Laura longs for warmth and excitement in her marriage and her life. Her impulsive response to a job posting in Italy leads her to cook Jake’s favorite Italian dinner to persuade him to take the leap from the comfortable confines of Seattle to unknown Rome. But the move turns out to be anything but a holiday. Behind the fountains, trattorias, and facades of ancient buildings lurk scheming art dealers and a Machiavellian co-worker who impact Laura’s marriage in ways she never imagined.
Will Laura find love among the ruins? Or will her dreams turn out to be illusions?
A Saturday in Rome with Food & Shoes
City of Illusions has a scene where Laura and Jake go shopping for a luncheon she is giving for her co-workers, and another scene taking place in a clothing market where she falls in love with the shoes. One of the several reasons I put these stories in was to describe the delights of shopping in Italy I experienced.
When I lived in Rome my husband and I did much of our weekly shopping on Saturdays often at a stand set up on the sidewalk near our apartment where an old woman sat on a stool trimming artichokes while her husband helped shoppers select the freshest tomatoes. But once a month we trekked to the covered market at Testaccio, an area of Rome at the foot of one of the seven hills. The market was located near a derelict former slaughterhouse, complete with a statue of a bull meeting his end looming over the main gate. The neighborhood is named for Monte Testaccio, a 100 foot-high hill made of broken amphorae that originally contained oil, wheat and other commodities imported to ancient Rome. The newest additions to the pile were dated to AD 140.
The market, open to the breeze, was so much more appealing than looking at goods neatly arranged in a cavernous supermarket with deadening fluorescent lights and dearth of human interaction. Wandering past merchants calling me to look at their produce along with fish, meat, pasta, cheese, and piles of useless trinkets for our apartment took my mind back into history, to visualize an ancient Roman housewife being harangued by vendors as she picked over the grapes and bargained for fish and figs. No tomatoes, squash, coffee or chocolate for her but still a cornucopia of delights filled the stalls.
After my food shopping was finished I could not resist heading to the shoe stalls along one side of the city block. They were a goldmine because they sold the previous year’s styles or overruns for bargain prices. I had difficulty worming my way to the front of the surrounding crowds despite using my husband’s technique of clinging to someone ahead of me in the hope she would push the others aside.
I thought that shoes were a peculiar inclusion in a food market until I recognized that they were a staple as important as pasta and vegetables since the dawn of Italian history. One memorable fresco in a museum in southern Italy depicts Venus wearing a pearl necklace, red shoes and nothing else. It was probably painted around the fifth century BC but it was easy to visualize a more modern Roman mistress in the same attire. Studying the variety of sandals on Roman statues could take a lifetime. Romans could buy shoes during the Second World War when Italian troops were fighting in frozen snow without boots. Even a recent pope was concerned with shoe styles, favoring red ones like ancient emperors.
Following long-standing tradition of being shoe-proud, I often left the market with a pair or two of shoes along with zucchini. But like looking over the vegetables before buying, I learned that it is best to curb one’s enthusiasm after my one catastrophe. I found a splendid pair of bright blue leather and black patent high heels and snapped them up after trying on the right one. I paid while the vendor placed the mate in the box and handed it over. When we returned home I tried them on only to find that one had a black sole and square toe and the other a light-colored sole and round toe. Maybe someone scrounged them from the garbage can after they landed there that afternoon. Buyer beware as the ancient Romans said.
About the Author
Life was routine until the author decided to get a law degree. Then a chance meeting led her to run away to the Circus (Maximus) – actually to the United Nations office next door – where she worked as an attorney in the HR department and entered the world of expat life in Rome. The ten years of happy and sometimes fraught experiences are the subject of her memoir, Coins in the Fountain. She continues to travel, having visited over 100 countries in between many journeys to Italy where she always tosses a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return to Rome. Judith and her husband now live near Seattle where she is working on her second novel.
Previous Book/Memoir: Coins in the Fountain
Judith has a BS in Psychology, M Public Administration, JD from Lewis & Clark School of Law. She has spent most of her career in Human Resources administration. Judith is a member of Northwest Women Writers, past President of Edmonds Friends of the Library, board member for Edmonds Center of the Arts, vice-president EPIC Group Writers, and a member of PNWA and Willamette Writers.