Not all those who wander are lost.


Roman Rivalry

April 8, 2013: A.S. Roma vs. S.S. Lazio, 20:45

Ask any Romano what he was doing last night, and I guarantee he’d look at you as if you were crazy. It’s a stupid question with an obvious answer. Last night was “il Derby.”

Technically, the term is applied to any game between two teams of the same city. Northern Italy has the Inter vs. Milan Derby and the Juventus vs. Torino Derby. But in the capital city, there is only one Derby worth talking about: the matchup between A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio. Both teams call Rome’s Stadio Olimpico their home stadium; the Laziali occupy Curva Nord and the Romanisti claim the Curva Sud. The curve you choose is a lifelong decision that defines you.

“Ciao, mi chiamo Katie, ho 29 anni, e tifo la Roma.” Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 29 years old, and I support AS Roma.

This rivalry runs deep in the blood of Roman veins. To a Romanista, there is no greater insult than “Sei proprio della Lazio” – you truly support Lazio. I’m sure there’s a similar insult for a Laziale, but I’m not friends with anyone who wears sky blue and white…so I couldn’t tell you.

The Roman Derby not just a game, it is THE game. It’s an opportunity to prove who is the dominate team of the Capitale. The years of unwavering dedication and love for your team combined with a deep-rooted loathing of the “other” team, means that the Derby is 90 minutes of sweating, screaming, cussing, nail-biting, hair-pulling, stress and frustration. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows so close together, I’m convinced that it’s going to give me a heart attack, or at least take a few years off my life.

Last night’s Derby was no exception. In the 15th minute of the first half, Lazio’s Hernanes scored to give Lazio the lead in the first half. A missed penalty kick by the same Hernanes in the second half gave new life to Roma. Less than 10 minutes later, we had a breakaway and the last Lazio defender committed a foul against our forward – automatic penalty kick for Roma! And with that, our beloved Capitano Francesco Totti, a 36-year-old demi-God who has worn a Roma jersey his entire career and can do no wrong, set yet another record: 9 career Derby goals.

To give just a hint of the fanaticism of a Romanista, compare the reaction of commentator Carlo Zampa when Hernanes scored to his reaction when Totti scored. You don’t need to speak Italian to understand who he’s rooting for:

Much to the frustration of all tifosi (fans), this Derby ended in a 1-1 draw. A bit of a let-down, but it does set everything up nicely for the end of the season as both teams are in the running for the Coppa Italia – Italy Cup – a single round, knockout tournament played by Italian teams from all levels (Serie A, Serie B, and Serie C). The winner gets the Cup title and a ticket to next year’s Europa League.

The final is played at Stadio Olimpico, regardless of the teams, but this year there is a very strong possibility that we’ll see another Derby for the Coppa Italia title. With Lazio’s win over Juventus in January, they secured their spot in the Final. On April 17th, AS Roma faces off with Inter. In the event that (read “when”) Roma wins, the Coppa Italia Final on May 26th will be yet another Derby. Please pray for my health.



Viva Viva La Befana!!

La Befana

La Befana (Americana)

La Befana vien di notte

Con le scarpe tutte rotte

Con il vestito alla romana

Viva viva la Befana!**

We decided to throw party for all the neighborhood kids last night and yours truly played the role of La Befana, an old haggard woman who goes from house to house delivering stockings full of candy (if you’ve been good) or coal (if you’ve been bad).

A loud *CRACK*, a cloud of smoke, and a flash of red light announced my arrival on the terrazza. I got off my broomstick and dragged my sack into the kitchen where nearly 20 kids waited eagerly for their stocking which, by magic, had their names written on them. Half woman, half witch, La Befana is old, extremely ugly, and known for startling children by coughing and sneezing when they attempt to give her a kiss…which they must do in order to receive their stocking.

This was by far my favorite of the Italian Feste during the Christmas Season, and it’s really too bad that La Befana never made it into American culture. I know a few dads & uncles who would leap at the opportunity to dress up as an ugly witch and scare little kids!

**Translation: La Befana comes at night with completely broken shoes and Roman dress. Long live La Befana!!  As with most poetry, this chime is ten times better in its original language.


