All Things Italy Spring / Summer 2021

June 18, 2021 / Etta Madden / Subscribe

Hello, friends and fellow travelers! 

Thanks for joining me in this second issue of “All Things Italy.” Primarily, my goals are to update you on the progress of my book projects and associated talks, to share a few thoughts about works I’ve read (and films I’ve seen), and to provide a few tips on travels to Italy. Here I pull together some of the shorter posts which have appeared on social media, sending them directly to your inbox. (Apologies for any repetition for those who have already seen some of the info elsewhere.) 

In the last issue, I promised more on some sites in Sicily, a sketch of “foreign correspondent” Anne Hampton Brewster, and suggestions from my readings on Italy. Guess what? I’ve fallen short on that promise in the three specifics. I do, however, provide info in the general categories: some less-traveled sites, a bit more on Brewster, and a book title. Additionally, I’m recommending a film and sharing some on activist educator Emily Bliss Gould, who lived in Italy from 1860-75. Rather than starting with an update on my book status, I’m beginning with a photo I shared on social media last weekend. Info on Engaging Italy follows.

I’m glad you’re reading, and I hope you find and enjoy something new in the lines and images below. 

Lago Maggiore & Santa Caterina del Sasso  

For those who saw the social media teaser last week, with the question—where is she going?the answer is down the steps above Lago Maggiore, to visit the peaceful hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso 

Descending the stone pathway, a fellow traveler heads to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso on Italy’s Lago Maggiore (photo courtesy of Greg & Barb Harrell)

If you’re looking for a less visited spot in Europe than some of Italy’s major cities, and a great locale for getting over jetlag after arriving at Milan’s Malpensa airport from the US, try heading a few kilometers north to one of the many towns on the shores of Lago Maggiore. This large lake borders Italy’s Lombardy and Piedmont regions and Switzerland’s canton of Ticino. Of course, in the height of the summer season, and especially on Saturdays and Sundays, there will be more of a crowd. But on a weekday in early June (when this photo was taken), you just might have some quiet space to yourself. You can ferry from town to town, stopping for snacks, a swim, or shopping, or you can simply enjoy a few moments of serenity and reflection at this historic point on the southeastern side of the lake.

Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso perched on Lago Maggiore’s shore in Italy’s Lombardy region (photo courtesy of Greg & Barb Harrell)

Parts of the hermitage, now a monastic site, date back to the 12th century. The history of its foundation includes the life-changing experience of a merchant who escaped having his boat dashed on the rocks when a storm quickly arose. (Our group witnessed how quickly and ferociously the storms blow in here–note the ominous clouds in the photo above.) Before or after a visit, take a lunch or dinner at Trattoria Per Bacco. Both the site and the trattoria have ample parking for your rental car. Travel by train or bus is a bit more complicated—especially post-jetlag—but may be accomplished, if you have the time to devote to it. Select one of the towns along the lake (I enjoyed Baveno on my first visit) and start planning. You may decide to stay for several days. . .  

For those reading for “off the beaten track” tips and planning to be further south on the peninsula, see additional suggestions below on Rome and one bit of advice on lodging in Florence. And, you may always send me questions about specific places. I am happy to consult on “all things Italy.” If I don’t have the answers, I’ll try to find them for you. 

Updates on Engaging Italy 

When I last wrote, the Engaging Italy manuscript and my press editor were calling me to tighten the prose and reduce the pages. Since then, I completed that task—at least, for now. I sent the manuscript off for the next part of production two weeks ago. Those of you familiar with publishing know that another round of copyediting lies ahead. But with the click of the send button came a sigh of relief.  

Also adding to the past weeks’ busy-ness was reaching out to the Archives and Manuscripts Division of the New York Public Library and the Silver Special Collections at the University of Vermont, among others, to request high resolution digital images and permissions to publish them. I would share many of the images with you, but the bad news is that the copyright permissions don’t allow reprinting here. The good news, however, is that several photos I took during research trips will not be in the book. I own the rights to those, of course. And a few images for the book are also within the public domain. So I’m posting some of what I can here. Each allows me to share a bit more of Emily Bliss Gould, Anne Hampton Brewster, and Caroline Crane Marsh (the three women at the center of Engaging Italy) with you, and to throw in a few travel tips along the way. 

What about a summer book club here?  

Bosco Parassio gardens, Rome, with hydrangea in bloom (author’s photos, above and below, with recognition of permission from the property owners and per gentile concessione dell’Accademia dell’Arcadia)

Some of my favorite images from Rome are of this lush outdoor space about halfway up the Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill), between St. Peter’s and the Villa Doria Pamphili and its ample park. For those of you who have been in Rome in the summer months, you know how brutally hot and desolate the paving stones and ruins of the public spaces closer to the Tiber may be. The shady public gardens on the seven hills invite visitors and locals to stroll, and glimpses of private gardens, such as this one, the Bosco Parrasio, entice people to peek through the gates and imagine a secluded life within. 

