The World’s Oldest Republic

Pop Quiz!  What’s the world’s oldest Republic?

Nope, it’s not the United States with its youthful Constitution from 1787. The world’s oldest is also the world’s smallest.  Its population is just over 30,000 and its Constitution is from 1600.


Still can’t think of it?  Here’s another hint:  it’s here in Italy, just a couple of hours drive from where we live in Arezzo.


It’s high up in the Apennine Mountains, overlooking the Adriatic Sea – as you can see I paid a Euro for Lulu to gaze out upon.


Okay,  give up?  It’s the tiny country of San Marino, or The Most Serene Republic of San Marinoas it is often referred.   Well, it’s not IN Italy, of course, but it’s surrounded by Italy on all four sides.


It was fitting, then, that Lulu and I – along with our great friends Pavlina, Francesco and their son David – visited yesterday – on Italy’s Liberation (from WWII) Day.


“Libertas” is San Marino’s motto and somehow it has managed to remain free and neutral since its founding by Saint Marinus of Arba, a stone-cutter who apparently set up shop here waaay back in 301 AD.  The republic is now marked by three ancient castle-like fortresses – made of stone.


Two, which are connected by the mysterious “Passo delle Streghe” or “Way of the Witches.”



But it’s no mystery now that, because of its tax-free status, San Marino welcomes lots and lots of tourists every year.


They can explore the towers and the perfume, leather and clothing stores that line up alongside the stone walls and its rather merry Museum of Torture.


No, we didn’t go in there.  We largely stayed out of the tourist traps.  We chose a piadina café instead.

DSCN2213After which, followed the obligatory visit to the nearest gelateria. 


Lulu’s blue-colored flavor was labeled “Puffo.”  That’s what they call a “Smurf” here in Italy, er, I mean in San Marino.  Yes, the language is still Italian.  Meno male!

We hiked up and around the ring of mountain-tops admiring the incredible views.


It’s a magical place. That makes you wonder about its residents and its history.


Peering through the old defensive key-holes –


– it’s no wonder San Marino is still renowned for its crossbow contests.  They have had more than a millennium of practice.

San Marino's Crossbow arena
San Marino’s Crossbow arena

And while not for nearly as long, Lulu is still very practiced at a special piercing talent: Cajoling me into souvenir shops to “buy me something!”  On our way leaving the independent republic and duty-free haven, I finally ducked into a tiny store.

And emerged with Lulu clutching a pink “Peppa Pig” plushy.


After, 1,700 years, San Marino remains its own country, with its own laws, flag, stamps…. and tchotchkes.

With love from San Marino,


Gina and Lulu

P.S. Every visited a tiny place? Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Lego Land?  Let me know how it went!

For more adventures in Italy and elsewhere, please, pretty please, go and check out, my new book – “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” available worldwide (even in San Marino) on Amazon!


Agretti! It’s what’s for dinner…in Tuscany!

Agretti.  Also known as “Monk’s Beard.” It’s not well-known outside of Tuscany.  But, today, I’m sharing a spring-time secret that Lulu and I enjoy here in Arezzo – with you – wherever you are!


Don’t imagine that if you’re in Tuscany during the spring you’ll readily come across Agretti. In fact, some quite smart American expat friends of mine who have lived here for many years and are fluent in the language and most of the customs, had never heard of it before.  But, I was fortunate enough to be taught about this springtime delicacy from the terrific sorelle, or sisters, who run the small bottega known as “Frutta a Go-Go.”  Love that name.


Marianna and Gioanna encouraged me to buy Agretti for the first time last spring.  The Mediterranean plant looks like a blend of chives and Kentucky bluegrass to me. You can buy it fresh, loose and in handfuls from the market or pre-packaged in grocery stores like I did yesterday.


It’s easy to prepare.  Here are all the ingredients I used from my kitchen as le sorelle told me to simply boil it in salted water just like pasta, then drain and drizzle with olive oil – extra virgin, ma certo!


In just about three or four minutes, drain it, place it on a platter, sprinkle it with a little extra sale grosso and olio oliva and ecco!  You have a fresh-spring tasting accompaniment to any April or May meal.


