I love it quadri

Tip #1:    Point and grunt.

Tip #2:    Always have Google Translate open on your phone and a copy of the “Alfabeto Fonetico” in your wallet. My name spelled out this way is Torino-Otranto-Napoli-Imola. Domodossola-Empoli-Bologna-Empoli-Livorno-Livorno-Ancona.

Tip #3:    Never make eye contact on public transportation – it invites people to speak to you.

Tip #4   Don’t engage in conversations with Italians under the age of 5…it’s just soo00 humiliating.

Tip #5:    Avoid initiating phone calls – send emails or text messages because you’re less likely to sound stupid in writing.

Tip #6:    If you must answer the phone, pretend you’ve got a bad connection. “Pronto? Mi senti? Mi senti? Boh” and then hang up.

Tip #7:    Respond to questions (even if you don’t understand them) with phrases such as “Certo” (sure), “Si, Si” (yes, yes), “Va bene” (okay) and “Ho capito” (understood) as you start to walk away. People won’t think you’re rude – just late for an appointment.

Tip #8:    When all else fails…talk with your hands.


And speaking of speaking Italian..I recently participated in a podcast with Cher Hale, the brains behind the “Iceberg Project.


What’s the Iceberg Project,?

The Iceberg Project is based on the theory that most of what you learn about culture when visiting a new country without speaking the language is just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more about The Iceberg Project go to click here

by Toni DeBella

Vicolo scooter

THE SAGA CONTINUES… (Read Vicolo Wars here).

Since declaring war in my little alley things have gone from bad to worse. 

Remember the plants that I couldn’t water when motorcycles were parked underneath the windowsill? Not a problem any longer – my flowers pots disappeared one by one by one…

Flowers and sign

Rough Translation: “For the person who stole my vase of flowers. Shame!”

When the cold winter weather arrived the scooters moved out and the dog walkers moved in… 


Rough Translation: “Someone lives on this vicolo. It’s not a bathroom for your dogs.”

**(Note: Sign disappeared 5 minutes after I posted it).

Oh, how I miss the days when young girls only sat on the stoop and smoked. Now drunk teenagers scream and barf on my doorstep at 2:30 a.m. leaving broken beer bottles to step on in the morning. I admit it was sort of amusing listening through the door as a group of confused offenders discussed the sign. I think the sarcasm might have gone over their inebriated little heads…


Rough Translation: “To be young is a beautiful thing. Please be young somewhere else.” 

Vicolo War is hell.


by Toni DeBella






Paolo and Elizabeth needed help harvesting their olives. The window of opportunity was closing and with rain in the forecast, this was possibly their last chance for raccolta delle olive.

Temperatures have dropped considerably in Umbria and a chilly wind was blowing. However, being the good friend that I am, I didn’t hesitate to offer my assistance. After all, what are friends for if not to come to the rescue in times of need?

The promise of free olive oil and a homemade meal prepared by Paolo’s mother, Franca, had absolutely nothing to do with it.



by Toni DeBella

Read more about life in the Umbrian countryside in Elizabeth’s blog: My Village in Umbria 

2013-02-08 11.17.39The clock tower bells ring out to announce it’s six o’clock. I jump up, grab my coat, obligatory scarf and run out the front door towards the main street of town! No one loves Sunday passeggiata (evening stroll) more than I do!  

All over Italy this ritual plays out as streets swell with well-dressed residents parading about to show off their new shoes or newest love affairs. Back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

I merge into the flow, but unfortunately find myself stuck behind three generations of a family: Grandparents, parents, children, baby buggy and even the dog. Linked arm-and-arm they’ve spread themselves across the width of the street like an Italian game of Red Rover. I wait for a slight opening in the chain and squirm my way around the group, rushing to secure a place on the bench in front of the gelateria – my absolute favorite spot for people watching. 

PasseggiataIt’s here at the intersection of Corso Cavour and Via Del Duomo that foot traffic builds to critical mass, bottlenecking to create a kind of pedestrian gridlock.

I’m so happy to have scored a front row seat for La Passeggiata d’Orvieto. All that’s missing is the popcorn. 

by Toni DeBella

Kelly's Bike

It goes without saying that painters of landscapes love the out of doors, but for one American-turned-Roman resident, Plein air painting isn’t only a passion it’s a way of life. Riding around the Eternal City on her “tricked out” bicycle – two saddle bags swinging in the wind and trusty easel strapped to her back – it’s just another day at the office for artist Kelly Medford.