Enticing gates of the Bosco Parrasio, Accademia dell’Arcadia, Rome, Italy (author’s photo)

Several summers ago I managed a short visit within this garden of the Accademia dell’Arcadia and the adjacent private residence—as part of my research on Anne Hampton Brewster. Brewster, a news correspondent for Philadelphia and Boston papers for twenty years, became a member of the Academy in 1873. Think of the organization as a private book and oratory club—with new membership by invitation and election of existing members. The group gathers regularly to share literature, music, performances, and ideas. Members accept new names, such as Brewster’s Glicera Samia. She later sponsored several new members from the US. Rather than being gender exclusive, the Academy has celebrated both men and women deemed worthy for their intellectual pursuits. One of its most famous members was the poet Corilla Olimpica, on whom Madame de Staël based her novel Corinne (1807). Olimpica gained fame as an improvisational performer as well a poet. During Brewster’s years with the Accademia, some meetings were held indoors at the Palazzo Altemps (now a smaller gallery, part of the national museum system, and worth visiting), and others outside in the “wooded paradise” of the Gianicolo.  

Three views of the amphitheater, one featuring the lectern, of the Bosco Parrasio gardens, Rome, Italy (author’s photos, with recognition of permission from the property owners and per gentile concessione dell’Accademia dell’Arcadia)

While Brewster loved immersing herself in the literary, music and art scenes in Rome, her neighbor, Emily Bliss Gould, busied herself with an orphanage and industrial school she established in the city’s heart in 1870. A few who wrote of her in the nineteenth century, such as British authors Mary Howitt and Anthony Trollope, say she wore herself out with her work, dying at an early age in 1875, when at the peak of her fundraising and social activism. The Waldensians, a non-Roman Catholic Christian group with whom she had collaborated, continued the work, whose residue exists in Florence today as the Istituto Gould. The Waldensians also honor Gould with a plaque on the wall of their guest house in Florence, which offers modest lodging at a reasonable price in the heart of the city’s Oltrarno, within easy reach of historic sites.      

Emily Bliss Gould in Italy ca. 1870 (engraving printed in Leonard Woolsey Bacon’s A Life Worth Living [1879])

This image of Emily Bliss Gould appears in the front of the biography published after her death as A Life Worth Living, compiled by Leonard Woolsey Bacon from Gould’s journals and annual reports of her work. The volume also includes an image of her family grave marker in the Woodlawn Cemetery, just south of Woodlawn Heights in New York City’s Bronx.   

Emily Bliss Gould memorial stone, Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City (image from Leonard Woolsey Bacon, A Life Worth Living [1879])

The inscription on her family marker, “She hath done what she could,” may sound a bit despairing, but it’s meant to celebrate Gould’s efforts. Taken from the biblical Gospel account (Mark 14:8), in which Jesus comments that a woman who anointed him with expensive perfume will be remembered for her actions, the inscription links Gould with the text and Christian history she revered. The inscription and marker, like Bacon’s book, speak to Gould’s actions in Rome and with her “babes” in a similar institution in Florence and in schools in Italy’s Piedmont region. When Gould first arrived in Italy by crossing the Alps into the Piedmont, the birthplace of the Waldensians, they prompted her work. Tours of their schools engaged her interest and what I call her “later vocation” in Italy.  

Emily Bliss Gould memorial stone, Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City (author’s photo)

The passage on her tombstone, as I interpret it in Engaging Italy, also suggests the limitations of American women abroad. Many began with high hopes and utopian dreams yet awakened to the limits of their situations as women living in cultures not their own.

Having fallen into history’s crevices, Gould and her interesting life remain unknown. Gould’s tombstone, unvisited and undecorated, stands in a cemetery which also features author Herman Melville’s, news reporter Nellie Bly’s, and political activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s graves, usually decorated by admirers with flowers and flags. 

Author Herman Melville’s memorial stone, Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City (author’s photo)

News reporter Nellie Bly’s memorial stone, Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City (author’s photo)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton memorial stones, Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City (author’s photo)

More of Gould’s, Brewster’s, and Marsh’s stories and the contrasts between their personalities and visions of utopian life in Italy unfold in the pages of Engaging Italy.  With my next newsletter, I will provide updates on the production process and, I hope, a projected timeline for release. 

Off the Beaten Path in Rome 

You might consider the Accademia dell’Arcadia entrance to the Bosco Parrasio “off the beaten path” of a typical trip to Rome. Should you be in Trastevere, locate the Bosco Parrasio on your GPS and then after you wander up the winding paths of the Gianicolo to see its entrance, continue to the top, where you’ll find a fabulous view of Rome from the west looking east (so many views are from the east looking west, toward St. Peter’s and the sunset). There’s the fountain of the water of Paul (one of Rome’s many public fountains), but there’s also the Porta San Pancrazio, which contains a small but enlightening museum of the 1848 Revolution and the short-lived nineteenth-century Republic of Rome. And, in the nearby public park, there are statues and busts dedicated to its heroes. One of my favorites is Anita Garibaldi, wife of military hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, on horseback and with pistol in hand. 

