple of my blog posts on that:
Of course you can’t visit Rome without seeing the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. I suggest to peoplewhether or not they are Catholic that they try to catch the Pope’s Weekly audience on Wednesday’s or his Angelus from the window of the papal apartments on Sundays. It is fun to be a part of these events and to see the new Pope Francis.
What should I taste/eat in Rome?
Oh gosh, everything. I guess I would start with the coffee espresso, cappuccino, Caffe Latte, and of course have a cornetto with that. Moving on to lunch pasta in a Roman Trattoria, then an apertivo sitting outdoors at sunset watching the pinks, orange colors on the ancient Roman monuments. For dinner there are so many restaurants Rome’s Ghetto has some fabulous places. One of my favorite restaurants is a bit out of the way, is called Ristorante Caprera and it has fantastic fish dishes.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
We would meet at the Tree Bar a little restaurant/bar in a park near my home. I would be drinking a pro secco or an aperol spritz.
Do you suffer from (US/Italian) culture shock or do you find there is something common ground with your current adopted home?
I have suffered from much culture shock in Italy. I get frustrated at the insane traffic, the pharmacy, the food rigidity, the pressure on women to be beautiful and sexy, the constant need for bella figura. I will copy some blog posts of that below. I think the common ground is always humor. I laugh at myself, Italians laugh with me, not at me, and they are easily able to laugh at themselves.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
I miss my family in the US a lot, but I talk to them regularly on the phone and communicate on email on a daily basis. But there is no time for homesickness. I have a job, an Italian husband and 3 ItalianAmerican children plus a blog that occupy my every waking moment.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
I am different from many expats in that I don’t lead an expat life, hanging out with other expats and doing American things. I am fully inserted with my Italian husband into an Italian lifestyle.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
The great advantage in learning Italian is that Italian’s are so nice about it. They don’t care if you make mistakes, they are happy that you are trying. I have had a lot of difficulty with some aspects of the Italian language the subjunctive, the Lei formal tense, the imperative still I always muddle through.
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Italy?
It has been very rewarding working as a journalist and covering events in Italy and the Vatican. The experience of traveling with Pope John Paul II, covering his death and funeral, traveling with Pope Benedict XVI, covering the election and the Papacy of Pope Francis has been extremely satisfying. In addition I have covered everything from Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi to immigrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Venice Film festival. I love all the news I get to cover. You can see from my blog that I often write about my experiences working in the field. I also have been given contracts with Italian television to serve as a political analyst during the US elections commenting on Italian TV explaining our the political system works in the US. It is satisfying to me to be able to explain US politics to Italians in their language.
You have been living in Italy for 16 years where you have worked as a journalist and brought up three children. How on earth have you managed that?
It is actually 20 years now, I came to Italy in November 1993. I don’t know how I’ve managed it. A couple of key things I’ve learned to drive in Italian traffic and don’t get upset when stupid jerks on mopeds yell and curse at me. I don’t let myself get cut off by people in fancy Mercedes of BMW’s my little Fiat is a fighter. I’ve learned to argue and gesticulate in Italian. My life is a big juggling act and I always have a lot of balls in the air they fall all the time, but I try to laugh, pick them up and start again.
Do you feel more American or Italian these days?
I always feel American and very proud to be so. Many people say I speak more like an Italian now (talk fast and gesticulate a lot) and tend to be more argumentative, and I tend to dress more like an Italian (no sneakers and sweats), but my heart and soul will always be American.
See blog post: Sweats at the Supermarket.
Since you are a journalist and write about events in Italy I simply have to ask you a few quick questions about current affairs in Italy, if you don’t mind:
A) What do you think of Renzi?
I like Renzi. He is young and ambitious and doing everything he can to bring Italy out of its economic crisis and I hope he succeeds. I did not like the way he stabbed his fellowparty member and former Prime Minister Enrico Letta in the back to get where he is, but perhaps that is they way Italian politics works (a tad Machiavellian).
B) How do you think Italy will manage to come out of the Economic crisis?
No clue. You can ask my husband that question. He is a professor of economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. His blog is www.gustavopiga.it
However, my gut reaction is that Italians always muddle through as I said above they have great food, an amazing cultural patrimony, and a gorgeous country. There is also a combination of the black market business and traditional Italian attitudes of family safety net that help keep the economy from sinking.
C) Do you think there is a solution for the refugee problem? And why do the Italian and international press exchange the word ‘migrant’ for ‘refugee’ so easily?
