Dear adults: Don’t ask me what I want to do with the rest of my life

Dear adults, friend’s parents, aunts and uncles, shop clerks, flight attendants and bosses:

I am a confident and driven female. I have walked alone through foreign cities. I have spoken out for those silenced by sexual assault. I have sang and danced in front of crowds of 500 people.

Yet there’s one question — just one question — that seems to sock to me in the gut and chip at my self-assurance. Unfortunately, it’s what you ask most.

“So, Lauren, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

Panic. Fear. Confusion. I’m an intelligent girl, but I don’t have the answer.

Photo from www.huffingtonpost.com.

Photo from huffingtonpost.com.

Maybe I shouldn’t.

You see, at 25, Martha Stewart was working on Wall Street.

At 25, Tina Fey was a child-care registrar at the Y.M.C.A.

At 25, Mark Cuban was a bartender.

At 25, Ralph Lauren was a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers.

Could any of them have known what they would be doing with the rest of their lives? Could any of them have predicted their not-yet-existing companies and careers?

So here’s the answer: I don’t know what I want to do. I’m graduating this year and I don’t know where I want to work or who I want to work for. But I do know that I want to find something I love and do that something. Something that provides me with a sense of purpose. Something that allows me financial security. Something that improves the lives of women less fortunate than I.

It might mean working for a magazine. It might mean writing for a TV show. It might mean publishing a book. It might even mean going to business school and starting my own something. It might.

But it might not. Nothing is certain but this moment.

So instead of asking me what I’m doing with the rest of my life, maybe ask me what I’m doing right now. What I enjoy. Ask me about the experiences and memories I’m making that will shape my future — whether you and I know it or not.

Thanks,

Me

24 reasons why being from North Jersey is friggen’ awesome

Now this is a REAL Italian sub. Photo from nicolosbakeryanddeli.com.

NJ Transit, taxes and overpopulation can’t even get us down. Here’s why we’re all so lucky to be from North Jersey: 1. ​Because you can go to Pilgrim Diner at 3 p.m. And you can go to Pilgrim Diner at 3 … Continue reading

Stop posting about your diets, please

If you’re not tweeting about your weight loss, posting statuses about the gym on Facebook and uploading before and after pics of your bod to Instagram – are you even on a diet? 

Carbs

Face it, being on a diet seems to be a rite of passage for the women of our generation (as is posting about said diet on social media). For some reason, we need to make it known to those around us that we’re working out and limiting our food intake. Subconsciously, we declare “I’m unhappy with myself, but here’s the proof that I’m working towards perfection.” Whatever perfection may be.

I mean, how many times has Becky tweeted about “only eating grapefruit” that week? How many likes has Sara gotten on her “yummy, healthy” lunch — which is really just two lettuce leaves and a quarter of an avocado? How many pictures have you untagged of yourself because your arm “looked fat”?

And if I see one more girl on Instagram squatting in her sports bra, I’m going to scream.

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The issue with posts like the ones above is that dieting becomes a competition. How do you feel when, at the exact same moment you read Becky’s tweet, you’re shoveling a piece of leftover birthday cake into your mouth? Like crap. Your mind starts to race – should I be on that diet too? Am I fat? What am I thinking eating this cake? Are carbs the enemy? And voila, that delicious mid-afternoon treat suddenly feels like a giant brick sitting in your stomach. Who knew that a tweet had the power to destroy an appetite.

Here’s the problem: We forget that what’s posted on social media is not really real life. For all you know, Becky’s chasing her grapefruit with cookie dough and Sara grabbed two slices of pizza after the salad (I’ve witnessed both scenarios).

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We’re all human, and instead of cultivating this perfect diet persona, maybe we should be more honest with our friends, ourselves and our bodies on social media.

I realize that diets aren’t going to go away. There’s nothing wrong with being health-conscious or working towards a stronger body. But maybe reconsider the amount of times you post about it.

#FoodForThought.

This post was originally written for and published by The Odyssey Online.  

The 5 best things about having an Italian mom

Today is my mom’s birthday, so I figured I’d take a few moments to reflect on the 21 years I’ve spent with her. While having a tough-as-nails, first-generation-Italian-American mom wasn’t always easy (hey, I still haven’t been to Disney World!), it certainly made me into the woman I am today. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

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Here are the 5 best things about having an Italian mom: 

1. Hungry is not a feeling you feel — ever.

It was probably around second grade when you noticed that the way you were fed was different. How come no other 8-year old knows what prosciutto is? Why is your friend’s mom pouring milk at dinner when at your house, Nonna hands you a “cuppa Sprite” with a “droppa wine” in it? Doesn’t everyone eat finocchio before dessert? For Italian moms, food is the language of love, and they teach their kids to speak it young. You eat what’s put in front of you, and you like it. If that means anchovies, veal or broccoli rabe — so be it. Thanks mom, for encouraging me to be an adventurous eater!

2. You never come home to an unmade bed.

If there’s one thing Italian moms are more serious about than crispy-edged lasagna, it’s a bed with crisp edges. As soon as a foot hit the floor in the morning – mom would be there, pillows in hand, ready to make the bed. The reason for this? Twofold. One, because mom hates anything that looks “sloppy” and a bed isn’t an exception. Two, because it was a habit instilled in her by her own parents, to encourage organization and responsibility. Now, you too make your bed — almost every day. Thanks mom, for showing me how to live neatly! 