Two views of Anita Garibaldi monument, Rome, Italy (author’s photos)

Cool off with a drink or an ice cream from one of the vendors, and enjoy the stroll. Plan ahead, make a dinner reservation, and wander a few steps further away from the park (pay attention to the pedestrian crossings! The intersections at the top of the hill are quite busy with local traffic in the evenings) to Ristorante Scarpone, which serves perfect pizzas and a wide range of other Roman dishes at a reasonable price. The history is that leaders of the revolution met here to discuss strategies, and in the twentieth century, famous film stars could be seen dining away from the rush and heat of the city center.  

A thoughtful read 

Ever felt you were related to an author? Or a social media “friend”? Or wish that you were? Had that strong emotional connection, which gurgles up through the gut, causing you to think—wait, I know that person! Or, I wish I had had more of that life ! I have.  

Most recently it has been while reading about Margaret Sullivan, a woman writer closer to my mother’s age than to my own. We were brought together initially by my siblings and only through social media. But then, the vicarious relationship I felt grew as I read Sullivan’s Fragments of a Mobile Life. It’s a book not exactly about Italy—not about Italy at all—but illuminating to my research and writing nonetheless.

Margaret Sullivan’s Fragments from a Mobile Life (Red Mountain Press 2019) collects many of her blogs from the Huffington Post and publications elsewhere (author’s photo)

Sullivan reveals through short vignettes the rich and diverse facets of living abroad for much of her long life—first as the daughter of a professor of Public Health at Cheeloo University in China and later as the spouse of a career foreign service officer. Along the way she followed her own calling as a curious woman of courage, compassion, and intellect. She seized opportunities to serve—not just as the wife “married to the foreign service” and obligated to entertain as her husband’s position demanded. Sullivan’s vignettes show her insights to not just surviving but to learning from and serving others of cultural difference. 

Gathered here as a collection for the first time, many appeared in her regular columns for the Huffington Post and elsewhere. Each essay title—clever and enticing—gives readers have an idea of what will follow, but without spoilers.  

I picked up the book because of my own research and writing about Caroline Crane Marsh. She went abroad for the first time with her husband George, who had been appointed as US Minister to the Ottoman Empire in 1849. Caroline lived in “the East” from 1850-54, learning about other cultures by immersion as well as by reading and studying languages and literature. Then, after a short stint stateside, she traveled to Italy when George was appointed the first US Minister the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1861. She lived abroad until just after her husband’s death in 1882. Caroline’s experiences abroad piqued my curiosity about other American women’s lives abroad.  

Other titles have come my way, but Sullivan’s book spoke to me most—perhaps because of common elements—such as time spent in Springfield, Missouri—of our otherwise distant lives. Hers is a reminder not only of the “six degrees of separation” but also of how we often travel and connect vicariously through written words.  

A fun flick

And finally, here’s a fun summer film (well, it actually begins and ends with winter snow, but there are plenty of watery summer and swimsuit scenes between the two): L’Isola delle Rose. The film takes you far from Rome to Rimini on the Adriatic coast, just north of the Marches region. 


Film poster for L’isola delle Rose, 2020 Netflix release

Based on an historical event of 1968 (yes, that summer!), the film features a humanly-constructed, short-lived utopian island. 

Remember, I love to receive suggestions–whether about films, books, people or places related to Italy. Please send yours my way . . .  

Until next time,  keep reading, dreaming, and traveling!


Next Issue: 

Insights to Wendy Pojmann’s Espresso: The Art and Soul of Italy 

Udpates on Engaging Italy: American Women’s Utopian Visions and Transnational Networks 

Tips to getting “off the beaten track” in Tuscany (is it even possible???) 

Upcoming Events: 

 July 10

“Caroline Crane Marsh’s Visions of Mission and Travels”

Connects the works and dreams of Marsh, Rebecca Cox Jackson, and Margaret Fuller. Part of the Margaret Fuller Society panels at the American Literature Association Conference, Boston.

Sept. 22 

“Negotiating Networks, Not Friendships, in Nineteenth-Century Rome” — Anne Hampton Brewster, Emily Bliss Gould, and Caroline Crane Marsh and their fraught relationships while living abroad.  Part of a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. The working title is “Networking 19th-Century Style: Preserving and Analyzing American Women’s Networks.”  

Details for this virtual event and how to connect will be provided as soon as available.  

Sept. 30-October 2 

Controversies of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option 

This virtual presentation will comment on Rod Dreher’s bestselling book, The Benedict Option (2017), as it connects to traditions of communal life and utopian visions. As part of a panel at the Communal Studies Association (CSA), the exact date (between Sept. 30 & Oct. 2) and time will be posted as soon as available. 

November 4

American Women in Italy: Later Vocations

Private group talk, Springfield, MO

November 5-7 

Sororal Sadness and Hope: Transatlantic Letters of Public and Private Loss   

This talk focuses on letters Caroline Crane Marsh and her sister Lucy exchanged during the Civil War, when Caroline lived in Italy and Lucy, writing from St. Louis and Florissant, Missouri, witnessed the ravages of family, friends, and strangers in the region. 

Part of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) conference in Baltimore. Exact day (between Nov. 5-7) and time of presentation will be shared as soon as available. 

As always, let me know if you are part of a group interested in any of my talks or trips. 


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Etta Madden