Roaming the Streets of Rome

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (72)

By Judy Berman

Narrow crooked cobblestone alleyways in Rome beckon you to venture around the next corner, where there could be a street festival, musicians or shops.

The enticing smells of basil, tomato sauce, cheese and freshly baked bread float out onto the streets from the restaurants. Or a gelati shop pops up right in your path, and is calling you to pause for a refreshing Italian sherbet.

The slow pace along this corridor contrasts sharply with the Vespas zipping in and out of the traffic. It’s best to walk with one eye over your shoulder to avoid a too-close-for-comfort encounter.

In early June, we stayed in Trastevere, a Rome neighborhood that’s frozen in time, or so it seems. During the day, it’s peaceful and has the right touches of the Old World. At night, it comes alive. Party-goers and others flock to its many excellent restaurants.

Ristoranti I Vascellari, for example, near our hotel is warm, welcoming and serves a wide variety of excellent food: spaghetti alla carbonara, Tagliolini al tartufo, mussels, pasta, lasagna, breaded lamb cutlets and much more.

Thankfully, we didn’t hear any of that clamor in our hotel. Casa di Santa Francesca Romana is a former monastery, a perfect retreat.

After a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we head out to visit the open-air museum near us. That would be Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (10)

From a distance, the Colosseum might be mistaken for a multi-story garage. Completed in 80 A.D., this is the largest amphitheater ever built.  It can hold about 50,000 spectators in its giant arena. Here, gladiators fought for the right to live another day. (Some believe, however, that Christians met their fate in nearby Circus Maximus.)

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (20) - Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill was the birthplace of Rome, established about 753 B.C. by Romulus after he killed his twin, Remus, in a fit of rage. Later, it became the lavish residence for several emperors, including Augustus. It is near the Roman Forum.

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (26) - St. Cecilia's

The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is down the road from our hotel. It was built above the Roman house of this martyr.

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (27) - St. Cecilia - statue

Santa Cecilia is the patron saint of music. When her sarcophagus was found in 1599, her body was intact. Sculptor Stefano Maderno sketched her body, and made a haunting sculpture of her out of white marble.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do. For us, the search is on for food.  (But this photo makes those of us in front look H-U-G-E.)

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (161) - Casa di Santa Francesca Romana - our hotel's patio

Back at the hotel, we relax in the hotel’s ochre-colored courtyard lined with orange trees. The staff at Casa di Santa Francesca Romana speaks several languages. Thankfully, their English is far superior to my meager Italian.

Rome - family vacation - June 2015 (284) - Dave standing in shower in our hotel room

In our rooms, Dave steps into the shower fully clothed to demonstrate what a slim compartment it is. On the plus side, the hot and cold running shower is very refreshing after a long day of hiking around the Eternal City.

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Hollywood has captured several icons in Rome. One is the Mouth of Truth, or Bocca della Verita, found in one of Rome’s oldest churches, Santa Maria in Cosmodin, Trestevere. It is in the movie “Roman Holiday,” with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Legend has it that people suspected of telling lies are forced to put their hand in the mouth of this massive stone – once a common ancient street drain cover. It’s said that, if you’re lying, the teeth will clamp down on the hand and you risk losing your hand.

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Trevi Fountain was built in 1732. This fountain was immortalized in the movies “Three Coins in a Fountain” and in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” Sad to say, it’s under repair. So there will be no splashing about in the fountain. When it was open, it was under guard for such foolishness. While you can still toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, it’s just not the same with Plexiglas between you and the fountain. Legend has it that by throwing the coin in, you are assured of a return trip to Rome.

Buon viaggio! (Happy travels!) What place would you like to travel to or to revisit? 

Part 2 of our Rome trip will be posted July 4, 2015.

Roman Holiday – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s characters test the Mouth of Truth

All photos – except the one in the restaurant and at Boca della Verita (the Mouth of Truth) – were taken by me: Photographer – Judy Berman

If you wish to use any part of this post or any of the photos, please ask. Copyright.

Lasting Memories of Dad

Dad - Joseph H. Fiet III - the Marilboro man look

By Judy Berman

Children are sponges. They soak up what they see and hear. They often learn best just by observing.

Growing up, my Dad led by example. From him, I learned about trust, standing up for what was right, and how to treat those who are less fortunate.

“Dad, you’re someone to look up to no matter how tall I’ve grown.” (Author Unknown)

Dad’s handshake was as good as a contract loaded with legalese. His word was his bond.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get a “real” bike. The one I’d learned to ride on was so short I could easily stop it just by planting my feet on the ground. But when I nagged Dad for a bigger one, I’d always get the same response.

“The bicycle is not in the garage.”

He explained later – after I did get a shiny new Schwinn bike – that he didn’t want to promise me something unless he already bought it.

I got that he didn’t want to get my hopes up. Life does get in the way. Unexpected bills, too much month at the end of the money … there’s no way to predict that you’ll be able to afford that special gift your child craves.

My parents grew up during The Great Depression in the 1930s and avoided piling on the debt. I don’t think they even had a credit card then.

This incident left a huge impression on me. But there were other lessons along the way that shaped me.

Dad - Joseph H. Fiet III - in the Army - 1943


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Dad was a jury foreman in a civil case involving two brothers who sued a hotel after they’d tripped over a cord that had been left on the floor. Their injuries required hospitalization.

Initially, Dad was the only juror who thought the men should be compensated.

He stood his ground and challenged the jurors to re-examine the evidence. When they did, many agreed with Dad’s assessment of the case and the plaintiffs won a settlement.

Dad and me - overheated car - Dad clowning around

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by the little scraps of wisdom.” (Umberto Eco)

One brutal winter night, when I was a teen, a man came to our home seeking work. We had 66 acres, but only farmed a half-acre for ourselves. So we didn’t need a farm hand.

The man told Dad that he’d been fired from a neighboring farm. He had nowhere to go and was hungry.

My Dad was hesitant as the man was a stranger and Dad was concerned for his family’s safety. Still, my parents didn’t want to turn him away that bitter, cold night.

Dad let him sleep in our detached garage and provided blankets so he’d be warm while Mom fixed the man a hot meal.

The next morning, Dad started calling shelters to see who could help this man. The Salvation Army in Syracuse, New York – about 30 miles from our home – offered the man shelter, food and some work to earn money.

Dad felt that was the best option and drove the man there. The man appeared to be happy that he’d have a secure place to stay, meals and a job.

My Dad passed in 2011, but what I learned from him has stayed with me all my life:  always keep your word, don’t rush to judgment, and when given a choice, always choose ‘kindness.’

Wishing all dads, stepdads, guardians and Big Brothers a Happy Father’s Day.

What’s one favorite memory of your Dad?


Main Photo: Dad, Joseph H. Fiet III, in what our family called his Marlboro man pose

Photo: Dad when he was in the U.S. Army during World War II

Photo: Dad clowning around when our car overheated


Lasting Memories of Mom

Mom - Milly Fiet2 - copy

By Judy Berman

As a child, my favorite hangout on the weekends was a room filled with electronic gizmos and tubes.

I marveled at the naked TV tube that sat on a table. There was no cabinet surrounding it because my father, an electronics engineer, was always tinkering with it – even though it worked perfectly.

When Captain Midnight’s show came on, I’d pretend I was part of his daring adventures.

By the time the show’s sponsor – Ovaltine – came on, I was running downstairs to the kitchen and nagging my Mom for a cup of that chocolaty milk drink.

My Mom would heat up that drink or fix something else. By then, I’d be caught up in what she was listening to on the radio.

It might be the mischievous antics of Froggy on the “Smiling Ed’s Buster Brown Gang” (which became “Andy’s Gang” on TV), an opera or pop music of the day.

This is where I learned to appreciate many types of music.

But what I loved most was when she’d put down what she was working on and read to me.

I confess that I didn’t really get into reading on my own until I was in fifth grade. Oh, I could read all right. But I preferred to listen to Mom as she told the story.

“You may have tangible wealth untold, Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold, Richer than I you can never be. I had a mother who read to me,” (Strickland Gillian)

She opened my eyes to a world outside of what I knew, where I could immerse myself in the stories and take on the role of one of the characters. Mom introduced me to authors that she enjoyed. They soon became my favorites as well.

I’m sure Mom preferred that I was inside reading, rather than off on one of my adventures. If only she knew some of the derring-do I attempted outdoors, her hair would have turned white decades earlier.

I thought of those escapades with dread many times as my own girls were growing up.

“Being a mother is learning about the strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” (Linda Wooten)

Mom and Dad - Boulder City, Nevada

My Mom, who passed in 2001, taught me well. Hopefully, I passed those lessons on to our daughters, too.

When I was hurt or had worries, Mom would be the one I turned to for comfort. Like the song, “Mama Said,” by the Shirelles, Mom always said something to lift me up.

“What is a mom but the sunshine of our days and the north star of our nights.” (Robert Brault)


Wishing all mothers, stepmothers, guardians an early Happy Mother’s Day. This quote from Sophia Loren says it best: “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”


Music Video: “Mama Said,” Shirelles   

Photo: Mom and me

Photo: Mom and Dad (Milly and Joseph Fiet)

A Stranger’s Kindness

Edward Hopper - Nighthawks - 1942

By Judy Berman

A load of laundry and a notebook, ordinary things in our everyday lives, have a very special place in my heart.

They are reminders of times when strangers came to my rescue.

When I lived in the country, wash day was a mixed blessing. Most of the wash went out on the line.

The scent of fresh air lingered long after they were trotted inside, folded or ironed, and put away.

But, that routine changed when I moved to Syracuse, New York. My apartment had no place to wash clothes or hang them out to dry.

So, I trudged to a Laundromat about six blocks from my home. I had no choice. I didn’t have a car.

While I was going thru the mindless tasks linked to washing clothes, I was unaware of what else was happening at the Laundromat.

Another woman, her kids in tow, came up to me. She spotted a man watching me. She said he took his clothes out of the washer before the cycle was complete and threw them into a dryer. She suspected he was trying to finish the same time as me.

She asked if I’d like to walk with her to her apartment. I gratefully accepted.

I don’t remember if we shared a cup of coffee or how long we talked. All I recall is that when I left, I felt like a guardian angel sent this woman to watch over me.

I never saw her again, but I think of that day quite often.

Kindness - kitten and quote - No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted

There, no doubt, have been many kind strangers that I’ve crossed paths with. One, who I never met, entered my life during my first year of teaching.

I left the comfort of the world I knew – newspaper reporting – about a year before. When I entered my classroom, so much was foreign to me.

Oh, I had several kind mentors, fellow teachers and administrators to help me over the hurdles. But one challenge that loomed large every day was: What will my lesson be for the next 45 minutes?

That map is vital. It is the tool needed to focus on what to teach with the end in mind. What do students need to know to meet the standards and to build on for success for their next school year.

In trying to figure this out, I felt like I stumbled more than a few times.

Then, one day, I found a notebook filled with lesson plans left by the teacher who had been there the year before.

There, in a neat, white binder were the guidelines that included everything from the “welcome to the new school year” packets, class expectations and lesson plans to accompany teaching a book.

I felt like I’d entered the cave with Indiana Jones and discovered hidden treasure.

That notebook, written by Amy Gamerl, was more valuable than the richest find by any treasure-seeker. It guided me thru my first unsteady year of teaching.

I never had the opportunity to thank Amy. But I am very indebted to her.


My post was inspired by this article on Buzzfeed: “What’s the Nicest Thing a Stranger Has Ever Done for You?

Please share your experiences.


Music Video: “Try a Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell (1969)  

Photo: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1942)

Photo: Kindness – “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop, author of “The Lion and the Mouse” – a Greek fable) (620 BC – 560 BC)

Selling Memories and History

A soldier and his mother in a strawberry field in Florin,_Sacramento_County,_California.

By Judy Berman

The yellowed, tattered newspaper clippings and mementos that were part of my late mother-in-law’s life brought back a flood of memories.

As my husband started to inventory his mother’s belongings years ago, I thought about how little she spent on herself. Yet she was very generous to her family.

To anyone outside of the family, Jennie Dicker’s mementos might have little or no value. To us, it was as if she were with us still.

How can you put a value on memories?

That’s what an auction house planned to do with artifacts made by Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during World War II over fears that they might be spies.

The Rago auction house was going to sell off 450 photographs and artifacts made by Japanese-Americans in internment camps.

After an outcry from the public, including Star Trek’s Sulu (played by George Takei), the auction house in Lambertville, New Jersey, decided to withdraw the art pieces that were for sale.

Rago Arts and Auction Center founding partner, David Rago, issued this statement on April 17: “We know what the internment camps were. We know that it was a disgraceful period in American history, but we did not understand the continued emotional impact embodied within the material. We just didn’t get it.” (Associated Press)

Internment camp - Japanese-Americans during WWII

Takei was 5 years old when he was sent with his family to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, and has been a strong advocate to make sure that this time in history is remembered. On his Facebook page, he said: “These irreplaceable works represent the struggles and indomitable spirit of our community against a great injustice.”

He said this “dark time” is a “chapter that we must never repeat and never forget.”

When he was 8, they were released from the internment camp. He said they had “lost everything.”

Internment camps - maps of World War II - Japanese-Americans imprisoned

Like others interred, his family was given a one-way ticket when they were released to wherever they wanted to go to in the United States, plus $20. Many were embittered about their experience and decided to relocate to other parts of the country.

His family chose to return to Los Angeles. Life was difficult. Many would not hire Japanese-Americans. They were denied housing.

Despite the bitter struggle, many like Takei’s family worked to put their lives back together. Their memories, sometimes, were all they had to recall life before World War II.

That’s why Takei is grateful to those who protested the sale. Advocacy groups and supporters want “to ensure this artwork was not sold off piecemeal to private buyers, but rather will be appreciated by generations to come.”

“The internees gave their artworks and furniture to historian Allen Hendershott Eaton while he was researching his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps,” according to an article in The New York Times (April 13).

Eaton’s daughter sold the lot to the unnamed consigner. The auction house will not identify the owner of the collection.

Takei said that Rago Auctions “will sit down with interested Japanese-American institutions and parties to ensure that the collection will find a home where pieces will be properly cared for and curated.”


What are your views on this topic? Another battle over art – this time stolen by the Nazis prior to World War II – was a decades-long struggle to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1. It was made into a movie, “Woman in Gold” (2015).


Main photo: (May 11, 1942) A soldier, 23, and his mother in a strawberry field in Florin, Sacramento County, California. The soldier volunteered July 10, 1941 to serve in the U.S. Army. The mother, 53, came from Japan 37 years ago. Her husband died 21 years ago leaving her to raise six children. She worked in a strawberry basket factory until her children leased three acres of strawberries last year “so she wouldn’t have to work for somebody else.” 453 families were to be evacuated from this area.

Photo: Internment camp – Japanese-Americans in U.S. during World War II –  Los Angeles, California. Japanese Americans going to Manzanar gather around a baggage car at the old Santa Fe Station. (April 1942). They were boarding a train bound for one of ten American concentration camps.

Video: Japanese American Relocation –

Video: George Takei, on an interview in ‘Democracy Now!, (2-28-14)” describes his family’s experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

Photo: Map of forced Internment camps during World War II where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in the U.S.

Hash Browns and Hooligans

Diner - 1982 - starring Kevin Bacon

By Judy Berman

A four-on-one catfight in a garishly-lit eatery with tinny Muzak in the background is certainly a far cry from vicious attacks by roving thugs that you see on the nightly news.

Yet the five-woman brawl in the suburban eatery was a disturbing incident. It left me wondering how far it would have gone if restaurant workers, customers and Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies had not been there to stop it.

The reason for the outbreak is even more unsettling. The four women apparently just didn’t like the fifth woman’s looks.

What the restaurant lacks in atmosphere, it sometimes makes up for in free entertainment. This night, it was: “hash browns, but hold the hooligans.”

On a bleary-eyed weekday morning, some people are drawn here for the good, hot coffee. Fewer still for the food.

Most go there because it’s one of the few places that’s still open after the pubs close.

This setting is a familiar one to fans of the movie, “The Diner” (1982). In the movie college-age characters hang out at their beloved diner as they struggle with their passage into adulthood. The struggle here in this diner is real as well.

A typical overnight eatery

A typical overnight eatery

I take in the confrontation and suspect all five might have had a run-in earlier at some bar. Or maybe too much booze led to the overflow of insults that led to the assault.

One of the four women, a brunette, made no effort to conceal her contempt for the blonde who was waiting on a bench with two guys until they could be seated at a table.

The brunette, dressed in black, looked like she was itching for a fight. She verbally slammed the blonde for the way she looked and dressed, and for being with the two men. Any patron near them could overhear the steady stream of insults. The blonde said nothing.

But when the blonde and the two guys got up to go to a table, the blonde accused the women of being jealous.

Suddenly, the restaurant floor became a tangle of bodies. At first, it was only the blonde and the outspoken brunette. Within seconds, the brunette’s friends joined the fray, and all four of them were outside the blonde’s weight class.

When the going got tough, the blonde’s companions got going. They disappeared into the woodwork until the fighting was over.

Bystanders tried to break up the fight and pull the women on the floor apart. The brunette continued to kick the blonde while she was on the floor. Then, someone gave the brunette the bum’s rush outside.

Moments later, the brunette returned and renewed her attack on the blonde and on a man who had tried to pull them apart. Before police arrived, the brunette and her friends continued their scratching and gouging.

One of the girls delivered sly kicks to the blonde on the floor who was getting the worst of the mismatch.