Buon Anno 2013!!

Last night, after eating more than I thought was humanly possible (again!) and drinking copious amounts of prosecco, we decided to venture up to Piazza Garibaldi on the Gianicolo hill to ring in the new year. It seemed like a brilliant idea, a panoramic view of the city at midnight, but I can say with certainty that I will never do that again. The reason: I value my life.

Italians don’t appear to have any regulations on the types of fireworks available for purchase, and even this pyromaniac was unnerved by the intensity and frequency of explosions. Fireworks were being launched in every direction, even from the windows of apartment buildings 3-6 stories above, which made it incredibly unsafe to walk in the street. Open spaces, which I normally seek out to get away from the crowd, now seemed like minefields. You’d have to be stupid to walk across one, that was where most people lit/threw their fireworks. And shortly before the countdown to midnight, I saw a green flame streak above our heads and land in a group of people under the statue of Garibaldi. They were able to put the fire out, but I couldn’t tell if anyone was badly injured.

We were a group of 7 in a crowd of thousands, so the odds were in our favor, but it definitely wasn’t the sort of risk I like to take. But now that I’m safe at home and the worst of my battle scars is a throbbing headache, I can say that it was absolutely worth it. Firework shows in every piazza and neighborhood in the city, bursts of color for as far as the eye could see. Definitely a once in a lifetime view.


Foto del Giorno#4 – Family Distractions!!!

My sorellina (little sister) brought some much needed good luck to the stadium!!

My sorellina (little sister) brought some much-needed good luck to the stadium!! Roma 2, Torino 0!

Please excuse my absence…I’ve been hosting visitors over the past month! I’ve got many posts coming, including my photos from the Balkans, my arch theme, more fun with the Italian language, etc…stay tuned!



Foto(s) del Giorno #3 – Sagra dell’Uva

Last weekend, Marino threw a party and everyone was invited.  The tiny, medieval town 20 minutes outside Rome hosted its annual Sagra dell’Uva – Grape Festival – in honor and celebration of the Battle of Lepanto (1571). How that relates to grapes or wine, I have no idea. But if there’s one thing Italians know how to do, it’s throw a street party.

Local vendors set up stands offering porchetta (a regional specialty), arrosticini (grilled lamb skewers), cheeses, cookies, and of course wine…lots and lots of wine. On Sunday afternoon, after a weekend full of jousting tournaments and parades, all attention is turned to the central piazza as thousands wait anxiously for the “Miracle of the Fountain.” Water turns into wine, literally, and chaos ensues. The thirsty crowd, armed with plastic cups, pushes their way toward the front hoping to get their share of the golden nectar.

I know, I know…Only in Italy.

While a very healthy glass of wine could be purchased for 50 cents at any of the stands surrounding the piazza, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink wine directly from a city fountain. Eugenio and I braved the masses and we squeezed our way to the front to take part in the miracle. And believe me, the happiness of holding a half liter bottle of fountain-wine was worth every minute of the panic and fear of being trampled!!

Marino’s Sagra dell’Uva goes back to 1925, with the most infamous year being 2008…the countdown to the miracle…10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1 AND………………..water. Imagine the disappointment on the faces in the crowd and the embarassment of city officials as this miraculous fountain ends up giving water. A few minutes later, a woman ran to her balcony overlooking the piazza and screamed “Miracolo!!” A plumbing error resulted in wine flowing into the pipes of neighboring houses instead of the main fountain.

Marino, where wine is so abundant that it flows from your kitchen sink!!!


Question: What do 13 Italian men do in the back room of a café/bar from 10pm-2am on a Thursday night?  Yes, it’s perfectly legal…and no, it has nothing to do with the mafia (at least I don’t think so, though I’m learning that the mafia is a part of everything in this country).

Answer: They draft their FantaCalcio teams.

Seasonal depression hits Italian men hard during the summer months. The heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes, and even the tourists would all be bearable but for the fact that there is no soccer from mid-June until late-August. No Sunday or Wednesday games. No Champions League. No betting. No Derbys (games between rival teams). What is a poor tifoso – fan – to do but slip into a state of utter apathy? In fact, it must have been clinically advised by American doctors to overlap the football, basketball, and baseball seasons so that no American man would have to suffer this between-season slump.

