As always it is wonderful to reconnect with people you’ve met, then haven’t seen for ages, especially in a place you both love. This week’s local I love is Marta Alexandra Abbott, born in Amsterdam to an American father and Czech mother. She was raised in Connecticut and lived in New York before moving to Rome. In New York she tried out several different paths including jewelry design, working at a gallery, and working with flowers.
Prior to making Italy her permanent home, she spent some time studying art restoration in Florence, where she originally had the luck of meeting Georgette by chance at a mutual friend’s party ;-). Marta currently works in floral design at her studio, Hour of the Rose, and has continued painting and drawing, which she has done since she can remember.
She is now also the co-host of a podcast called Muse Radio which she likes to describe as a weekly conversation about creativity. Marta has now been living in Rome for about two years and is looking forward to many more. Let’s get to know one of the sweetest people I know a little better.
name: Marta Alexandra Abbott
nationality: American and Czech
profession: Co-host of Muse Radio and Floral Designer at Hour of the Rose
Favorite drink: Red wine
How long have you lived in Rome and where are you from originally.
I’ve lived in Rome for just over two years and I also spent two years studying art restoration in Florence. I was born in Amsterdam but I grew up in Connecticut and was living in New York City before deciding to make a permanent move to Italy.
You basically summed up my favorite places. What brought you to the ancient city originally and why did you decide to stay?
A lot of things! I felt it was time for a big change in my life and like I needed to make some decisions about where to set down my roots. My mother is Czech and lived in Holland for a long time ( as did my dad) and because of that I spent a lot of time in Prague and Amsterdam growing up.
My Czech heritage was always really important to me and played a big part in my upbringing so I already had a certain attachment to Europe.
I eventually realized that when I was in the U.S. I missed Europe and that when I was in Europe I missed the U.S. So clearly, I had a decision to make between the two! I ended up choosing Europe and decided on Rome because of all the usual reasons: sunshine, history, beauty, good food and wine, a slower pace and so on.
It helped that my mother lives in Prague now so I knew I’d have at least one parent and some family nearby. I also had my eye on a certain Italian man residing in Rome which I have to admit did add some weight in my decision-making process. I’m glad I trusted my gut on that one because now we’re married.
You come from so many interesting backgrounds Marta! What are you up to in Rome ? Work, daily life, passions?
I love flowers and moved here as a floral designer. I also paint ( which also usually tied to flowers) and since November I’ve been the co-host of a podcast about creativity called Muse Radio. A lot of time lately has been dedicated to that project and I’m really enjoying it. We interview fellow creative types and talk about various aspects of living a life driven by the desire to create! My daily life here up until pretty recently has been complicated by the fact that as soon as I moved here ( I mean literally the week I got here), my physical health deteriorated quite quickly.
I ended up having to get two hip surgeries back in the U.S. about 9 months into my new life in Italy. In all I was away for 7 months and then I came right back . That meant that during those first 9 months here, I had to quit a job in floral design I’d been incredibly excited to find, and that I couldn’t get out or explore the city much. My recovery has been much slower than predicted so getting into a daily rhythm has been challenging in some ways but things are finally getting better so I’m trying to make up for lost time in getting to know both Rome and its people!
Right now it’s a lot of working from home on the podcast and other projects. Aside from flowers and podcasts and painting, I can often be found seeking a patch of green outdoors, listening to music or looking up new and interesting recipes or places to eat. Or planning a trip! I can’t seem to stay still for very long!
I adore your podcast because essentially it is less about the fantasy of Italy and more so about real people doing really cool things. What annoys you about Italy? Tell me the truth!
Hmmmm… I would have to say the damp and inescapable cold in the winter! No matter how much I bundled up and blasted the heat I was always chilly. That said, I lived next to one of the largest nightclubs in the city for a time so I would have to add the steady population of study abroad students who don’t really know how to hold their liquor, especially between 1:00 am and 4:00 am, as a source of frustration.
Oh no! I have been there, this is why I won’t live near Piazza Santa Croce. Do you think life in Italy is for everyone? Why does it work for you?
No! I really don’t. I think everyone thinks life in Italy is for them, and I don’t blame them, but it’s not as easy as it often looks from the outside. It’s certainly beautiful and charming and fun and interesting and personally I love it. But it can also be very trying if you haven’t grown up here and aren’t used to certain things. For example, I think most of my friends who live in New York City would develop a nervous tick just from the TOTALLY different concept of personal space here (i.e. there isn’t one).
It works for me because I make it work.
Honestly there are days that certain things here drive me nuts but then I remember all the beauty and the amazing people I’ve met, friends I’ve made, things I’ve seen and gotten to do, and I smile and move on. It’s like the saying goes, you have to have the strength to accept the things you can’t change and to do something about the things you can. Also, having an Italian significant other as soon as I moved here helped. I want to be honest about that because it made a lot of things easier and helped me get through some pretty confusing and frustrating moments. I don’t know if I would have handled certain things with all that much grace or patience otherwise!