Look around in Italian or specialty grocers near you.  Agretti is worth the search.


Buon appetito! (…piatto pulito as Lulu would add!)



 P.S. Have you ever cooked Agretti?  Ever heard of it? What recipe did you use? Would love to hear from you!

 And, of course, for more stories of the wonderful food of Tuscany, you’re invited to buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – adventures between me and Lulu here in Arezzo!  A must for any one who loves traveling and children – but not necessarily traveling with children. 😉

Primavera Fever!

Spring! The calendar may officially announce it in March, but only you know when it truly arrives where you live.  Here in Arezzo, I’m marking this week as our official reawakening – of grass, flowers, trees and most important of all, our spirits!


Mr. Dreary Rainy Winter has finally relinquished the seasonal scepter to Sunny Miss Primavera.

Buds arrive on the trees and groups of tourists arrive on the steps of our famous churches.

St. Domenico
Our Duomo - St. Peter's and St. Donato's.
Our Duomo – St. Peter’s and St. Donato’s.

But it’s the warmer weather that is spring’s true royal herald.

Lulu and I walk to school every morning  through this very portal in the ancient medieval wall that surrounds the town.   And weather is always part of our conversation.


While I’m encouraging her to appreciate life-giving rain, mysterious fog and chilling wind, the warmth of a bright morning sun really gets us talking – and in Lulu’s case, singing.


“I love the sun. The sunny sun. The sunny, sunny, sunny, sun. Ooooh. Sun,” Lulu sang this week, “La-la-la-la,” she added.  As she scootered to school.

Not the most poetic lyrics ever, but the sentiment rings true.


When our Tuscan hills begin turning green – and the sun casts long shadows –



And a new crop of flowers from our neighbor Senora Dora’s giardino stretches upwards – 


– I may not crawl on a small side-street to try and imitate a cat – but I do join Lulu, in lifting a song of thanks to the promised return of spring.


My song, however, is internal.  Nobody wants to hear me sing!


To all of you, wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying or anticipating with relish – the hope that springs – with spring!

Love to you all,


P.S.  Where are you?  How’s the weather?  How’s your heart?

For more joyful and vivid descriptions of our beloved Tuscan town, please buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” available WORLDWIDE on, .UK .IT etc etc! Baci! 




Make Time to Swing!

(First off, this has NOTHING to do with “swinging” – so get out of the 70’s and read on..)

Last weekend I was with my five-year-old daughter Lulu at a small park in a village in Tuscany.

Parco di Pini in Castiglion Fiorentino is just like the name describes, a park surrounded by pine trees. But what the name doesn’t tell you, is that the park is also perched on a cliff – with a tremendous view spreading out before you of the Tuscany valley below.

I’m sure the view is even better if you hopped on a swing set and began to soar up high.

??????????And that’s exactly what Lulu decided to do.

She climbed on the seat, held on to the chains, and after just one “starter push” from me, pumped her little legs back and forth and began to go!

Like most moms, I walked over to a nearby bench and sat down to watch her.  But perhaps, unlike, most moms, I decided not to tell her it was time to come down after only a few minutes. I wanted to see just how long she would choose to stay up there – on her own.

So, then, for twenty minutes, I watched her.  She tilted her head waaaaay back as she swung – the breeze catching her long hair and really blowing it.


We smiled and waved at each other occasionally. But I didn’t stop her.

Eventually, after almost half an hour, Lulu slowed down and stopped.

“Whew.  That was fun,” she told me.  “It was just like flying!”

“Good, Honey, I’m glad you like to swing.”

“I do.  You should try it too.”

I used to like swinging a lot.  I remember Julie, my best friend in third grade, and I used to swing all through our recesses.  Back and Forth. Back and Forth.  Never stopping until the teacher blew her whistle signalling recess was over.

Now, if I go too long or too high, I tend to get a little queasy.

But, I thought, Lulu is right.  I should try to do it more.

I’m all for thinking and planning and working…. and thinking about planning to work… and basically just getting caught up in the harried moments that comprise each day.