But all is not lost!!  August comes and the country shuts down for vacation. After a week or three of soaking up all that this Mediterranean sun has to offer, Italians return home to prepare for the FantaCalcio draft. These soccer fanatics dedicate hours upon hours to the careful study and assessment of the 450+ players in Serie A – Italy’s highest national league. I imagine that this transition from absolute ambivalence to freakish obsession is the #1 cause of autumn breakups, marital disputes, shirked responsibilities and missed appointments in the country.

If only girlfriends and wives could understand the significance of the FantaCalcio draft! It cannot be underestimated; you’re bound to its outcome for the entire season. And in your tight circle of friends, cousins, and brothers, any mistake will likely haunt you for an eternity.  My poor boyfriend is still the butt of numerous jokes for a player his “co-manager” chose several years ago – a no-name rookie who was believed to be “a secret weapon.” This player proceeded to enter his first Serie A game, played horribly, and remained on the bench for the rest of the season, a dead weight his FantaCalcio team. Despite the years that have passed, I’ve witnessed numerous occasions in which, one way or another, this player’s name comes up and everyone has a good laugh at Eugenio’s expense.

Sidenote: he has since decided to fly solo and manage his own team.

But back to the draft. Being the ragazza of the bar’s owner certainly has its advantages. In addition to cappucini with my name written in chocolate syrup, I was granted “press access” to this intense, testosterone-only, annual FantaCalcio draft.

The object of the evening was to place 26 players on each of the 8 FantaCalcio teams – 208 players total…TWO HUNDRED EIGHT!! Given that number, it should come as no surprise that the research and analysis starts weeks in advance. These guys carefully create their strategy, giving every desired player an appropriate value and maximum purchase price; after all, with a limited amount of money, it might be prudent to pass on a phenomenal player if you can get 2 or 3 great players for the same amount.

Next, each manager needed to decide which players from last year’s team he wants to keep. A responsible manager should evaluate each player’s performance, age, health, attitude (red/yellow cards count against you), and liklihood of seeing a lot of playing time. In order to keep a player, the manager must pay the same price as last year.  All other players are sent back to the market as free agents. Once the market is set and everyone knows which players are available for purchase, the draft begins. Each team has 800 “euro” to spend (likely representing 800,000 euro), less the amount paid to keep players from the previous season.

Starting with goalkeepers, one at a time a manager calls out the name of a player – any goalkeeper on any Serie A team. It’s then an auction process, and the player goes to the highest bidder.  The next manager calls a goalkeeper of his choice and there’s another bidding session. This continues in a circle until every coach has 4 keepers on his team. At this point, it’s time for a cigarette and definitely an espresso…the night is young and we still have 176 players to go..

After strategies have been assessed and tempers calmed, the bidding process starts for the defense.  Same protocol as before until every team has 8 defenders. Another cigarette, another espresso. Then the auction for 8 midfielders…smoke and/or caffinate…and lastly 6 forwards.

Finally every manager has his dream team. Sleep deprived, red-eyed and mentally exhausted they leave the bar holding onto the hope that this year is going to bring them glory and bragging rights. And thus begins the FantaCalcio season, a “friendly” competition which lasts the duration of the season and just another reason why Italians are out-of-their-minds obsessed with the sport.

Spiaggia di Notte – Beach Nightlife

I have a lot to thank my grandmother for: my height, my love of crossword puzzles, my addiction to travel, my thirst for knowledge, and my appreciation of a good stiff drink. One thing I am less than thrilled about is my fair, Irish skin. Sure, I can build up a tan, but it takes several weeks (if not months) of patient sunscreen application…slowly but surely working my way from SPF 50+ to 30 to 20 and finally to 15. I will let Nivea thank my grandmother for that.

While I can’t partake in the #1 Italian Summer Pastime (spending hours at the beach worshipping the sun gods), I am lucky in that the Roman beaches are also fantastic at night. A quick ride on the trenino will take you to Ostia, and to a boardwalk packed with people taking a passeggiata – evening stroll. Stop by any of the beachfront establishments to enjoy a drink, dinner, or discoteca.

