IT IS WHERE I was always meant to be.
Somehow I knew that from that first moment when I stepped off the Alitalia jet and ventured into the chaos of Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. I was 14 years old on that miserably hot and humid day and knew I had found my special place.
It didn’t happen by accident. I was born and raised on the West Side of Manhattan, in Hell’s Kitchen, but I might as well have been in Italy. My mother spoke no English and neither did I until I walked into a first grade classroom. She told me stories of the island where our family was from—Ischia, off the coast of Naples—and of a World War that had stripped her of a husband, a brother and a six-month-old infant all before she reached her 24th birthday. I was taken to see Italian movies soon as I was old enough to sit still for two hours and stared in amazement at the harsh realities of the neo-realism films of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini; laughed at the brilliance of “Big Deal on Madonna Street” and then fell in love with Rome (as we all did) watching Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and then later embracing the city and all its charm as I sat enthralled as Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn found love in “Roman Holiday.”
I spent seven summers in Ischia, rushing to the island soon as school ended and somehow always managing an excuse to return home a few days after its September start. I felt a blood link with the island, the cities, the country, and walked the streets well aware I was re-tracing the steps of my history. I loved the tales told to me by the people I came across—from friends now of many decades to relatives long since gone to conversations overheard in piazzas and outdoor cafes. To someone from New York City, Italy was one big exotic adventure, topped off by great food and even better wine.
So, it was not by accident that when I began to write books for a living, I would set many of my stories on Italian shores. Of the nine books I have written and published, six of them take place in whole or in part in Europe, Italy the pre-dominant country.
(Stay tuned for Part 2.)