Happy Birthday to the Real Mona Lisa!

Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo (June 15, 1479 — July 15, 1542) My quest for the real Mona Lisa began years ago in Florence when I was doing research for LA BELLA LINGUA. An art historian who befriended me casually mentioned during a dinner at her home that the mother...

Italy’s Immortal Poet: Dante’s Words Live On!

Although 756 years have passed since Dante Alighieri’s birth in Florence in May of 1265, his words live, not just in literature, but also on the tongues of contemporary Italians. On a swerving, heart-stopping ride through Rome, a taxi driver assured me that the...

Welcoming Spring in Italian

In English the most eagerly awaited of seasons “springs” to life with blunt urgency. In Italian la primavera blossoms into four elegant syllables. My etymological dictionary traces primavera back to radici indoeuropee (Indo-European roots): prima for “before” and vas...

Celebrating Three of Italy’s Passionate Women Artists

Italy’s dazzling pantheon of artistic geniuses seems a man’s world. Yet a few women with singular passion defied all obstacles and created important works of art. As a way of celebrating International Women’s Day, here are three artists whose stories I recount in LA...

The Year of Dante: Learning to Love Italy’s Greatest Poet

It was dislike at first sight.  Everything about Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) put me off. As artists traditionally portrayed him, the medieval poet seemed a ferocious grump with a big beak, jutted chin, petulant sneer, and hooded eyes. Although writers like William...