ImageIf you’re looking for a mellow evening and just want to chill on the sand with a group of amici, head to Vittoria Beach Bar. The bar itself is a mere 15 feet from the sea, and they’ve wisely chosen to keep their umbrellas open and lounge chairs out all night. Throw in some good music and the sound of Mediterranean waves and you have yourself a little slice of heaven. Let’s just say it’s swiftly becoming my late-night favorite.

And who wants to do laundry on a Sunday night when you can go to Apericena at Tibidabu Beach? It’s an aperitivo, turned into dinner – 15 euro gets you a drink and access to an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, complete with prosciutto, salami, pizza, grilled veggies, and pastas. Once you’ve had your fill, head to the dance floor which really gets going at 10pm. Romans of all ages, shapes, and sizes get their groove on to the best of the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. It is pretty much impossible not to dance when you see a 70+ year old man imitate his teenage grandson doing the YMCA. The fun ends at midnight, and you’re at home and asleep by 1am. A perfect way to end the weekend.

p.s. I am fully adjusted to the Italian practice of eating dinner at 9pm (or later), going to sleep at 1am, and waking up at 8am. In the case of a later-than-usual night, or one-too-many drinks, well…that’s what cappuccini are for.

Mi dispiace – I’m sorry

Today is March 15th, the Ides of March, and it has been well over a month since my last post. The hiatus this time around is not due to writer’s block, it’s simply that there are not enough hours in the day. I’ve been dividing my time between teaching (score update…Miss Katie: 12, Italian 3rd Graders: 4), showing my sister around (yay for visitors!!!), keeping my New Year’s Resolution (read 1 book in English & 1 in Italian every month), and trying to speak more Italian than English every day.

However, the biggest culprit for my lack of updates is the fact that spring has sprung in Rome. Trees are blossoming, the snow has melted, the markets have strawberries on sale, roof-tanning has commenced, the flea market vendors have started selling pastel-colored clothing, and this Wanderer is twitterpated (editor’s note: if you don’t know what that means, it’s time to watch “Bambi” again). Long story short, I’ve been distracted.

However, I am still a list-maker; I have a mile-long list of topics I want to write about. They include:

  • the origin of the words “cappuccino” and “graffiti”
  • the Italian Grandmother
  • a Carbonara recipe, courtesy of one of my students
  • creative ways to make money in a down economy
  • dreaming and sleep-talking in a foreign language
  • the benefits of living with Art Historians
  • la bella/brutta figura
  • the derby
  • Ostia Antica, Viterbo, Cesano, and Spoleto day trips
  • International Women’s Day – Italian style
  • Roman pollution control
  • traffic violations & fines
  • heating & gas bills
  • ………….and the list grows every day

I’m not lacking in inspiration, I’m simply lacking in time. I live in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, rich with art, history, architecture, mythology…and it’s sunny and 72 degrees outside. Can you blame me for not writing?  Anyway, I’ll try to be better about writing more frequently. But for now, take a look at one of the best-preserved bathrooms of ancient Rome (in Ostia Antica):

Roman Snow Photos!!

I just finished editing and uploading my favorite photos of last week’s Roman snowstorm. Check out my photo gallery:

Foto del Giorno #2 – Ancient Bricks

I’ve taken my fair share of history courses and at this point I’ve walked through the Roman Forum and Colosseum more times than I can count. Yet I find that as I wander throughout this city, I regularly learn something fascinating about the ways of the Ancient Empire:

While walking through one of the oldest churches in Rome, we stumbled upon a wall displaying some interesting bricks from the 2nd century A.D. My roommate (an expert on all things Rome) informed me that these bricks were “stamped” for taxation purposes and were placed every 10-15 bricks in a wall. The stamp would typically indicate the name of the Brick Maker, the brickyard where it was produced, and the name of the current Roman Consul. Since the Roman Consul changed every year, these stamps have given archaeologists the ability to precisely know the date a particular structure was erected. Brilliant.