Kelly laughingI met Kelly outside a book event in Rome last fall and mistakenly took her for a college student studying abroad. Perhaps it was her fresh face and wide-eyed exuberance that makes Kelly seem much younger than her 36 years, but make no mistake about it – this petite powerhouse of a woman is an accomplished painter with serious credentials.

Kelly Medford grew up in Washington, D.C., the only child of two left-brained scientists. Her emotional, expressive and free-spirited nature set her on a different path with its share of serendipitous forks in the road and twists of fate along the way.

Kelly alley paintingFortunately for us Kelly’s travels eventually landed her in Italy where she was accepted into the prestigious Florence Academy of Art. It was in the Renaissance capital that she spent a year of intensive training in classical figurative drawing, honing her skills and developing her techniques. But painting indoors made Kelly feel isolated and itching to spread her wings so, in 2010, she traded the dimly lit, heavy-curtained and controlled environment of Florence for the warm, golden sun-soaked locations of Rome. You’ll most likely find Kelly on a tiny lane or hidden piazza painting beautifully evocative canvases of Roman life or the surrounding countryside.

IMG_2478Kelly loves to paint. Kelly loves the outdoors. Kelly loves to share her love of painting outdoors so Sketching Rome Tour was born. “I created the tour so that people could have a different way of experiencing and remembering Rome. It’s such a beautiful place with so much history, that to take a photograph doesn’t really capture how you feel about a place.”

No Experience Necessary. No Erasers Allowed

I recently met up with Kelly and her sketch group at their morning classroom, the Pincio balcony adjacent to the Villa Borghese gardens. My fellow students were Joanie, a teacher from Palm Springs (paints in her spare time) and daughters Becca (likes art a lot) and Vanessa (an excellent doodler).


Following a brief but enlightening lesson on technique and tips for using our handmade-by-Kelly sketchbook and kit, we fanned out to draw…rocks, leaves, sign posts, statues…I was having so much fun I didn’t want the tour to end, but sadly it had to end…but not before gathering as a group for a little “show and tell”. 

Kelly urged us to continue our visual travel journals after the tour was over. “When you look at those drawings”, Kelly explained, “you’ll have a recall about the day, what it was like, who was there, the weather – just the place – and that’s why sketching is important.”

Sketch tour rome

Memories, as I learned from Kelly, are extra-special when you can hold them in your hand.

For more information about how you can sketch your own Roman memories, contact Kelly Medford at Sketching Rome Tour 

See Kelly’s artwork at Kelly Medford.com and her Adventures in Painting Blog

by Toni DeBella

Vicolo Wars

IMG_2416I live on a quiet little vicolo (alley) just off the main piazza in town. It’s very private – the entrance to my apartment is the only one on the lane. No cars are allowed to drive down this street, however, foot traffic, motorcycles and scooters are permitted. The motorcycle riders love to park their bikes here (rather than in the designated parking spaces just a few steps around the corner). Italian motorcycles are the iconic epitome of power and sex appeal: Ducati, Aprilia, Vespa. Motorbikes and their owners are immediately deemed “cool” in my book, so I figured living on a street where they congregate makes me cool by association.

…I came home last week to find a motorcycle parked directly beneath my kitchen window making it impossible for me to water my geraniums. I left the guy a note on his windshield.

IMG_2072Yesterday I discovered two girls sitting and smoking on my stoop – their scooter helmets lying in the street. Okay fine, young girls need a secluded place to commiserate about boys, but did they have to leave behind their plastic orange juice containers and a bunch of cigarette butts on the ground? Who do they think I am, La Mamma?

The cigarette butts are starting to pile up. Do you have any idea know how long it takes to sweep up a month’s worth of discarded butts between the cobblestones? Forty-five minutes. That’s right, forty-five minutes! And the thin, hand-rolled ones are the worst!


Is it really necessary to rev your engine for what seems like FOREVER, before driving away?

Today was the final straw…


This is war!







by Toni DeBella

American In Rome

I don’t like the word “Expat” –  it feels exclusionary, divisive and, dare I say it, a bit elitist. 

I never liked being a member of a clique in school either, preferring to spread myself around, hopping from one social and ethic circle to another.

1ex·pa·tri·ate verb \ek-ˈspā-trē-ˌāt\

1: banish, exile

2: to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country

…Nope, that doesn’t quite define me.

Look, it’s perfectly obvious that I am not from around here (especially when I open my mouth) so I see no real need to announce it, label it, or hide behind it.

Go ahead and call me an “American”, call me a “Straniera” (foreigner), call me “crazy”, but don’t call me “Expat”. 


Photograph “American Girl” by Ruth Orkin, 1951


by Toni DeBella


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