This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trisha Thomas, the blogger of Mozzarella Mamma, winner of the "Best Overall Blog for Lovers of Italy' in our 2013 Blogger Awards. Trisha has been jotting down stories from the past 16 years about what it's like raising children as an americana in Italy. Her blog recounts her personal stories about life adapting to another society, while still maintaining her own core beliefs, values and traditions. On being an Italian mamma, she quotes from a close friend: "We try to teach them good values, we try to teach them to work hard and do their best, but somehow I think we are turning our children into mozzarellas."
Trisha, where are you from originally?
I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and mostly grew up in the Boston area with the exception of 5 years living abroad. My parents were both involved in international development work so, as a young girl, age 5 to 7, I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh with my family (back then it was East Pakistan); then as a teenager, ages 12-14, I lived with my family in Nairobi, Kenya.
What made you choose Rome as your home base?
I had no intention of choosing Rome as my home base. I met my future Italian husband in my first year in graduate school at Columbia University in New York. I was getting a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a focus on Southeast Asia. My goal was to be a foreign correspondent living in Asia. I had already spent a year working in the Philippines. Gustavo, my future husband, threw a monkey wrench into my plans. I finished my degree, but never went to Asia. We married near Boston and agreed that we would live the first five years of our marriage in Rome and then spend the next five in the U.S. and try to go back and forth. We figured we both had pretty movable careers. I am a journalist and he is a professor of 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 U.S. for holidays. I would love to spend a few years living in the U.S., but I have finally accepted that that is not going to happen.
Can you tell us about the area where you live?
I live in the Flaminia neighborhood of Rome. I love it because we are right near the Number 2 tram that in three stops takes us straight to Piazza del Popolo and the center of Rome. There are lots of nice casual restaurants here and we are not far from some lovely parks like Villa Borghese. We also have a museum in our neighborhood, the MAXXI, a theater, the Teatro Olimpico, and Rome’s Auditorium, where there are lots of great events going on. It is a wonderful area to live in.
What do you love about Rome?
I love Rome at sunset. I love the pink and orange colors on the ancient buildings. If I ever have time to have an aperitivo outdoors at sunset, I always notice so many beautiful aspects of Rome I usually miss. I love the Roman pines with their umbrella tops and long spindly, leggy trunks. I love the piazzas and the cobblestones. I love the coffee bars where one can whip in for a quick espresso or cappuccino. I love the fountains—the Trevi Fountain, the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona, the Barcaccia Fountain at Piazza di Spagna, and the turtle fountain in the Ghetto. There are so many to see. I also love all the artwork. When I came to Rome, I like to tell people, I did not know the difference between a Caravaggio and a Canaletto. I had never studied art history and was clueless. In Italy it is all around you and I love soaking it up and learning as I go along. There is an art gallery right in the building where I work (Palazzo Doria Pamphilj) and it is chock-a-block full of paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Tintoretto, Guido Reni, Carracci – you name it, it’s there.
In your blog, you write about a variety of issues, from what it’s like to be an American mother in Italy to stories you cover for Associated Press, what is that like?
Well, I first started out to write humorously about how hard it is to be a mother in Italy. Women are expected to do it all and be it all. Women handle most of the childcare and most of the work in the home. They are also supposed to be great cooks and be beautiful and sexy all the time. It is very hard to do all that. I have a lot of blog posts on my failed attempts. Eventually, because so much of my life has involved balancing my work and my family, my blog evolved to include lots of posts on the stories I cover. Instead of telling the story as I would for AP, I try to give a behind-the-scenes picture, and often tell how I manage my family while I am doing the story. I feel extremely lucky to have the job with AP television. I get to cover the Vatican and travel with Popes. I travelled with John Paul II and covered his death and funeral. I covered the election of Benedict XVI and his resignation, and now I am covering Pope Francis. But I don’t just cover the Vatican. I have done a lot of coverage of immigrants arriving in Italy from Northern Africa; I have covered lots of Italian politics and other lighter stories like the Venice Film Festival and recently George Clooney’s wedding.
[Photo: Trisha on the plane with Pope Francis, going to the Middle East, May 2014.]
Is there anything about life in Italy that drives you crazy?
Yes! I get frustrated at the insane traffic, the pharmacy (you always have to ask someone for anything you need), the food rigidity (too much pizza and pasta, not enough Indian curry or Thai food), the pressure on women to be beautiful and sexy, the constant need for bella figura. 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.