Day Trip to Frascati

December 29th marked the 9-month anniversary of the day I left America in search of something new, something better, something a little more “me.” And 9 months later, I still have absolutely no idea what any of that actually means. But being my father’s daughter, I am a stubborn ass; I refuse to step foot back on American soil until I figure “it” out.

I’ve been in Rome now for over 4 months, and in those months I have accomplished quite a bit. I’ve mastered the public transportation system (metro, bus, tram and train), and I firmly stand behind my boss’s statement, “it’s impossible to get anywhere in less than 30 min, but you can pretty much go everywhere in an hour and a half.” I’ve scouted out the best pizza, gelato and aperitivo joints. I’ve learned the English language (and how to teach it). I’ve discovered that old Roman women have very strong opinions about wearing scarves and socks once the weather turns cold (more on this later). And most importantly, I’ve become a local – I am part of a community in this crazy city.

While I love the culture, cuisine, and chaos of urban life, after a while it sucks the energy out of me. I am the sort of person who can’t walk for too long on pavement before it wears me down; and apparently cobblestones are no exception. I have always been connected to nature; in order to recharge and maintain clarity, I need open space, fresh air, the smell of pine, and the sound of silence. During the past few months, I’ve been so preoccupied with getting myself set up that I forgot to seek out my retreat, and that lack of “me time” was really starting to weigh heavily.

So with that in mind, I decided to celebrate my 9-month anniversary with a day trip to one of the small towns outside of Rome. As I am officially in the business of not making plans, my approach to a “non-plan” for a day trip went something like this:

The Strategy:

  1. Look at a map.
  2. Find small towns around Rome, preferably on the regional train line.
  3. Pick one that looks familiar (or throw a dart, whichever is least likely to result in injury)
  4. Wake up earlier than 9am and go to the train station.

No plan, no research, no agenda. Wandering at its finest.

The Choice: Frascati.

Things I Knew about Frascati:

  1. Most vini della casa – house wines – in Roman restaurants are from this area
  2. There is apparently a local obsession with Porchetta, no idea why.

Wine and Pork?  Okay, twist my arm.

A 30-minute train ride and 1.90 euro later, I found myself in a quiet town perched high in the hills southeast of Rome. Frascati is darling – local artisans sell their goods along the main street, alleyways wind into small piazzas, locals take an afternoon stroll at what seems to be a snail’s pace. And best of all, waiters & restaurant owners don’t hassle you claiming that theirs is the “best pasta/panino/pizza/gelato… in town.”

Life in Frascati appears to be a bit more mellow and peaceful, not unlike what I experienced in Lucca over the summer. It’s the way of life that we Americans always have in our mind when we think of Italy: la Dolce Vita e Dolce Far Niente – the sweet life and the sweetness of doing nothing. Frascati was precisely the breath of fresh mountain air that I’ve been craving; I can now say that I’ve found my retreat from Rome.

Nine months and still going strong: Onward!

Oh, the wine and porchetta were both phenomenal = Happy Katie.

Buon Natale

Buon Natale from the heart of the Catholic Church (photo above: Jesus & his posse on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica)

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Natale on Via dei Condotti

Via dei Condotti is by far the most expensive street in Rome. It is where the Armani, Gucci, Fendi and Prada mannequins face off, looking as if they’ve just stepped off the runway (and yes, they are judging you for your knock-off jeans/purse/boots/whatever).

However, on the first Saturday of December, it welcomes visitors of all brands and sizes to participate in the festivities as it kicks off the holiday shopping season, complete with the Carabinieri (military police) marching band. The shops collectively choose a particular company as their “theme” for decorations; Mercedes-Benz has that honor this year.

Over 400 stores around the historic center have chosen to participate in “Roma in Luce” – Rome in Lights – and the city simply spectacular. With chestnuts roasting on every corner, Christmas trees in every piazza, and mulled wine offered at aperitivo, it’s hard not to be in the Christmas spirit.

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Foto del Giorno #1

Wandering Photo of the Day: a commuter’s sunset

I suppose a work commute to the suburbs isn’t so bad when you have a beautiful sunset like this welcoming you on your way back home…
Monte Mario. A quartiere – neighborhood – in the northern part of Rome. Its train station is along the regional line connecting the Centro Storico – historic center – to the surrounding neighborhoods of Rome. It also serves to transport this Wanderer to the houses of her students.


