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Buona Festa Degli Innamorati: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. And so we shall be flattered that Italians have adapted the American tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day. They call it the Festa degli Innamorati, a holiday for lovers and sweethearts. Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, is celebrating big time:


Amore is abundant in Italy, in many forms. For example, there’s the Art of Italian Flirtations–one of the country’s many pleasures, celebrated in an excerpt from my book, “Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice”.


“I know a shrink in New York who sends women who are suffering from low self-esteem to Italy for a month,” Heather whispers, as we clink glasses at a wine bar near the Campo dei Fiori in Rome.

My amica Carol nods toward a handsome Italian signor at the other end of the room, who’s been staring at us since we walked in the door: “Men like that are better than Zoloft,” she says. Il Signor’s stare washes over us, blending in with the deep rich taste of red wine, the sharp pecorino cheese, the warmth of the rustic wood tables.

I have to admit the stare feels darn good.

I flashback to 1976 when I was 18 and arrived in Rome for the first time, when the flirting game was more primitive, played in the Me-Man-You-Woman-Hubba-Hubba style.

My “American Girl In Italy” experience began as soon as I stepped off the train, just as it was captured in the famous Ruth Orkin photo. There, a young woman walks in Florence while 13 men–-from a guy in a T-shirt on a vespa to a group of older gents in suits–give her variations of the leering eye. The American Girl steels herself, looking like a frightened doe. The photo was taken in 1951, but in that sweltering August of 1976, things in Italy hadn’t changed that much.

imagesSignorina, signorina,” men hissed from every corner. They popped out of nowhere, grabbing their crotches, reaching out for pinches. I was fresh American meat in their jungle.

According to my Catholic upbringing this reaction was all “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” I was supposed to be behaving and dressing with “Mary-like modesty” so my body would never be an occasion of sin to others.

Varieties of guilt flogged me. I felt guilty for wearing a halter top, but it was too hot for anything else. I felt guilty for lying to the men who stopped and asked if I was lost–-of course I was, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, right? I felt guilty because I’d read The Sensuous Woman and wasn’t FRIGID the worst thing a woman could be? I felt guilty because Gloria Steinem had ordered me not to be objectified–-should I be kicking these guys where it hurts?

At a loss, I assumed the American Girl in Italy walk, with my mother’s mantra in my head: “Don’t encourage them.” This strategy became futile in The Forum when a man who’d been stalking me, hissing behind every pillar, finally lost control at The House of the Vestal Virgins, ran up and slung me over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, squeezing my behind like a ripe tomato. I beat on his back and hollered till he dropped me and ran off laughing.

Shaken to the soles of my feet, (I remember I was wearing what we called Buffalo-sandals), I brushed myself off. Did that just happen to me? Me, the high school drama club geek? Me, the one who stood watching the girls with their flawless Farrah Fawcett hairdos get smooched up against their lockers by the cool guys? I scurried for my guidebook and squelched the confusion by reading about how the Vestal Virgins served Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth, by keeping her flame continuously burning and maintaining a vow of chastity for 30 years.

But that moment of being airborne, pinched, and that laugh–-particularly that laugh–kept playing back. As if it was a grown-up game of tag and I’d just had my initiation.

Thirty years later, Italian men have refined their flirting style to an art form I rank up there with the country’s many masterpieces. I’ve watched it evolve over many years coming here. It’s as if they were all sat down and ordered to view Marcello Mastroianni movies, memorizing his looks and moves to perfection. Now what’s in their in their genes, in their historical legacy from the days of Casanova, has come to full flower. Women are adored here–from precious baby principessas to mammas and everything in between.

And who doesn’t adore being adored? Having reached that certain age where attention back home is waning, here it comes at me with every encounter. The barista at the café brushes my hand with a smile as he passes me my morning cappuccino. The shopkeeper who bundles up my postcards gives me a wink. At dinner, a cameriere pulls out a chair for me whispering “Buona sera, signora,” in a low sensuous voice, keeping a firm hand on my back.