I really appreciate your honesty! How different is life in NYC or Prague than Italy?
I’d say life in NYC vs. in Rome is like day and night. New York City never turns off. It’s an incredible place but it can also be pretty intense. I think priorities and general mentality are very different, as is what quality of life means to people. It can be hard to stop and take a breath every now and then whereas here there is plenty ( if not sometimes too much) time to do that.
I’ve realized Prague is more similar to Rome than I would have imagined. While the weather, food and certain customs are different, Prague is interesting visually in how the many layers of its history are so visible, as they are here. There’s a also a deeply ingrained love of culture and the arts there, which I think breeds a certain atmosphere and attracts a certain type of person, one who might also easily be drawn to Rome.
Both countries have had a complicated and difficult history which has resulted in a similar atmosphere of cynicism and skepticism too, but in both places it’s accompanied by an appreciation for beauty and enjoying one’s self. It makes for an interesting and often confusing mix!
What advice would you give a newbie looking to move to Rome?
I’d say definitely do your homework before you come and if you can, spend some time here to feel the place out and be sure that the Italy you hope to find exists. I also think that using social media to connect with people who have similar interests or who you think you might get along with beforehand would be a good idea. Arriving having already reached out to a few people and knowing you can arrange a lunch or a coffee date with someone can go a long way in helping you feel at home.
Great advice! Three finds/places everyone should know about in Rome?
I love the Orto Botanico in Trastevere because it’s a little oasis of peace and quiet ( and flowers) in the middle of the city. I also think the Caffarella park is amazing because how often do you find a gigantic park with roaming sheep and a working farm in the middle of a big city ? and then there’s the Giardino Degli Aranci which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been here….as you can see I like to seek out nature!
TOP advice! What’s the weirdest thing you have seen/experienced in Italy?
Reading this question made me chuckle. I have seen quite a few things that could be called weird and a lot of them have to do with the post office or with driving habits that I simply cannot understand. It’s hard to pick just one thing and i’m finding that my definition of what’s weird is shifting as I get more acclimated to living here. This may be more scary than weird, but one time my train caught on fire while I was on my way to the airport. That was an interesting ride.
WHAT? That does not surprise me. What can you do here and nowhere else?
Travel easily and fairly quickly around a small country and experience totally different landscapes, climates and cultures in each region! There is so incredibly much to see here and each region is like its own little country within a country.
How did you make friends and assimilate abroad– was it difficult?
I was really lucky that I arrived here both with a job and with a significant other, especially since I’m not always the most outgoing person (introverted only child here) . That said, it was also really important to me to make my own friends and not just rely on his network.
Social media was pretty useful as was having spent some time in Italy before moving here. That meant there were already a few familiar faces that I could reach out to when I arrived. It wasn’t easy but I also don’t think it should necessarily be. It’s very tempting to make the first friendly person you meet your new best friend when living abroad and far away from anything that’s familiar. It happens a lot.
I find that those friendships aren’t always built on solid ground though, so even if it took me a little longer, it was worth waiting and figuring out who I really got along with, shared interests with, etc. I would say try your hardest to shed your shyness or nervousness and just keep putting yourself out there. Show you’re interested in getting to know someone better and you’ll be surprised at how receptive and nice people are!
Well-said, I definitely think we have all made a few ‘friend mistakes’ because we just were looking to connect with someone. It takes time to get to know people. Italy is full of amazing food, what is your favorite dish and foodie hideaway?
This could very easily become an interview within an interview for me. About 20 different dishes instantly came to mind! I have to say that a good parmigiana makes me really happy as does any kind of pasta with bottarga. But then there’s fried bread and pesto and ribollita and a ball of really good quality mozzarella di bufala… Can you tell I like food ? To me the beauty of the food here is in its simplicity. Since I mentioned parmigiana, I’ll say that one of my favorite hideaways is a restaurant in Pigneto called L’Idillio because theirs is fantastic.
If you had to do it again (start a new life abroad) would you and why?
I absolutely would. I saw moving here as a chance to start over and in some really nice ways, I was able to do that. It forced me outside of my comfort zone socially which was really good for someone who can be as introverted and shy as me, and it’s helped me understand better what’s really important to me and what’s not. My priorities and interests have definitely shifted since getting here and I feel better for it. Plus it’s easier to travel here and for me that’s huge. I’m never not plotting a trip somewhere and knowing that, for example, I can pop over to Greece in less than two hours time makes me very happy.
What would you tell yourself looking back to the first year living in Italy?
Be patient! Practicing patience both with the endless, bureaucracy induced frustrations and with myself while learning how to live in a new country would have been pretty useful.
If you had to make up a tagline for the city of Rome according to Marta, what would it be?
Rome: A beautiful mix of chaos and calm.
As always it was a pleasure to get to know Marta, who really is a gem of a person. I highly encourage you to check out her podcast, Muse Radio, (twitter here) and keep in touch with her on twitter and instagram where she is definitely going to be a star.