Rome is intoxicating in any season, but it truly pulls out all the stops in autunno – autumn. Crisp mornings give way to gorgeous sunny afternoons. Sleek sandals are upgraded to sexy leather boots. Necks of women and men are decorated with scarves – Italians are convinced that a bare neck (or sock-less feet) in cold weather will cause illness. And let’s not forget the fruits of the harvest – wine, olive oil, and veggie galore – pumpkin ravioli, eggplant parmesan, spinach gnocchi, and carciofi alla romana (artichoke stuffed with mint, parsley, and garlic). It’s too easy for me to get carried away, but one stroll along the Tiber River and you’ll understand why autumn is my favorite season in Rome.

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il Giorno di Ringraziamento – Thanksgiving

Gluttony and sloth are my preferred deadly sins, so it would make sense that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A four-day weekend and nothing to do except eat and watch football? Yes, please.

The problem: I’m in Italy, and no American holiday is more difficult to pull off than Thanksgiving. Think about it; have you ever seen an Italian eat turkey? Have you ever seen a Macellaio (butcher) with a whole turkey in the display case? Italy eats pig. Salami, prosciutto, pancetta, pork pork pork. And the occasional cow and fish. And my Roman roommate has just informed me that even horse meat is consumed more frequently than turkey. Yes, you heard that right. They eat horse here too. Italian poultry dishes are few and far between.

Problem #1 – If you are lucky enough to realize that you have to special order your tacchina femmina intera – whole female turkey – from a butcher several days (if not a week) in advance, you’re on your way to a great T-day. However, you must also realize that you have to specifically request the turkey to be “pulito” – clean. Otherwise you’ll have to gut the damn thing yourself – not something I ever plan on doing.

Problem #2 – Getting it home. Ordering the “clean” turkey from the butcher, and estimating the size you need (in kilos) is just the tip of the iceberg. You will then need to walk home with the beast (or take the bus) and haul it up to the 5th floor (no elevator). I should have started training for this months ago.

Problem #3 – il Forno – the oven. Have you ever seen the size of an Italian kitchen, and more specifically the size of an Italian oven? Getting the bird in the oven will be a feat accomplished only by a master of geometrical rearranging – luckily I’ve played my fair share of tetris, we just might make it work. However, we might need to sever some limbs. Hope you like white meat!

Problem #4 – all that planning and effort is just for the turkey. What about the pumpkin pies, mashed potatoes, the candied yams, the gravy, and veggies?!?! We have one oven (with one rack), and a teeny tiny toaster oven. It will be absolute chaos, and quite an adventure. Photos to come.

Happy Turkey Day everyone! And don’t forget to be thankful for your American kitchens and Foster Farms – you have no idea how much easier Thanksgiving is to pull off with both of them.

Miss Katie vs. Italian 3rd Graders – Rounds 2-3

After the chaos that ensued in Week 1, I was dreading Week 2 with my class of third graders. The optimist in me said, “Yes, week 1 was hell, but surely it can only get better from here.” The pessimist in me said, “You have got to be out of your freaking mind to step back in that classroom.” The realist in me said, “It doesn’t matter how the lesson goes, it’s 50 euro for an hour of your time. You have to do it.”

I am not a quitter; I’m too stubborn and too competitive to admit defeat. After an appropriate amount of sulking, whining, and procrastination (approx. 5.5 days), I dragged myself to my desk to start planning the lesson for Week 2: Animals.

While the memory of that first day is a bit of a blur, I did make two mental notes that would assist with planning future lessons. First is that the kids had a ridiculous amount of energy. Therefore any activity which involved getting them out of their seats was teacher suicide; they’d be too wound up to sit back down. The second is that they LOVED anything that had to do with markers.

So I made worksheets, lots and lots of worksheets. Crossword puzzles, word searches, matching games, coloring activities. Anything to distract them and keep them in their seats. Better yet, they could take these worksheets home to Pappa and Mamma to show them how much they “learned” in English.