I have no idea what the solution for the “refugee” problem is, but I think the way it is being handled right now is not working. Italian Navy and Coast Guard ships are fishing hundreds of “migrants” in rickety old boats out of the Mediterranean every day (I get their videos sent to me every day in this period when the weather is good). I think the key is giving more aid and investment directly in the countries that the migrants are coming from. “Migrants” and “refugees” are different. Migrants are people who are coming usually for economic reasons, refugees for political reasons. I have seen hundreds of North Africans arrive who are mostly looking for work, and hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese escaping from dangerous political situations. But among the North Africans some can be political refugees as well. It is impossible for a journalist or rescue workers to know in one boatload who is a migrant and who is a refugee that takes days of interviews to sort out.
I have also done a lot of blog posts on Lampedusa and the refugee situation.
Tell us about your book “Mozzarella Mamma: Deadlines, Diapers and the Dolce Vita,” how’s it coming along?
My book is now officially going nowhere. I’ve given up on it. Most of the best parts are already in my blog anyway. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to my blog and I will wait until I retire to write a book. However, if a publisher contacted me and offered to publish my book, I would rework it, but that is highly unlikely to happen and I do not have any free time to get into the act of trying to find an agent and get published, that in itself is a fulltime job.
What led you to the world of blogging?
I started my blog as a way to attract a publisher for my book, but as I said in the answer above I have now given up on the book and the blog has taken on a life of its own. I now consider my blog as a way to keep a diary of both my professional and personal interests and experiences this can all be eventual material for a new book.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
Well, my blog is all over the map. It started out being funny tales about trying to be a working Mamma in Italy then it has evolved a bit into background descriptions of news stories I am covering. However, I think my best posts are the humorous accounts of trying to be a good Mamma and maintain the Bella Figura in Italy.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
I really have not had negative experiences with blogging, it has been all positive for me. I have had so many contacts with wonderful people from around the world Australia, India, Turkey, and the US to name a few. My blog has opened up a new world for me.
Actually there is one small negative aspect blog guilt. Once you start blogging you feel like you need to do it all the time and you start feeling guilty when you don’t post. Sometimes I am just too tired, or too wrapped up in personal things, or just don’t have anything to write about, but I still feel guilty for not posting. But there is also the reverse side of that, when I do a post that I feel is really good, the writing is sharp and the pictures are strong, it gives me enormous satisfaction.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
As I was saying above, I am not aiming for getting visitors or subscribers and am not aiming to sell books. It is not even therapy for me. I consider a diary of my life.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I am not sure I have such a great following on my blog. My only advice to other bloggers would be try to enjoy it, do not give up, do not worry about who is following you or numbers of visitors or subscribers. One of the best parts of blogging is the friends you make enjoy the comments on your blog, respond to them all, and try to read other blogs and comment on them. I have a lot of fellow blogger friends who I have never met in person but I feel fond of them, I enjoy reading their blogs and commenting on them, and I am pleased when they comment on mine. It is hard though, for many people blogging is a fulltime job and they have more time to blog and comment on other people’s blogs for me it is an effort, but an effort that is worthwhile.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favorite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
I am not really into travel books I do love historical fiction and biographies that take me to another time and place. I just finished reading “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie which I loved. One of my favorite books is Louis De Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings” which takes place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Another favorite about a childhood in Africa is Alessandra Fuller’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.”
As far as books on Italy are concerned, here are some of my favorites: “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone, “Umbertina” by Helen Barolini, Naples’ 44 by Norman Lewis and Alexandra Lapierre’s “Artemisa,” Lynn Rodolico’s “Two Seas” and the Italian classic Luigi Barzini’s “The Italians.”
So what’s coming up on Mozzarella Mamma that we can look forward to …
Yikes, not so sure what is coming up on Mozzarella Mamma. I am going on the Papal plane to the Mideast with Pope Francis at the end of May and I will definitely blog about that. I am also doing some research of Livia, the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and will eventually blog about her. I am also contemplating a couple of silly posts, the first on dealing with my teenage (now 19yearold son) and the complicated questions of when the girlfriend sleeps over, and another one on Italian withthedoginthepark culture.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
About Turkey: http://archersofokcular.com/
About Renovating in Italy: http://www.renovatingitaly.com/
Hilarious accounts of being an expat in Italy: http://marriedtoitaly.com/
Thanks so much to Trisha for taking a moment to answer my questions. I wanted to thank her for her blog apart from being an inspiration for me Mozzarella Mamma is a wonderful mix of observation, current affairs and culture shock with a pinch of humor and irony.
Trisha has the answer to one of the most difficult questions a female expat can ask. Mainly: ‘how does a woman adapt and change to meet the demands of one society while trying to maintain her core beliefs, values and cultural traditions? [Her] own answer to this question has always been, with good friends, humility and a sense of humor.’
Words to live by.
Much gratitude and good karma to you Mozzarella Mamma, I look forward to hearing more about your journey in ‘Bella Italia.’