September 25, 2000
Picks: As the
Fulfilling a longtime
fantasy, writer Alan Epstein moved to Rome with his
wife and two school-age sons five years ago, and this
charming, Peter Mayle-like insider's view is the result:
an unabashed love letter celebrating the allure, frustrations,
quirks and joys of life in the Eternal City. Lively
vignettes explicate Roman attitudes toward sex (quite
liberal, especially when it comes to adultery), food
(all good, all the time), technology (not to be trusted;
better to have 10 people doing the job of one computer)
and style (impeccable, even when picking up the dry
cleaning)... Epstein's [has a] hungry eye and gift for
storytelling [and] in the end we're left with a rich
picture of living "at the apex of what is most profound
about life," as the author calls Rome. "What if offers
in the way of beauty, of sensuality, of creativity,"
says Epstein, 51, "no other city can match." (Morrow,
Bottom line: Book yourself a
one way ticket.
Author Alan Epstein composes a Roman-tic
aria to the Italian capital."
July 27, 2000
A Man's Love Affair with a City
It was love at first
sight for Alan Epstein. Twenty years ago, on his first
trip to Italy, he was captivated by the beauty, warmth,
and grandeur of Rome. He dreamed of making the Eternal
City his home and schemed how to turn his desire into
In 1995 - with a wife and two young sons in tow - he
finally made the move, first to a hulking suburban villa,
then to a palazzo in the heart of the city. Life in
Rome was as delightful as he imagined: dropping by the
cozy neighborhood bar each morning for cappuccino and
a cornetto, attending lavish parties, and paying a pittance
for bountiful trattoria lunches - where, no matter how
long you linger, the check is never presented until
you ask for it.
Unlike Frances Maye's tales of Tuscany ("Under the
Tuscan Sun") and Peter Mayle's chronicles of Provence
("A Year in Provence"), which are lyrical accounts of
vicissitudes of day-to-day living in another country,
"As the Romans Do" uses a series of vignettes to celebrate
the joys, quirks, and foibles of Italian life - from
the city's hidden bakeries to the "flesh and flash"
of Roman women.
First and foremost, Epstein never misses an opportunity
to expound on the gustatory pleasures of his new home.
Eating, he says, is the true passion of the city. Americans
going out to dinner can choose from many cuisines. Not
so the Romans...."Who needs Chinese takeout when fettuccine
with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, or linguine with
radicchio tomato sauce and cream are available around
Still, life in Rome isn't just one bountiful meal after
another. An American has to make adjustments to the
quirky - occasionally exasperating - ways that things
are done: not being able to find a photocopier, storekeepers
never have change, shops closing at whim throughout
the day, frequent work stoppages, and the fact that
doing errands is going to take at least three times
as long as expected. Residents must develop patience
and learn the art of waiting.
He recalls the afternoon in an outdoor market when
he and his wife spotted exactly the bathroom rug they
had been looking for. But the merchant had begun piling
his rugs back into the truck. When the Epstein's asked
to see it, he nonchalantly said the rug was too hard
to get to - although they were close enough to touch
it. Besides, it was time to eat. The reader waits for
Epstein to react to this irritating behavior. Or atleast
grumble about the inconvenience. But no, he turns philosophical:
In Rome, "life is not organized around the principle
that doing business and making money are the reasons
we are put here."...
Christian Science Monitor
Sunday Book Section
June 11, 2000
Learning to Get Along As the Romans Do
Alan Epstein is taking his own
advice - doing as the Romans do by living la dolce vita.
And now, five years after moving to Rome, Epstein has
collected his impressions of his adopted city in a charming
new book, As the Romans Do: The Delights, Dramas, and
Daily Diversions of Life in the Eternal City (William
In the book, Epstein not only covers all the things
one would expect in a book about the Eternal City, but
also such topics as the sexiness of Romans, being a
Jew in Rome, tasty trattorias and hidden bakeries, and
two of his favorites, a chapter on anarchy and another
on hanging the wash and other joys.
"I have to continually remind myself that just because
these people are screaming at one another at the top
of their lungs, it doesn't mean at all that they don't
like each other. It's their way of venting, releasing
their tension, which ultimately makes, statistically
speaking, for a much less violent society," he said
during a recent interview.
Referring to the chapter on hanging their wash, Epstein
said: "People [in Rome] don't have dryers. They all
hang their clothes. No Italian man would ever be caught
hanging his wash. It would just be completely shameful.
Whereas with us, it's whoever's available and whoever
can do it does it. But it's a chapter about how the
Romans are not technologically advanced, and they don't
care, whereas in America it's a mania. It's a way of
life that expresses what we are as people, whereas here
the way they eat expresses what they are as people."
Epstein, who first visited Rome in 1981 and moved there
in 1995, says: "I love the visual beauty of the city.