Also important was the fact that I adjusted my expectations of myself. One hour once a week is not enough time to really teach much of anything. The kids study english with their normal Italian teacher, so my job is simply to work on their pronunciation and get them accustomed to the American accent. So as long as I hear a few English words spoken throughout the hour, it’s a job well done.

So despite every self-preservation instinct telling me not to go back to that school, I walked into that classroom for Round 2 of Miss Katie vs. Italian 3rd Graders…

And I am proud to say I won. The kids were enthusiastic about learning new words, entertained by the silly animal flashcards, and excited to show their parents the drawings they made of their favorite animals. The hour flew by and I didn’t even need my Plan B!

As for Week 3, the topic was Halloween – which is known but not celebrated in Italy. But what 8-year old doesn’t like ghosts, witches, and vampires?!?!  I had the kids draw their own Haunted Houses and write a few spooky sentences to go with it. Again, they were on task and well-behaved.

After 3 weeks it’s Miss Katie: 2, Italian 3rd Graders: 1. I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful my winning trend continues throughout the year.

Miss Katie vs. Italian 3rd Graders – Round 1

I have absolutely no background or experience as a teacher. What I do have is a TEFL Certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and a desperate need to earn some money before I can continue my wandering. So when I arrived in Rome in August, I was determined to learn how to play the role of English Teacher. I’ve devoted the majority of my days (and nights) to studying English Grammar and watching YouTube videos of ESL teachers around the world; I picked up tips and techniques for classes of all sizes and students of all ages. Being the obsessive organizer that I am, I created my own library of lesson plans, vocabulary flashcards and worksheets on my computer, sorted by level (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc).

Work was not difficult to find; the demand for “Mother Tongue” English teachers is ridiculous. I started three weeks ago as an English tutor, working 1 on 1 with kids (ages 6-18). The downside is that I spend an incredible amount of time on the bus getting to/from the lessons; but the pay is good enough that with only  11 lessons each week, I earn enough to pay my bills and survive in Rome. Though it should be noted that “surviving” in Rome is hardly what I was hoping to accomplish; but hey, it’s a start.

Anyway, when my company told me about the opportunity to earn 50 euro teaching a class of 3rd graders once a week for an hour this year, I couldn’t say no.

My first lesson was last Friday, October 14th. I did not know how many students were in the class, nor did I know their English level. I was advised to assume that the kids knew nothing and simply start at square one. My first lesson plan was to go over basic introductions. By the end of the class, I wanted them to say “Hello, my name is ____,” “I am _____ years old,” and “Nice to meet you.” Pretty standard for ESL Day 1. I also wanted to assess their knowledge of the ABC’s and numbers; I had prepared a number of activities, games, and songs to keep them engaged. I was armed with a backup plan in case they were more advanced than I assumed.

I walked into that classroom with my head high, determined not to make the same mistakes other ESL teachers make and confident in my ability to manage the classroom.

That all lasted for about 10 minutes.

What happened over the next 50 minutes is a bit of a blur. I distinctly remember looking at the clock and thinking, “dear god, I have gone through everything and I still have 25 minutes left. What on earth am I going to do?!?!?” It was a nightmare. There were paper airplanes and aluminum balls flying across the room. The girls were fighting over markers and the boys were erasing what I had written on the chalkboard. I was outnumbered 17 to 1; by the time I got the attention of one half of the class, the other half was wreaking havoc.

I had lost complete control of the classroom and I had NO idea how to go about getting it back. At that point I abandoned any hope of teaching anything. My goal was simply to make sure nobody got hurt; I am happy to say I could at least accomplish that much.

When the bell rang, I walked the kids out to the playground to meet their parents. I left the school in a state of shock. I was just eaten alive by 17 third graders and I had no idea where I went wrong.

Think back to Elementary School and think about how you treated a substitute teacher. It’s a “Play Day,” right? Now imagine it is Friday afternoon and you are tired from a long week. Your teacher has gone home for the weekend. Half your class has also left; but your parents signed you up for a “supplemental” lesson in a foreign language and you’re stuck for an extra hour. Under these conditions, no child would have the least bit of interest in listening to some American girl teach them how to say “My name is _____.” I was basically set up for failure from the get go.