A man who tried to end the fight earned a few bruises for his efforts from the brunette who jumped on his back and began pummeling him. The arrival of the men with badges didn’t initially dampen her ire, either.

The stories woven on how and why the fight broke out depended on the author of the moment. The deputies were doing their best to sort it out outside so the restaurant could get back to business – some of which it had already lost.

Two handfuls of blonde hair by the restaurant’s doorway were the only reminders of the brawl.

Coffee in a cafe - 2004

The blonde’s companions remained in the background during the questioning, just as they had during the fighting. The man who tried to stop the fight and tend to her injuries comforted her until the two guys decided to join the blonde.

Wild things run free and unchecked. But one Friday morning, years ago at 3.a.m., they were only a few feet away.


Have you witnessed an unsettling experience while dining out … or shopping?


Music Video: “Whole Lotta Shakin Going on” Jerry Lee Lewis …. (1964 live performance)

Photo: The Diner (1982) – Kevin Bacon starred in Diner alongside Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser.

Photo: Diner (not the one I ate at) – taken 2008 in Maine by Svetlana Miljkovic

Photo: Coffee in a  Viennese café in Vienna, Austria – taken in 2004 by Andreas Praefcke


Ponyboy – Stay Gold 

The Outsiders - cast

By Judy Berman

Living life on the fringes. Always feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the theme of the novel, “The Outsiders,” by S.E. Hinton. It’s one I can relate to, and I’ve been out of school for a few decades. The book and the movie still resonate with readers today.

Elvis, The Beatles, leather jackets, D.A.’s greased-back haircuts and madras shirts. They evoke a different time – the early-‘60s. That was when America worried about a nuclear attack and building bomb shelters. We had not yet gotten involved in Vietnam and the flower children of the mid-1960s were still a few years away.

Many look at those times as being more innocent. But it had its share of troubles, too. Like the author, I had friends who were rich, as well as those who were poor and lived “on the other side of the tracks.” A few were “hoods” and, around me, they were great guys. I knew that neither life was problem-free.

S. E. Hinton wrote about the clash of those two groups. She was 15 and still in high school when she began writing her novel. It was published in 1967, when she was a freshman in college. She has said that the characters were not based on any one person she knew. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally’s characters each had their own universal appeal, she said.

The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is one I’ve shown to my students the past several years. I prefer the PG-13 version over the PG because the story thread is much closer to the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” That’s Ponyboy Curtis’ opening line in the novel.

A few blocks later, Ponyboy is jumped by members of the Socs (or Socials, the rich kids). When he yells for help, his brothers and gang members of the Greasers, the hoods, rush to his defense.

Their next encounter is deadly. It forces Ponyboy and his friend, Johnny, to run away to avoid arrest. At one point, they’re focused on the countryside’s beauty and wish that scene could remain forever.

The Outsiders - Johnny and Ponyboy

I recall a similar experience when I lived in the country. As I looked out our kitchen window, the whole countryside was awash in gold. Then, sadly, as the sun rose higher, the golden hues began to yield to nature’s green coloring. Ponyboy, in repeating lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay:”

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing gold can stay.”

When Johnny asks what it means, Ponyboy tells him that things cannot remain as they are.

Like the scene they witnessed, their innocence will slip away. What they’ve gone thru will transform them forever. Near the end of the book, Johnny told Ponyboy to “stay gold.”

Little has changed since the book was published in 1967. But there are still cliques and those who are on the outside. Hopefully, as teens read this book and see the movie, they will see the harm that comes from stereotyping, from forming cliques, and how they view others who are not part of their group.

Ponyboy realized that just because he was poor didn’t mean he’d be stuck in that life. He was going to make something of himself. That’s an excellent observation. One that I hope my students take away from the story that Hinton crafted when she was a teen herself.


* Main photo of cast in “The Outsiders”

* Photo of Ponyboy and Johnny from the movie

* Video clips from the movie, “The Outsiders,” and Stevie Wonder singing “Stay Gold.”

* Video of Ponyboy and Johnny. Scene where Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

* Video of author S. E. Hinton on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She talks about some of the inspiration she drew on for her novel, “The Outsiders.”


Wordpress - milestone-200 posts

This is my 200th post on WordPress. I chose to repeat a story that I first published April 28, 2012. I love “The Outsiders” message and how this novel continues to speak to young people today as it did to their parents. Some students tell me that while they hate to read they really love this book.

What story – or movie – has stayed with you long after you put the book down?