When I return to Los Angeles and report these flirtations to my husband, he laughs it off with, “Unbelievable! That stuff was beat out of us guys in the seventies. I held open a door for a woman once back then and she read me the riot act. And now with sexual harassment, I could be sued for reckless eyeballing if I turn my head towards a female for two seconds longer than I’m supposed to at work.”

I ask him to stare at me and he gives it a try, but it just results in mutual giggles. Decades-long marriages and the enticing mysteries of the flirting game go together like a bowl of minestrone topped with tiramisu.

So I go to Italy and play the soft, subtle version of the game, now that I’ve grown from signorina to signora, knowing the strategy is to not take any of it seriously. It’s a harmless way to get a little lift, simply accepting being appreciated for nothing more than being a woman.

Walking along Rome’s Via del Corso there’s so much to admire–-from the guy with the slicked back hair and leather jacket speeding along on his moto who brings back memories of bad-boy high school heartthrobs, to the elegant set who stroll with their suit jackets slung behind them off their index fingers, displaying tempting torsos in crisp white shirts. Mix these visions with church bell gongs, gushing fountains, naked thick-rippling-muscled statues and a street violinist playing Besame Mucho and I am oh-so relaxed as we catch each other’s eyes.

I realize my style differs from how other American women play it when I sit with Mario, a bar owner in Positano. Suddenly, a table of American women of a certain age, having had one too many limoncellos, zig-zags by to give Mario their buona nottes. One of them, a bleached blonde, squeezed into white jeans with silver studded pockets, turns to present her rear to Mario. He pats and pinches obligingly, sending her giggling away. As soon as she’s out the door he throws up his hands, “Aagghh! American women! They don’t understand the affair is an affair. The European woman, she knows it’s just what it is, she can take care of herself, and let us men be. But these Americans!”

Fabio, a handsome, deeply tanned boatman, joins in: “I’m exhausted. All summer I bring the American women from here to Capri. We have the sun, the wine… Then one of them has a top off, another one a bottom off. I am a man, what can I do? But it’s too much, too much–-they come here, they expect!”

Back in Rome, the trend becomes even more obvious when I walk by a Piazza Navona caffe and see a group of females ogling a businessman in a well-tailored suit. He puts his head down, avoiding entanglement. It all adds up to the inverse of Ruth Orkin’s masterpiece. Now it’s The Italian Boy In Italy who’s being leered at by gangs of American women.

Ladies, please stop!

Is this behavior going to ruin my game? Will the cougars with their blatant expectations scare off the signori? I have an urge to start a campaign to end this, like the Italians did when a McDonalds was opened beneath the Spanish Steps and they started the Slow Food Movement to preserve the country’s culinary culture. Their symbol is the snail, posted on all establishments that play by Slow Food rules.

I imagine plastering Rome with symbols of the Italian Stare, setting up enclaves where none of this breed of American woman tourists can trespass, so the delicate tradition can be preserved safely, and these men won’t become an endangered species.

I finish up my glass of wine and turn to look at the staring signor. He raises an eyebrow to add just the right mischievous element. It’s as if he’s beckoning words from the Roman poet Ovid’s advice to men in the Art of Love: “They may cry, naughty, but they want to be overcome…”

Could he be the one who slung me over his shoulder in the Forum those many years ago?

“Buona notte,” I say to him, as I head out the door, tossing my scarf over my shoulder.

Now in the Roman night, I realize the shock that rocked my world 30 years ago has transformed to a flutter, that whispers enchantingly:

We are men, you are women. We are alive! And what a fun game we play!


To read more Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice…Buy the Book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords



Golden Day 118: Faenza with Laura Silvagni of Ceramiche La Vecchia Faenza

LAURAI discovered the Superstar Ceramicist  Laura Silvagni while reading Laura Morelli’s  wonderful book, Made in Italya MUST READ for anyone interested in the backstage story of Italian artisans.

One of the many artisans Made in Italy features is Laura Silvagni, who is from the town of Faenza in Emilia-Romagna, a place that has been renowned for ceramics since the Renaissance.

