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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure. Stories Springing from Experiences in Italy

PART 56: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: Experiences in Italy and Story Writing.

I've had the incredible experience of living in Italy twice; the first time was in Rome, while I was a student at a Vatican seminary for eight years.

The second time is now, in Puglia for half the year.

My background is as an educator (high school social studies), but my side gig is as an author. Most of my books spring from particular circumstances or events while in Italy. It would be interesting to share some of these.

Step 2: The seminary.

When I reached my 40th birthday, my past seemed like a puzzle, full of pieces I couldn't fit together.

At age 19 I moved to Rome and lived in a seminary near the Vatican for much of my eight years there. I then returned to California where I was ordained a priest and worked as an assistant pastor, professor, and national leader. I then left that life behind and eventually started my teaching career.

In the middle of all that, I realized that I had let others steer my life rather than taking the driving wheel, that happiness was more than a concept but could be a real possibility, and that I was gay.

To understand my life better, I started writing down what happened when I entered the seminary in Rome until the day I left the priesthood.

When I showed the manuscript to my sister, she thought it was good enough to be published. So, on a whim, I sent it out to a few publishers, and the 3rd one, Chicago Review Press, signed me on.

The result is "That Undeniable Longing: My Road to and from the Priesthood."

This book was the first one inspired by my experience living in Italy.

Books have been written by those who left the religious life or convent, but often from a victim perspective. But my experience was different. I loved being in the seminary, loved being in Rome, and loved the experience afterward.

But it was time to move on.

I am grateful for it all.

The book has done very well and is well received by those without religious affiliation. It could be because it documents our core human struggles but in different circumstances.

Step 3: The two soldiers.

I was eating lunch with a friend who lives in Rome; we were sitting outside at a table near the Vatican, chatting about friends from our past, Rome and its history, and other trivial things that now escape me.

During this conversation, my friend told me about the history of the 4th-century soldiers/martyrs John and Paul. He didn't say much, but when he recounted the last recorded words that the one said to the other, he planted a seed that eventually blossomed into my first historical novel.

These recorded words are:

"If we submit to this, we will be together forever in paradise."

I wondered how these two men had lived their lives to be able to say these words at the end.

I went on a quest to find out.

Over eight years, I researched Latin documents, befriended and drew knowledge from the on-site archeologist (the house of John and Paul has been excavated and is near the coliseum), visited numerous mithraic temples in and around Rome, purchased more books for research than I wish to admit and consulted with various professors of ancient history.

The result is the well-researched "I am John, I am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome."

The story is fascinating; the most incredible thing is that it is true.

Above their excavated house lies the church carrying their names, and underneath the altar is a stone sarcophagus where the remains of both men lie together.

Their last words came true.

Step 4: What makes Rome, Rome?

It had been a year since I had written a book when I visited Rome some time ago; I was open to creating something new, but a story had to come to me; I can't just invent it. So I patiently waited, keeping my eyes and ears open.

A few days before returning to California, I wandered around Trastevere. I didn't have a goal but eventually ended up in Santa Maria Trastevere, an ancient church whose floor and mosaics ooze history, faith, and culture.

I stepped outside into the bright sun, looked across the piazza, and then, like a lightning bolt, the next book came to me.

What makes Rome unique? Its stories.

No building, street corner, or statue lacks a story behind it that brings that place or thing to life.

So I would endeavor to tell some of these stories.

The result was "She Seduced Me: A Love Affair with Rome."

To create this book, I delved into my own experiences of the city, beginning from when I lived there as a student. I also did much research to describe daily life in ancient Rome accurately. Thirdly, I had to leave my comfort zone to interview street performers, Romans, and expats whose place in Rome is part of its story.

I am grateful that this book will now be published in Italian by Alpes Libri.

The reviews of this book are overwhelming.

Step 5: The dream.

This may sound weird, but it's true: the premise and outline of this book came to me in a dream on the last night that I was staying in Rome before my flight back to California.

When I returned home, I wrote it down and completed the manuscript in about two weeks.

"The Words of my Father" recounts the bedtime stories of Giuseppe to his son Joseph. The framework of the stories is the phrases of the Our Father prayer. Giuseppe takes a word or phrase and uses examples from his own life and other stories to make sense of the prayer for Joseph.

On the other hand, the boy keeps begging his father to continue because he doesn't want to go to sleep yet.

The book has greatly impacted my interior life.

Step 6: Puglia.

Friendship led us to Puglia.

Several of our friends in Rome, whom I visited often, were from Puglia and owned property there.

They invited me to visit a few times over the years until my partner and I accepted.

We passed thousands of olive trees as we drove to Salento, the southern part of Puglia.

Just as we started to complain about the redundant scenery and make jokes about unending olive groves, our friend called us and, over the speakerphone, revealed the stories behind the olives.

After that, a tree was not just a tree anymore. It became a sign of a history linking Puglia to Greek settlements, the Roman Empire and beyond.

The olive trees and our friendships were our first step into Puglia, which eventually resulted in my newest book: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."

Two cultures (Californian and Puglian) that intermingle can be humorous, frustrating, and enlightening. As we explore the towns and areas of Puglia, we take the reader with us as we sometimes make snap judgments, become aware of a bigger picture, and learn what makes Puglia such a magical place.

Historical figures, such as Nicholas of Bari, Pantaleone of Otranto, and Nicholas of Trani, step into the present.

I hope this book imparts some of the beautiful experiences we have had in Puglia so far.

More next time.

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