Katherine: Beauty surrounds my trips to Rome, including on the runways of the fabulous shows of Italian fashions. Kat Out of the Bag book readers know I'm an international purse designer. We all go to great lengths to keep our new designs secret until the sparkling runway reveals. This year Fashion Week in Rome has been delayed to September. I'm in great anticipation of Fashion Week. It's so much work, yet so fun and satisfying. I do reminisce about my sweet times in Italy. I think my friend Judith Works would share my sentiment.
MJ: Rome is a city steeped in history and with an aura of mystery. At the Purse Museum we know history and fashion blend, and each reveal things about the other.
Katherine: My friend Judith Works appreciates history and also a great purse. She's an author and a lawyer and knows a lot about Rome after working there with the United Nations for a decade. She's also an author, and a lawyer. Benvenuto Judith! I savored your wonderful memoir Coins in the Fountain about your time in Rome. Can you tell us about your first impressions of Rome when you and your husband arrived from Oregon?
Judith: I’d been in Rome several times before, once with a previous husband (that didn’t work well at all) and for two interviews for the job I eventually took. I found it beautiful and frightening at the same time. The antiquities and art and architecture, the colors of the buildings, the palm trees, and, best of all the wonderful food pulled me forward. The noise, the chaotic traffic, overwhelming bureaucracy, and strikes pulled me back. It’s clear which side won as we stayed for ten years and I still miss it every day!
MJ: How inspiring is it to be surrounded by precious historical sites in your daily life? What were a couple of your favorites?
Judith: Every day I was immersed in history. It was exhausting just to contemplate the long history of Rome while sipping cappuccino! My office was in the building Mussolini built to rule his (short-lived) African empire around 1930. From the terrace where I had coffee every day, I could see the Palatine Hill where the Roman emperors lived, the triumphal Arch of Constantine, the Circus Maximus used for chariot races, and the Baths of Caracalla where we used to attend opera in the ruins during the summer season.
Katherine: What did you discover were your favorite parts of Roman culture? Was there anything you maybe never got fully accustomed to?
Judith: As I mentioned before, the constant strikes were wearing. One day, the bank clerks went on strike just as I was trying to cash a check. The teller went off with it! Fortunately, their union contract only allowed for a certain number of hours to be off work and the bank opened up later in the day. Favorites: The ability to travel to the countryside on weekends to have lunch on a vine-covered terrace or stay in an old inn in some small hilltown.
Katherine: When you had time to explore, did you have any favorite Italian foods?
Judith: Mamma mia!! How to decide? For winter time I favor Pasta Carbonara, a super-rich combination of spaghetti with a sauce of eggs, bacon, and Parmesan. For summer, something lighter like Linguine with tuna, arugula and capers. And I’ll take Pasta Puttanesca any time with its sauce of Kalamata olives, anchovy, plum tomatoes, capers, red pepper flakes, and herbs served with penne pasta.
Judith: So much choice! We loved to roam the countryside on weekends and often came across small artisan producers who made beautiful shoes and handbags. Not being able to afford Gucci, etc., I often shopped in local markets that had the previous year’s models. One thing I never did was to buy fakes sold on the streets and beaches.
Katherine: You're right. That's very important not to support the counterfeit market.
MJ: Would you tell us a little about what it was like to work for the United Nations in Rome?
Judith: I actually worked for two different but related food organizations. The first dealt mostly in setting food standards, demonstration projects, statistics, and legal agreements. The second was World Food Programme, now often in the news for delivering food to places like Syria). Its mission is food aid to countries stricken by famine due to war and climate events. In both cases, I worked in Human Resources dealing with staff problems ranging from air crashes, murder, illness, or the occasional wrongdoing. Every day brought something new.
MJ: What incredible, meaningful work.helping others. Your work is part of history.
Katherine: We were challenged to solve a mystery in our new novel Kat Out of the Bag, and it's so exciting analyzing clues and suspects, and I can tell you from our experience - it's dangerous too. You've authored your own mystery that takes place in romantic Italy, in your book City of Illusions. Will you tell us a little about your story, and your inspiration for it?
Judith:I did write a mystery about antiquity theft. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business so the book is currently not available. I have the rights so have been toying with reissuing. We’ll see.
Katherine: Do you have a favorite mystery about Italy that you've read?
Judith: My favorite mystery author is Donna Leon. Even though she sets her mysteries in Venice she captures all Italian's love of food and family.
MJ: You've returned to Italy many times. What are your favorite activities when you return?
Judith: First to see my friends and then to take in exhibitions at the marvelous museums. All this activity is interspersed with meals at small trattorias.
MJ: You've visited so many places around the world. I enjoy your blog on your website. Can you pick another favorite spot you travel to and tell us of a historical site you visited?
Judith: It’s truly hard to make a choice but one location always comes to mind: Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania where we sat on our hotel balcony to watch the dhows sailing by. In the evenings the air was filled with the sound of Christian bells for evensong, Hindu gongs and cymbals, and the muezzin calls for their faithful. The air was filled with the scent of cloves. One day we visited the church where David Livingston is buried. (His heart is buried in Westminster Abbey in London). The church is built over the former slave market making it both horrible and sacred at the same time.
Katherine: You have some wonderful purses. In fact our author featured a few of your vintage pieces on this blog three years ago. Here's a picture of one of them.
Judith: You have that picture of the cigarette case from my mother! I picture her in the Roaring Twenties using it at a speakeasy. I've purchased many handbags in Italy over the years but one time when we attended the opening of a new craftsman market, I bought this funny one, made out of old Italian women's magazines. I smile every time I see it!
Katherine: What style of purse is your favorite for traveling, and why? And what purse is your favorite to carry when you're home?
Judith: For traveling, I favor a cross-body bag with just enough room for passport and other small essentials like phone, and a larger carryon for books, laptop or ipad and maybe a snack and pillow. At home, either a bag for credit card and phone if going to summer outdoor market, or otherwise one big enough for wallet, phone, cosmetics.
MJ: I understand that you're very involved in the Seattle Writing Community for example your work on the EPIC Writers Group, and with the Write on the Sound Writing Conference Committee. You give back so much to other writers, I'm hoping you have time for writing another book? What can we look forward to?
Judith: I do have a book with an editor right now. It’s the story of a woman who has to start again after all her plans go awry. It’s set in Rome and Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle.
Katherine: Now I'm looking forward to reading that one, sounds really good. I know you join us in sending a message of love and compassion and hope for the people of Italy especially now as they've suffered from this terrible virus. Thank you for joining us today in our celebration of Rome, and her people. Everyone can find out more about you and reach you on your website - Let's all toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain and wish for a visit. Arrivederci Roma!
MJ: Our hearts are with you!