I went home, not sure how to even start planning for Week 2. I cooked myself a steak and drowned my sorrows in a bottle of Italian red. This is going to be a ridiculously long year.

Third Graders: 1   Miss Katie: 0

Writer’s Block

When a city defines itself as “eternal”…where does one begin?

I have been living in Rome for nearly two months, and I have fallen victim to what many call a writer’s block. I have had plenty of time to write, but when I actually sit down in front of my computer, my mind goes blank and nothing flows. Surely Rome is not lacking in inspiration. So what gives?

I initially thought my paralysis was due to the distraction of “setting up shop.”  I arrived in mid-August and had countless items to attend to: networking, setting up my room, finding work, determining my “budget,” scouting out the best gelateria, etc. But true to Katie Wax form, I had all the aforementioned items completed by the first week of September.

So nearly a month has passed since I “settled” into Rome, and I still can’t write. At least this week I think I finally figured out why: I am simply too overwhelmed by the immensity of this city, I don’t know where to begin. Rome is unlike any other – layers upon layers of history, art, architecture, religion, and culture – it is baffling.

Ancient Rome alone covers nearly 1,000 years of history – this is the age of Caesar & the Senate, business in the Forum, and triumphal arches. This is the age of unfathomable perfection in architecture and the incredible power of aqueducts to alleviate the city’s thirsty people. This is the age of gladiators and the Colosseum. This is the age of temples to the Pagan gods and the persecution (and later acceptance) of Christianity.


Fast forward to Renaissance & Baroque Rome in the 15th-17thcenturies and you find an age where humans are beautiful, intelligent, sensual beings. This is the Rome of Michelangelo, Bernini, da Vinci, and Caravaggio. This is the Rome of curiosity, of dreams, of exploration and of the discovery of human potential. This is the Rome of the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Dome, the Sistine Chapel and Villa Borghese. This is the Rome that inspired me to appreciate art and whose treasures continue to take my breath away.

Going forward 250 years and you have Contemporary Rome – the Rome of Garibaldi and Mazzini, the Rome that was designated as the capital of a newly united nation. This is the Rome of fascism and Mussolini’s definition of what it meant to be “Italian” instead of simply “Roman.” This is the Rome of a strategic effort to be internationally recognized. This is the Rome that allied with Nazi Germany and forced its Jewish inhabitants to once again reside in the “Jewish Ghetto.”

Then there is Modern Rome – the Rome that exists today, adding an additional layer its vast and complex history. This is the Rome of chaotic traffic, constant noise, and seemingly random transportation strikes. The Rome whose graffiti speaks of soccer fanatics and lovers’ anniversaries. This is the Rome who, despite an economic crisis, still honors the mid-day siesta. The Rome whose markets only offer seasonal vegetables to be selected for you by the farmer himself. This is the Rome I fell in love with 5 years ago, and this is the Rome which I’m proud to say is exactly the same.

And all that is just the city’s history. I haven’t even touched upon the smell of pizza in a wood-burning oven, the feeling of cobblestones under your feet, or the sound of Stadio Olimpico after A.S. Roma has scored a goal. I haven’t introduced the concept of “Monument Drinking,” a favorite past time which was created while studying here 5 years ago. I haven’t attempted to describe my own day-to-day experiences, like the old woman next door who scolds us regularly, or the incredible warmth of the man who works at the bar at the bottom of our building.

This is Rome – all these pieces existing simultaneously – I could write for years and not do this city justice. I simply have no idea where to begin.

Quinto Piano, 106 Scalini

The good news: I have a furnished room in an awesome apartment with dear friends in the oldest neighborhood in Rome. Better yet, I have found work to pay for it.

The bad news: it’s on the quinto piano (fifth floor), no elevator. Stair count: 106.

Goodbye love handles. Hello quadriceps, glutes and calves.

A Brief Hiatus

Be back soon, with stories from my Roman wanderings…

…Currently working on a resume, cover letter, preparation for interviews, and compiling demo English lessons so I don’t end up like this guy in Piazza Navona: