A place to call "Rome"
Yes, it's completely possible to engage in a love affair with a city - even more so when it's a city like Rome. Well, actually, let me correct myself: there's no city quite like Rome. (Photo HeartRome)
The subject of this particular story has engaged in just such a romantic pursuit for the past decade. Maria Pasquale, Melbourne native, has been living la dolce vita in the cittàƒ eterna, where she's on a never-ending quest to find the next great eat, aperitivo, or amazing place to socialise. Blogger, author and journalist, Maria has done and seen it all. If the old saying is true, then all roads have truly led her to Roma.
"“It's a special city. I always say it's one of those places you fall in love with, then you hate it the next minute, and it will just get completely on your nerves... and you turn a corner and you fall in love with it again!" She laughs at the irony of her relationship with Rome. "“There's a lot of things wrong with Italy, and Rome - and there are a lot of problems, believe me - it's not perfect. I also say to Italians, no city or country is perfect. Rome consistently does something, just being itself, and somehow makes you forgive it all the time."
Born and raised in Melbourne to Italian migrant parents, Maria's story is one not unlike many that we have told at Segmento Magazine - she never set out to end up in her current career, living in Rome. "“It's a love affair that lasted much longer than it should have. You know there are times when you go, 'I'm just going to call it quits!' and then there are those days when I don't heart Rome, I hate Rome. It's something that once it's in your heart it's very hard to let go of. It's like a virus... once it's there, it's there!" Life (and perhaps a little Roman magic) had other plans for her.
"“I remember growing up in an Italian family, it was always very loud. You'd have friends ringing asking 'Oh, are you having a party?' 'No, no, just my uncle's over', or whatever. It's just Tuesday night in the suburbs. Everyone's talking and having a good old time! I remember from a young age my mum used to make homemade pasta while we were growing up. I remember helping her, I remember the pasta board. It was very important. It is also very important in an Abruzzese family as we use it to serve polenta in winter." She recalls visiting her zio's home during one trip back to Italy when she was seven. He had recently closed his delicatessen business, and as such Maria found herself fascinated by the remaining produce he had tucked away in the garage. One of the strongest memories from her childhood is of the smell of coffee from the Moka bubbling away on her zia's stove. She cites Italian hospitality, as witnessed in her family's little Abruzzese village, as what really started and nurtured her interest in food from a young age.
It wasn't always about food, though. Maria has two degrees from The University of Melbourne, a Bachelor of Arts (History/Political Science) and a Bachelor of Public Policy and Management. During the latter she wrote her thesis on a piece of legislation, 'The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, 2001'. This had not necessarily been her Plan A. Maria had initially considered going down the path of Law, given her studious past at school and love of talking. She felt the pull of responsibility, being the first-born child, telling me that she was always "“striving to make sure everything was perfect and always doing the right thing." Maria recounts walking past the Law Faculty and seeing books floor to ceiling and deciding that Law perhaps wasn't for her, after all. She had always sought to establish a career in journalism, but as luck would have it, she muddled the dates for the entrance test and ended up taking a very different path in Public Policy.
Having worked for the Victorian State Government for 6 years, she worked in the area of multicultural affairs policy. Her time and experiences were spent working on important pieces of legislation, policy briefings and parliamentary speeches concentrating on community tolerance, during a period that included September 11. During her last few years in government Maria worked in communications and events, managing 'Cultural Diversity Week' which honours the UN Day for the elimination of racism. She worked as the Communications and Events Manager for the Victorian Multicultural Commission for two years, as well as organising key events at Victorian State government level.
Moving into the corporate sector, Maria began working in PR; again, working in multicultural and indigenous affairs. During her time in PR she managed high profile events and networked extensively. At the age of 30 she began her own event management and PR firm. Throughout her professional career to that point the flexibility of working for the government and running her own business allowed Maria to travel extensively, enjoying many sojourns abroad - of which Italy always played a part.
"“My grandparents never emigrated to Australia, so we had a very strong ties to Italy. I had been here as a child. I was seven the first time I came - and I always say, it sounds so cliché when I say it out aloud - but when I was about sixteen I fell in love with Italy. I think those are probably the impressionable adolescent years, and I swore to myself on some level that one day I would live here. I travelled here in my 20s, every year I would come via Rome. Even in a three-month holiday I would come to Rome 3-4 times. I would arrive in Rome, I would always leave from Rome. I would bawl my eyes out on the way to the airport. I would always cry when I left." Constantly reminded of that little niggle in the back of her mind, reminding her to do the right thing, she always wondered what it would be like to live in Italy. "“Thankfully my family is very encouraging," she says. "“How could I leave? How could I live in Italy? Who does that? What would I do?" She would ask herself. Motivated by the fear of waking up and regretting not having had such an experience, she did it. Celebrating her 33rd birthday in Italy, she was met with some doubt by others, questioning if moving to Italy during an economically challenging period of high unemployment would be a wise move. With a strong work ethic, enviable CV and referees, Maria set to work on building her new Roman life.
Through her own research trying to find out where to eat, drink and socialise in Rome, Maria came across numerous blogs and online magazines. Sitting in her apartment one day she started her own blog, entitled 'Trastevere Calling 2011'. "“I started writing and literally it was my mum and my sister in law leaving comments and reading my stuff. That's nice, because it's always not fun talking to a wall." Slowly from that point she spread her social media wings and extended her reach to Twitter and Instagram. Her blog had begun to gain traction, she registered the name and domain and the HeartRome enterprise was born. "“I went from writing speeches for the Premier to living in Rome writing about food," she laughs.
In 2012 she began working with a start-up company running food tours of Rome, managing social media, press, blogs and PR, working with them for four years. The company flourished, and expanded its food tour delivery to international destinations. "“I really look back fondly on those four years as really formative years in Rome, because they also exposed me to a lots of suppliers here on the ground - the bakeries and restaurants, people that I already knew, but working with them at a professional level brought another aspect to that relationship. It helped me to penetrate the food sector in Rome." Leaving that role and the security of a full-time wage in US dollars, her blog's fame took her to work for USA Today as a Correspondent through press contacts. Maria went on numerous food and blog trips and continued to work on developing her own content, exploring her love of writing.
In 2016 she had been speaking with a number of publishers about a book proposal she had prepared. Smith Street Books, a publishing house in Melbourne, eventually signed Maria and the wonderful book 'I Heart Rome' was born. Bringing her professional journey up to date, Maria now gets to enjoy freelance writing, having written for The Telegraph (London), CNN, Fodor's, The Rough Guide: Rome, and continuing in her monthly role for USA Today. Maria engages in strategic social media management and PR planning, alongside content development for hotels and the hospitality sector. Recently, she has also been taking some book fans on walks around Trastevere. "“It's really lovely to be able to share. We go through the neighbourhood and they eat a lot of the things that you find recipes for in the book, and also meet some of the personalities you see"¦ my local cheesemonger, the guy at the local friggitoria and we get supplà¬"¦"
I came away from my chat with Maria completely smitten. She's a wonderfully generous character with lots of wisdom and stories to share. Maria and I share a deeply profound love of Rome, and I'm so glad that I get to share in her daily Roman adventures on social media, 'heart-ing' Rome together.