Unfortunately, with the economic crisis, I’ve noticed in recent years that Romans have become much more aggressive, quicker to bicker and fight and use bad language, especially in traffic. People are angry and frustrated; many of them are losing hope for the future. Young people are going abroad to live and study and the ones who stay are not having children. So the atmosphere has deteriorated somewhat. I think Romans have lost some of their humor and optimism.
What would you tell anyone looking to move their life to Rome?
I would say that Rome is a beautiful city to live in. There is so much to see and explore. Even today, after 21 years in Rome, there are still so many things I want to see – museums, ruins, churches, works of art. On top of that, the weather is great. There are periods of rain, but most of the time it is sunny, and that puts everyone in a better mood. There are so many months of the year when you can eat outdoors. And yes, the food is delicious.
You cover Italian politics and politicians a lot in your blog, what is your general feel on the future of Italy?
The political situation in Italy is discouraging. When I first moved to Rome and started covering politics, Berlusconi had emerged as a new political figure. He went on to dominate Italian politics for the last 20 years and, as far as I can tell, he did not do anything useful for the country. The current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pushed his way into power this past Spring. Renzi was not elected; he became Prime Minister by a sort of internal party coup-d’etat, getting rid of his predecessor of the same party, Enrico Letta. I found it a bit of a Machiavellian move, but most Italians thought it was alright, because they felt Renzi was the better person for the job. It appeared that Renzi had an incredible amount of energy, willpower and determination and Italians pinned their hopes on him for getting the country back on track. However, now that he is running the show, he is appearing to be less effective than everyone hoped, although I am not sure there is anyone better right now. Most of the Italians I speak to are very hostile toward all politicians. “Throw all those bums out” is what most people say. I think this comes after decades of seeing politicians getting huge salaries, massive perks and behaving corruptly. The cliché is that Italians always pull through despite their political leaders. I guess I will have to fall back on that one, but it makes me sad to see many people so discouraged.
[Photo: Trisha in L'Aquila interviewing George Clooney, who was visiting the Abruzzese town after the 2009 earthquake.]
When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog as a way to attract a publisher for a manuscript for a book that I had just completed. I had tried to find an agent with no success and didn’t have the time, energy or willpower to pursue it further. Someone suggested that blogging is a good way to attract a publisher. I now totally disagree with that assumption. I don’t think my blog will attract a publisher so I have temporarily given up on the book and now the blog has taken on a life of its own. I consider my blog as a way to keep a diary of both my professional and personal interests and experiences. It can all eventually be material for a new book that I can write when I retire 20 years from now, because I have no time for it now.
Who follows your blog? Tell us about your readers.
Well, judging by the comments, my blog is mostly followed by women. I only have two men who regularly comment and one is my Dad, although several male friends send me private emails when they think a post is interesting. I think many of my regular readers are women who are retired and have more time for reading blogs. It also depends on the post. Some posts on the Vatican attract a group of people with religious concerns. Posts on the stresses of motherhood often attract mothers facing similar issues. Many posts attract people interested in Italy and Italian life and culture. Some of them are planning visits to Italy.
What do you blog about and what inspires you?
As I mentioned above, I started blogging about the trials and tribulations of trying to be a good working mother in Rome, and now I’ve expanded to include a lot of the stories I cover for work or interesting aspects of Rome. Sometimes I get excited about an artist or a work or art and I will do a post on that. I often get inspired to do posts on women whether they are current figures, like Italy’s first black Minister, Cecile Kyenge, or historical figures like artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
For families in Rome, what advice would you give them?
I think I would use a word my daughter often says to me (which I usually hate), and that is “chill”. Rome can be a very stressful city, so there is no point in getting worked up (as I sometimes do). There is a lot of traffic and there is a lot of bureaucracy. Sometimes it takes forever to get simple things done and one can get irritable and find your hair standing on end. Try the post office, for example. Some practical matters that could be resolved most places online require hours of waiting in line for a rubber-stamp or receipt, or documents. And if you don’t have the right rubber-stamp, someone behind a glass that you can’t hear very well is going to be very condescending and give you a hard time. It drives me nuts. I have to learn to read a newspaper, check emails on my phone, read a book on my Kindle while I wait, and if someone is not satisfied with my documents and rubber-stamps, I have to resist getting aggravated, put a smile on my face and start all over again. One also has to know how to keep one’s place in line. Romans are fantastic line-cutters. Little old ladies or rich middle age men can be furbone (clever and tricky) at skipping the line at the post office or at a public hospital.
All your blog posts are interesting but can you recommend one or two especially for ITALY Magazine readers?
Here are a few on a variety of topics that others have enjoyed:
Thank you for talking to ITALY Magazine, Trisha! Happy blogging.