Born, bred and careered in New York City, I was raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, an area steeped in a strong Italian-American culture that greatly influenced my upbringing and the eventual direction of my life 50 years later. My parents were pure second generation Italian-Americans. We lived and preserved Italian traditions from the food we ate to the songs we sang. From the holiday traditions we practiced to the family and Catholic values we lived. From the dramatic Neapolitan behaviors to the learning of Italian opera as kids. I first visited Italy at 15 years old while spending a magical summer in Europe, studying at the Univeristé de Grenoble with the nuns from high school. I had become fascinated with French and Italian culture. I decided to major in French because at the time, it was the international language to speak.
I attended private Catholic schools until mid-college, when I transferred to the City University of New York where I majored in French and minored in Italian. While studying Dante’s La Divina Commedia, I became awestruck by the profound beauty, melody and sensuality of the Italian language and realized that I was majoring in the wrong language. Despite becoming impassioned by everything Italian, I decided not to change my major, as I had come such a long way with my French and didn’t want to start over again. My learning Italian would have to wait, and with life getting in the way, perhaps it would never happen. This passion was to lay dormant for years. For the next 30 years I vacationed in Italy as often as I could, drawn by the inherent connection that I had to the culture.
My first real job was during the summer of my junior year in college, where, a block away from Wall Street, I worked at Banque Nationale de Paris, translating French correspondence. Upon graduating from college I taught elementary school and French for two years. But then I found a job as a market research analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank, and started a thriving career in global banking.
For the next 23 years I worked as a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, where I managed various cash management and global investor services in sales, marketing and product management. I also sat on the board of directors of the Chase Automated Clearing House, Inc.
My marriage did not survive my career, which dominated my life. I began questioning my values. Simultaneously my dear father died and my closest sister left New York. Disheartened, I had to take a pause from the corporate world to examine my own self. I started working for myself trading in the stock market. While rebuilding from the core, something else got in the way.
I lived in downtown Manhattan’s Battery Park City, which eventually became known to the world as Ground Zero.
That day changed my life. I never thought I would hear the phrase “Women and children first”. Standing on the rescue boat as it pulled out of the harbor, I watched the towers fall in front of me. Displaced, I returned to a neighborhood that no longer existed. Neighbors, friends and colleagues were gone. My life was uprooted. There was nothing to do but pick up the pieces and move on.
Somewhere along the way, I had taken up road cycling, which probably saved my life. It allowed me to vent my grief, survive my divorce, practice leadership in a new form, volunteer and develop a close circle of friends. Eventually it helped me to transplant myself first to California, and later, to Italy.
I moved to Southern California, the antithesis of everything that is New York City. Friends and family believed I would not survive the cultural polarization. Was this a detour or was this my destiny? It provided the sanctuary and new perspective that I needed. I became a competitive cyclist, raced and even won a few times. I made many friendships through cycling circles and even found love. I almost planted my roots in the ground. But something was out of whack in my environment, preventing me from making this my final destiny. It was out of this uncertainty that things started becoming more clear.
I gradually started pursuing old diversions that made me feel comfortable, things I hadn’t done since I left New York. Like going to the opera, cycling in Italy and studying Italian.. The more I studied Italian, the greater my desire grew to know it more deeply. I joined the Italian Cultural Center in San Diego and met many Italian-Americans who shared my passion for Italy.
It was through this group that I was encouraged to conduct a genealogy search and then met an Italian immigration lawyer who believed that I could pursue my Italian citizenship if I could trace and prove my lineage. As I started digging, I discovered many fascinating details of my heritage, which finally led me to the island of Ischia, where I discovered the 150 year old birth documents of my great grandfather, the home where he was born, and artifacts from his fishing boat which are on display at the island’s maritime museum.
At the time, I was simultaneously studying Italian in Florence, where I had joined a cycling team and was making friends very quickly. I immediately found a job as a bike tour guide, taking cyclists on tours of Tuscany. I had found my home, my final destiny.
I learned and was able to prove to the Italian Ministry that my great-grandfather, unlike most Italian immigrants, never became a naturalized American citizen. Meaning that all of his offspring are entitled by birthright to be Italian citizens, but little did we know it. These discoveries enabled me to obtain my dual Italian-American citizenship 6 months later. It was destiny.
I have been living in Florence now for four years. Everything clicked in from the day I arrived, as though the angels were waiting for me. I am home, this is where I belong. A dream come true.
I am at the threshold of a whole new life. I love being with and sharing my love of Italy, and in particular, my love of Florence with those who share my passion. I know that there are big things waiting for me here. I believe that when you are in the right place, when the environment is right, when the chemistry is right, that things happen.