14472_698720866811582_236498183_nOf  the many patterns Faenza is famous for, I love the Garofano (carnation style), that was inspired by French and Asian ceramics and became popular here in the 18th century.

GAROFANOLaura Silvagni brings a new interpretation of traditional Faenza designs to her work, that’s been praised internationally. Her hand painted ceramics have become part of prized private collections–including that of Pope John Paul II. She is well known for her hand painted Raffallesco pieces…


You can find creations of Laura’s and other Faenza artisans at La Vecchia Faenza (Via S. Ippolito 23/a), where there is an attached laboratory and tours are offered for free. And in the center of Faenza is the Laura Silvagni shop (Corso Garibaldi 12/A), where you can also see artisans at work, including Laura, painting ceramics.

LAURAPAINTINGI’m so very grateful Laura has joined in to give us her advice for a Golden Day in Faenza

Faenza has a beautiful historical city center, so the best thing to start with is a nice sightseeing walk. As it’s largely pedestrian only, walking is pleasant, or you may wish to rent a bike, which most of the hotels provide. The historical part of the town within the city walls includes many medieval, renaissance, neoclassical and art nouveau buildings and monuments: Piazza del Popolo, the Cathedral, the Monumental Fountain, the Theater, the Chiesa della Commenda. Faenza-Historye88316b4338cfc62c5794dbe2e22f7a3la_cattedrale-di-faenza_e_fontana-monumentaleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchiesa-commenda-foto-r

If you like the neoclassical style and architecture you should not miss the Palazzo Milzetti National Museum of Neoclassical Art (Via Tonducci 15 48018,054626493) with its beautiful frescoes. interno-milzetti

Certainly, Faenza’s most important museum is the International Museum of Ceramics(Viale Alfredo Baccarini 19,0546697311) with its huge collection of works of art from all ages and from all continents. It also hosts many important temporary exhibitions.  collezioni_1 As you enjoy your morning in Faenza, you have lots of choices of caffes in the cente, including Nove 100 (Corso Mazzini 69,054668704), which has a pretty outdoor patio… 100 My favorite places for gelato are Puro& Bio (Viale Roberto Valturio 39, 3299331476) or Linus Jazz (Corso Aurelio Saffi 42,054621576) 10151994_781180081906210_7292439646169238147_n

When aperitivo time comes, a short walk from the Ceramics Museum there is Clan Destino (Viale Baccarini, 21/A, 0546681327, Open 3:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. daily), where you’re also likely to find live music.   230984_10150180369691379_2131440_n For a delicious lunch or dinner, in the city center, not far from the main square is Trattoria Marianaza  (Via E.Torricelli 21,0546681461) where you should order tortelloni (stuffed pasta) or grilled steaks. Or you may enjoy La Baita (Via Naviglio 25c, 054621584) where you can find a good selection of typical products and wines.


A great place to stay is Hotel Vittoria (Corso Garibaldi 23), a historical hotel near the main square. It has beautiful art nouveau frescoes and furniture which create a unique atmospheare. The bar and restaurant are also very nice! The hotel also exhibits a selection of works from many ceramists from Faenza. vittoria-hotel-faenza_STD hotel-vit2toria And be sure to stop by the Pro Loco Faenza; a Tourist Information Center(Voltone della Molinella 2, 054625231) located in the main square, where they will give you all the needed information and tips, and tell you about events while you’re there. 1422366_199432026909231_1466013458_n

Grazie mille Laura! I look forward to visiting beautiful Faenza this fall…

Meanwhile, you can buy ceramics from La Vecchia Faenza online, CLICK HERE…

AND enjoy more of Laura Morelli’s books, including her first fiction book, THE GONDOLA MAKER, where she masterfully immerses you in Renaissance Venice:

LAURA2Click here for author Laura Morelli’s WEBSITE

Golden Day Seventy-Two: Milan’s Golden Quadrangle with Barbara Conelli

It has been great fun to connect with Barbara Conelli, a writer who divides her time between New York and Milan. As she puts it, her mission is to “bring Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women’s lives.” Barbara shares her passion for Milan in her book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita and is following that up with Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore. You can also listen to her delightful Radio Show AND Barbara’s Blog is a must click if you’re planning a visit to Milan–full of insider’s advice about everything from trattorias, to spas, gardens, and bookstores.

