An ongoing interview with Julian Epstein.
Julian was born on April 21st, 1989 in San Francisco. He moved to Italy with his brother Elliott, and his parents Alan and Diane, back in 1995. Besides a 5 year stint in New York City where he graduated from Pace University with a degree in International Business Management, he still lives (and loves) living in Rome. Feel free to email him any questions you would like him to answer.
1) By giving private tours of Rome, you are continuing the legacy of your father Alan Epstein. What are some of the differences and similarities when you take people around?
A tour with Alan was tremendous. I and many others admired him very much, and miss him greatly. Over time though, we had influenced each other considerably. We would frequently discuss places, stories, ideas... So I visit pretty much the same places and routes that he did. Of course, my dad did his Ph.D. in European history and was an accomplished author, speaker by the time he started giving tours; but I try to put great care into what I do. I have been giving tours for many years now and it has become second nature for me to show people around. I grew up in a family that took historical knowledge pretty seriously. Italian public schools (which I attended from 3rd to 8th grade) put much emphasis on history. Rome had settlements dating to the 8th century BC! I have always held an interest in Ancient Rome, the monuments, local culture and have enjoyed hearing stories that were shared, whether in the classroom or at a dinner party. Like many other kids, I also had a willingness to develop my own set of interests that was different from my parents and therefore decided to not pursue a degree in history. I did, however, have the opportunity to assist my dad during my summer vacations. I went around with him for years before he eventually retired. During his tours, I became even more fascinated about Rome. I was always learning something new. Since the tours were with very small groups, usually less than 6 people, I have seen the discussion go into many different directions and started to notice what garnered people's attention and what their interests were. If you had ever been on a tour with Alan, you would know that his enthusiasm for Rome was truly unique. That is something that I certainly have in common with him. For sure, growing up in Italy allows you to be in direct contact with all of its history. It's impossible to ignore. I have had the fortune of inheriting the family's wonderful book collection and what is fascinating about Rome is that there seems to always be something completely new to learn about!
2) What do you enjoy the most about giving tours?
Walking the pretty streets of the historical center, the architecture, the different time periods; I love showing people my favorite spots and talking about history in an entertaining, simplified way, in order to spark interesting conversations. I also like to learn something from each person I take around. Even if it's not personal information, simply noticing the little things, our encounters with locals, crossing the street, the water fountains... Interaction with the environment can be fascinating in itself. Lastly, I truly enjoy taking kids around. Their enthusiasm for the little things, that feeling of adventure is something that I like being a part of.
3) Which books have you read that have helped you prepare for your tours?
I recently finished SPQR A History of Ancient Rome by the English historian Mary Beard. I found it to be very enjoyable, separating what we know and what we don't know about the Romans. It goes into great detail about the frequent rebellions, the have and have nots... Cicero and the Catiline conspiracy, Julius Caesar, Augustus and the emperors that follow. The Last Days of the Renaissance by Theodore K. Rabb tackles Europe starting in the 14th century and the way Europe evolves over the years. What caused the Renaissance to end? Did it actually end? To gain a more recent perspective on Italy, That Fine Italian Hand by Paul Hofmann describes 19th and 20th century Italians and why they are famous all over the world. A friend recently gifted me a book by Harry Mount called Amo, Amas, Amat, how to become a Latin lover. It's basically an entertaining way to revise/learn Latin; it's full of humor and some great little stories about Rome, it's history and the language. A book that I cannot recommend enough is Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Although I was familiar with some of the facts mentioned, the way he puts them into perspective, makes it, in my opinion, a must-read. He starts 100,000 years ago when there were at least 6 human species inhabiting the earth, and goes into, among other things, the possible reasons why we are the only ones humans left.
4) You first started cooking when you were really young. How did that start?
My parents put tremendous importance into eating healthy food and having dinner all together around the table. My brother and I were always required to help out in some way. There was frequently a little brainstorming session over what we were going to eat. I think it was natural that Elliott and I developed an interest in the hospitality sector. During our teen years we would be participating in the culinary adventures, led by our mom Diane and the various Chefs. We kept learned until one day we decided that the three of us, without a professional Chef, could provide an experience that people would enjoy. I started working in Restaurants both in Rome and in New York, as a barista, as a busboy, as a food runner, as a server. Then I worked in the kitchen, even as the head Chef, until I had enough of New York, the hectic life, the erratic weather, and returned to sunny Rome where I slowly built a name for myself. Cooking for me is not a chore, it's truly part of who I am. It's a form of expression. Making myself and others good, fresh, creative, tasty food is something I take great pleasure from.
5) Most of the tours you give are in the summer months, at Christmas and during Easter. So what you do in your offseason?
The last few years I have been teaching Italian kids English, mostly privately. I truly enjoy being around them, perhaps because I went to Italian schools from 3rd to 8th grade, so in a sense, I used to be one of them! The way English is taught in the Italian schools is not ideal. Instead of separating the kids by knowledge level, they separate them by age, which creates a demand for private English teachers to either help the kids that struggle, and those that find the class to not be challenging enough. A recent statistic showed only a third of Italians could hold a conversation in English, one of the lowest in Western Europe.