I love the fact that even though you're in a grand,
world-class city, you live among physical beauty in
a way that very few other cities can match. . . . It's
not only a beautiful place, but it's a very livable
place. It's a place where people's values are set up
to try to live as comfortably and as sweetly and as
intimately as they can. As I mention in the book, it
reminds me to a great extent of the way I grew up in
Philly in the '50s, which was we lived in a neighborhood
where people knew one another, where there were stores
on the corners and you shopped among people who knew
you and knew what you liked and knew what was going
on in your family. That you walked to school, as our
children do. That things were based in the neighborhood
and that your frame of reference was people who knew
you and knew about you. And I like that about Rome."
Indeed, Epstein was born 51 years ago in Philadelphia
and spent his first 13 years in the Logan section and
after that in the Far Northeast. He went to Central
High School and then to Temple University, from which
he received his B.A. in history. He then taught sixth
grade for a year in North Philadelphia before heading
for New York University, from which he received a Ph.D.
in European history.
He says that when he and his wife, Diane, spent an
extended honeymoon of four months with Rome as their
base in 1987, "we said we've got to move here someday.
Someday finally came eight years later." At the time,
they were running a matchmaking service in San Francisco.
These days, they and their sons, Julian, 11, and Elliott,
8, live in the Aventino. In addition to writing books
(this is his fourth) and doing radio commentary for
broadcast in Boston, Epstein also conducts seminars
and tours of Rome and the rest of Italy. Diane Epstein
conducts a successful therapy practice.
He says that what he misses most about America "are
the championship sporting events, the tradition of everybody,
no matter who they are or where they are, stopping what
they're doing to partake of this sort of communal spectacle.
I miss that. And I miss watching the Academy Awards,"
which he says are shown early in the morning in Rome
"and I can never stay up." He says he also misses his
relatives. His parents continue to live in the same
Northeast Philadelphia home where they've lived since
1962. He and his wife and children return to the United
States at least once a year for about six weeks. "We
see all the friends and relatives and parents and grandparents
and everybody, and then the feeling of missing Rome
comes in and we kind of scoot back."
Epstein is working on a documentary about Rome as well
as on a book "about people here either by birth or by
coming here whose lives represent what I love about
Epstein says that his Roman adventure has shown him
"how satisfying it is to live your dream. And that if
there's something in your life that you have a hankering
to do and that you feel very strongly about and it speaks
to you, that you should do it. We just always wanted
to come and live in Italy. . . . It's just been a most
wonderful experience and much more fulfilling and much
more interesting and life-changing than we ever imagined."
Ever the historian, Epstein says, Rome "is like manna
from heaven for me."
The Providence Journal
Plan your Roman Holiday Before it's too
Are you planning a Roman holiday
this summer? Then, for the inside scoop, pick up this
entertaining little book by expatriate Alan Epstein,
As the Romans Do . For the last five years, Epstein,
his wife and two sons have made Rome their year-round
home, abandoning San Francisco without a qualm for the
charms of the Eternal City. Even though like every beloved
place Rome has changed from the time two decades ago
when Epstein became smitten with it, it remains for
him the city that "offers in the way of beauty, of sensuality,
of creativity, what no other city can match. Even if
New York is more avant-garde, Paris more elegant, San
Francisco fresher and more naturally dramatic, Rome
still holds first place when it comes to utter devotion
to pleasure," he believes.
Gracefully, casually he provides insights into his
beloved city and the Roman mentality through his stories
of sightings of beautiful local women, of the life of
his children in school, of his early Sunday jogs past
the Spanish Steps where the English poet John Keats
died, to the monumental Pantheon built as a temple to
the gods 2,000 years ago. He is simply ecstatic about
Rome and his ecstasy bubbles over.
He finds Romans accepting of children in a way Americans
never were. He finds families loving and family ties
binding, mistresses and lovers notwithstanding. In Rome,
he sees the enjoyment of life perfected to an art. Eating,
he says, is the true passion of the city, and he offers
tips on when to choose a cafe (for breakfast, for little
sandwiches, sweets and mini-pizzas); a trattoria (a
simple, unadorned place but with plenty of food); or
a ristorante (linen tablecloths and napkins, polished
He explains Roman mores: "One marries for family reasons,
takes a lover in the same way as one would form a close
friendship, and has a 'scapatella' purely for sexual
pleasure. All the energy Americans devote to the accumulation
and management of money, the hours spent thinking how
to amass it, organize it, invest it, will it, keep it,
share it or not share it, Romans instead devote to other
things: to looking well, eating well, loving well and
spending time with their families."
Rome , he says, is a remarkably unhurried place. It
is a forgiving place, a hospitable place. Visit soon,
however, for although the Italian capital's movement
towards modernization and globalization is slow in the
way of all things Roman Epstein can see that its days
of afternoon siestas, quality local cuisine, stay-at-home
mothers and people who enter a store with a greeting,
Epstein, who has a doctorate in European history from
New York University, has reported on Italian life for
American Online. He is the president of an association,
As the Romans Do, that offers corporate and private
escorted tours of Rome and other parts of Italy."
The Providence Journal
& Alan Epstein featured in the media:
Fantasy Life, January 2001 issue
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