The Bittersweet Life — Episode 208: DECAY

It’s a glorious city, but its glory is in the past.”
— Heard on this week's episode

Sometimes I give myself a hard time about not blogging as often as I would like (case in point: my last post was in February and it's currently June...) but on second thought, I should really give myself a break. After all, in addition to being a (very occasional) blogger, I'm also an author, a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a tour guide, a wife, and a mom. Oh! and a podcaster. A quick glance through my blog archives shows that my blogging started to lose steam around the same time that I launched my podcast, The Bittersweet Life, with my childhood friend and partner in crime, Katy Sewall.

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For those readers who are not also listeners, The Bittersweet Life is a weekly conversational podcast that explores the joys and frustrations of the expat experience. But it's more than just about the challenges of living abroad. It's a podcast for adventurers, travel-lovers, expats, former expats, future expats, dreamers, and seekers. In short, it's for anyone who looks beyond the parameters that life has a way of setting for us, and dares to live their life on their own terms.

Hosting a weekly podcast has a way of taking over your life, so I'm tempted to lay the blame for my dormant blog directly at the feet of The Bittersweet Life. But why not do something smarter? Why not combine the two? I am, first and foremost, a writer, after all. Why not, a small voice suggested in the middle of the night (when I get all my most ambitious ideas, long before the cold light of morning sends me scuttling back under my covers), blog about your podcast? At least once a week, to coincide with the release of every new episode?

So here I am on Week 1—which is actually Week 208 of the podcast (impressive, if I do say so myself)—about to dive in a write a little bit about our upcoming episode, enticingly titled, DECAY. And since this post is so long already (my lack of brevity is doubtless the true reason this blog is languishing in stagnation), I will be sure to keep it nice and short. So, with no further ado...


Rome is crumbling, just as it has been for centuries. But what does it say about us adopted Romans that we choose to live in a city's whose glory days are all in the past? Can its magnificent history really make up for the inconveniences and frustrations of daily life in modern Rome? How long can a city live off the interest of its past? For Rome, maybe the answer is forever.

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But what about when it's more than just dilapidated old buildings and cobblestone that destroy your shoes? Rome has a way of making life difficult and downrightr unpleasant for her inhabitants. The roads are full of lethal pot holes, the trash piles up uncollected for weeks at a time, the metro is a joke, the buses routinely burst into flames (true story), bureaucratic nightmares are as ubiquitous as coffee bars, the taxis rip you off, the streets are littered with dog poop, trash, and sometimes even hypodermic needles. Jobs are scarce and salaries are low, whereas the rent on your (literally) moldy walk-up is sky high, but you gladly pay it, because it's Rome, right? And there's no where like it in the world.

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But why do so many of us, who can't even use the excuse that it is our native land, choose to live here—often at considerable financial and professional peril—despite how little it has to offer us? Why do we leave only to return again and again, as if it were "more familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born"?

The inspiration for today's episode DECAY comes from one line (albeit a very long line) from Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Marble Faun that shattered me the first time I read it. It was way back in 2011, and in fact I blogged about it on the earlier incarnation of this blog, and the quote in its entirety can be found here.

Katy and I use this quotation as a springboard to launch a conversation about why those of us who live in Rome love the city so much that we can't bear to leave, despite the endless downsides it offers. As usual, we don't necessarily come to any conclusions, but the discussion does lead us to made a rather stark comparison: is living in Rome a bit like being in an abusive relationship?

Stream the episode for free here, find us on iTunes here (and hey, why not subscribe while you're at it?), or listen to a preview of today's episode on SoundCloud.