I’m so grateful to have this expert join in to give advice for A Golden Day…

All around the world, Milan is seen as the metropolis of haute-couture and the venue of one of the most popular Fashion Weeks. Therefore, the visit of Quadrilatero della Moda, or Quadrilatero d’Oro – Fashion or Golden Quadrangle – is a Milanese must. Maybe just for the luxurious and truly golden atmosphere strangely divorced from the everyday reality.






Quadrilatero d’Oro includes four streets: Montenapoleone, Spiga, Sant’Andrea and Manzoni: Wide boulevards lined with neoclassical palaces. During the day, the streets are full of famous and not-so-famous models, their rich lovers and foreigners from far away.

The best thing you can do is visit the Golden Quadrangle during Milanese spring or fall sales. International fashion brands sell their creations with a huge discount and it’s the best time to acquire something juicy for your wardrobe and feel like a famous star for one day. I’m sure you will treat yourself to the visit of French fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès or Louis Vuitton, but don’t forget the Italian ones – after all, you’re in Milan.

Apart from notorious brands – Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Moschino, Missoni or Trussardi – there are also brands a little less known abroad but very popular in Italy. Your shopping day in the Golden Quadrangle is a great opportunity to discover, explore and admire them.

One of such stores is Roccobarocco in Via della Spiga. Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with Baroque, although the name implies it. The founder of this brand is Rocco Barocco, a very successful and popular Italian fashion designer and creator of both haute-couture and prêt-à-porter. You will fall in love with Rocco’s clothes and handbags if you’re not afraid of bright colors and extravagant cuts. Rocco revels in striking colors of Italy and in silhouettes that accentuate long legs, wide shoulders and slim arms. Roccobarocco celebrates Italian femininity in all its glory and highlights everything that’s typical for Italian women: Charm, elegance, sense of humor, lightness and self-confidence.

Of course, the uncrowned king of the Golden Quadrangle is the house of Armani that today offers not only clothes but also cosmetics and make-up, watches, jewelry and even luxurious hotels. Megastore Armani in Via Manzoni 31 is a three-floor giant and paradise for Armani lovers from all around the world. You can try on whatever you like and chat with obliging stylists who are ready to create a unique Armani style just for you. And if you haven’t had enough of Armani yet, have lunch in the nearby Emporio Armani Caffé in Via Crocerossa 2. It’s distinguished not only by the Armani design, but also by delicious meals prepared only from organic fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood and high-quality meat.

Click here to watch the Emporio Armani Caffé Opening Night Video!

After lunch you will probably realize that your feet are starting to hurt and the shopping bags in your hands are too heavy. Relax and have a cup of excellent coffee and a fluffy dessert in Via Montenapoleone 8, in Cova, the oldest Milanese café and patisserie.

When you swallow the last piece of the cake and the last sip of your cappuccino, let your exhausted body enjoy a few hours of pampering and intoxicating pleasure at a local spa. They will spoil you rotten so much you will not want to go back to the real world.

L’Espa Gianfranco Ferré in Via Sant’Andrea with black and gold mosaics and a gorgeous private garden is scented with aromatic oils and as soon as you enter, its chromotherapeutic lights soothe you and pleasantly slow you down. The space of L’Espa Gianfranco Ferré is inspired by ancient baths and returns to the age-long Italian tradition of caring for both your body and spirit.

Bulgari Spa is located in the private alley of Via Fratelli Gabba. Its oriental emerald-green hammam lit by candles and the pool made of golden mosaic will carry you to the world of A Thousand and One Nights. You can turn into a harem sweetheart and indulge in extraordinary pampering, a dream come true for every woman.

The Milanese Golden Quadrangle is a magically beautiful quarter worth visiting and admiring. It’s a perfect opportunity to have a day just for yourself and feel like a chique Italian princess for as long as you wish. La dolce vita at its best.

Grazie Barbara, for showing us The Way!