But it’s important – much more so than I currently consider – to take time to stop.

And just swing.

DSCN1979Thanks, Lulu, for reminding me.

Till next time, tutti! 

When’s the last time you took out time to “swing” – What’s your favorite “time-out?”  Please share!

And for more inspirational conversations and adventures between Lulu and me, my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” is available now at 

A Real April Fool

Here in Italy, it’s the day after Easter, known as Pasquetta, or “little Easter.”

Resurrection and spring celebrations continue.. and Lulu and I visited Castiglion Fiorentino to check out their “Vilaggio di Primavera” or “Spring Village” – where there were indeed ??????????some nice crafts and regional food –

 But, since this year, it happens to fall on April First, today is also Pesce d’Aprile , the Italian version of what I know better as April Fool’s Day!

I like practical jokes and clever pranks, so I like the concept of this day – but for some reason, the only joke I remember was one that I didn’t pull-off myself, but, rather was played mercilessly on me – by my mother!

It was an April Fool’s Day morning, when I was just five years old, that I woke up to my mom greeting me with a solemn face.  I can still remember her leading to me into the kitchen and sitting me up on one of the stools at the bar.

“Gina,” she began in a somber tone, “I am very sorry, but your father was cleaning out your closet last night and he accidentally threw out all of your shoes.”


Now, I have no idea why the notion that my dad decided to clean out the closet in my bedroom while I was sleeping in the same room didn’t strike me as odd.  Or why I chose to buy the even crazier idea that he just accidentally  happened to throw out all of my shoes.

Maybe it was because I was only five years old.   But, anyway, I remember staring wide-eyed at my mother as she continued.

“So, honey, I am so sorry, but we don’t have any shoes to send you to school in this morning,” my mother purred.  “Instead, just for today, we’re going to wrap your feet in newspapers and put rubber bands around to hold them in place.  You only have to go to school like this for today.  After school, we’ll go buy you some new shoes.”


That was it!

But back when I was five. It was more than enough.

Before she could say anything else, I began to cry.

“APRIL FOOL!” my mom gleefully cried out.

I don’t think I laughed at all then.. but all of my family – and even I – get a real laugh out of it now. It only took a couple dozen sessions with my therapist.  No, not really, but sheesh, Mom, what were you thinking?  If you met her, you would never think she had such a mean streak.  Ha. Maybe you would.  Just kidding. We’re really close.  I promise.  Anyway,  I don’t think I have ever asked her how she came up with the idea or whether Dad knew anything about it.  I’ll have to do that.

But meantime, now my own daughter is five and last night I told her about the tradition of April Fool’s Day – and about the alarming prank my mom played on me when I was the same age as she was.

“Thank goodness you didn’t have to wear newspapers on your feet for real!” Lulu exclaimed after I had finished the tale.

“I know!” I agreed.

Later, while we waited on the platform for the train to take us to Castiglion Fiorentino ,  Lulu suddenly shouted, “Hey, Mom, the train’s coming!”

Of course, it wasn’t yet, but I whipped my head dutifully around to look in the direction it would be heading and as soon as I did, Lulu squealed, “APRIL FOOL DAY!! I got you!”

“Yes, you did, Honey,”  I winked at her.  We both knew.

This afternoon, while we were exploring the old town, I turned to her very seriously and said, “Lulu, I almost forgot to tell you, Daddy accidentally threw out all of your other dresses last night and the outfit you’re in is the only one left.   Tomorrow, when you go to school, you’ll have to wear a newspaper wrapped up with string.”

“Maaaahhhm!” Lulu rolled her eyes, “you’re just teasing me. That’s just like Gramma Sheila.”


Then she added, “I think it’s better if we don’t tease, because if not, no one will believe you.”

She’s right.  I still don’t let my mom come anywhere near my shoes.

And that’s no April Fool. 😉

Hope you’re having a fun-filled April first.  Any memories you’d like to share, please do!   And for more conversations and adventures between my daughter, Lulu, and me, please buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” !  Till next time, Ciao, tutti!