3. You’ve got friends from birth.

Your mom lives by the motto “blood is thicker than water.” This is great, because it means that you’re born with a whole slew of built-in best friends. First cousins, second cousins, third cousins, it doesn’t matter — you’re family. Mom taught you that when it comes to family, their joy is your joy and their hurt is your hurt. So as little or as often as you get to see them, you’ll always have a special bond. They’ll be the ones screaming into a bullhorn at your graduation(s), dancing the Tarantella at your wedding and probably – the one’s you share this article with on Facebook. Thanks mom, for letting me know that there are people who will love me no matter how pazza I am!

4. No one’s looking at you.

When ever you cursed your “poop-brown” eyes or cried about your big schnozzle, your mom would sternly reply, “no one’s looking at you.” No — she wasn’t being dismissive or harsh, but it was her way of telling you “don’t be superficial.” You quickly learned not to judge anyone for how they looked, where they were from or what kind of money their parents made. Mom taught you to pride yourself on having a good heart, a positive-attitude and a playful sense-of-humor. Thanks mom, for teaching me it’s what’s inside that counts! 

5. Everyone loves her.

Sister-in-laws dream of emulating her cooking. Brother-in-laws seek out her parenting advice. Deli owners know her by first and last name. Your friends wish she had a Facebook. Your fiancé won’t have any trouble calling her, “ma.” And there’s no greater compliment than, “Hun, you’re just like your mother.”

Rock on, Italian moms!

The 15 foods American students miss most when studying in Italy

Italy, I love you, but there’s only so much pizza and pasta that my stomach can take. I’ve been home from Rome for 48 hours and have already consumed 8 of the 15 items on this list.

1. Hot dogs — You can try to fill the void with prosciutto and mortadella, but it won’t be the same.

2. Scrambled eggs – Italians only eat eggs when they’re cracked over pecorino cheese, spaghetti and bacon, i.e. carbonara. 

3. Iced coffee — One must make the choice between sweating his/her a$$ off drinking hot cappuccino or foregoing caffeine for the day.

The sweet nectar of the Gods, DD Iced Coffee. Photo from Bahamaslocal.com.

The sweet Nectar of the Gods, DD Iced Coffee. Photo from Bahamaslocal.com.

4. Chips and Salsa — No Italy, tomato sauce with a bunch of red pepper flakes in it is NOT salsa.

5. Sushi — Self explanatory.

6. Hamburgers — With American cheese. From America.

7. Bagels – There’s plenty of delicious bread in Italy, but a bagel’s in a league of its own.

Perfection. Photo from Foodspotting.com.

Perfection. Photo from Foodspotting.com.

8. Hummus — We put it on everything (sandwiches, salads, meats, veggies, crackers). Italians put it on nothing.

9. Wheat thins — To smear the hummus on, duh.

10. Ketchup — Someone please explain why Italians dip their french fries in mayonnaise?

11. Oatmeal — Probably a healthier and more filling breakfast than a cream-stuffed cornetto.

Oatmeal with all the fixings = impossible to find in Italy. Photo from Cornichon.org.

Oatmeal with all the fixings = impossible to find in Italy. Photo from Cornichon.org.

12. Peanut butter — There’s only Nutella.

13. Protein bars – Since Italians don’t go to the gym, they don’t need them.

14. Ice – No one wants a warm glass of water.

15. Salads — Salads you can make an entire meal of. With protein and actual dressing on top.

The sweetest of greens. Photo from newyork.cbslocal.com.

All hail the Ranch-slathered salad. Photo from newyork.cbslocal.com.

11 secrets of Italian women

During my month in Rome, I noticed that Italian women live by a different set of rules than my friends and I back in the U.S.A. Don’t get me wrong — I hate stereotyping and generalizing. But the Italian women I saw and met were a far cry from the tatted and tanned shore-going girls in New Jersey and the waif thin, organic-fruit-smoothie-guzzling girls in NYC.

I think I’ve unearthed their secrets. Here: What all Italian women know, and what others should learn…

1. Gym clothes aren’t for public. Italian women never leave the house dressed in sweats. If they’re going out, they’re going to look presentable. This is easy since most Italian women don’t go to the gym. Strutting down Via Giulia in heels seems to work just fine for cardio. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Heels are. Whether paired with jeans, skirts, dresses or leggings — heels are THE shoe of choice for Italian women. Because of the cobblestones, keeping heel height under 3.5 inches is ideal for looking sexy and not falling on your face.

Versace black patent leather peep toe -- swoon. Photo from Polyvore.com.

Versace black patent leather peep toe — swoon. Photo from Polyvore.com.

3. No one likes a sloppy drunk. Italian women are seldom seen stumbling or bent over garbage cans, since drinking in Italy is a social activity and not a let’s-get-f&@*ed-up ploy. Most Italians have their first glass of wine by age eight or nine — at the family dinner table.

4. You should talk back to cat-callers. Attempt to treat an Italian woman like a piece of meat and she will gladly yell back and assert her personhood. Stonato!

5. Motorcycles are for everyone. Italian woman + dress suit + heels + designer handbag + Vespa = coolest thing ever. Extra points if she’s got her 5-year-old son gripping on to her from the back…or her boyfriend.

Zoom, zoom. Photo from Flickr.com.

Zoom, zoom. Photo from Flickr.com.

6. Some things are better left unseen. By things, I mean boobs and butt. An Italian woman would never wear a crop top and high-waisted shorts out to a bar.

7. Red lipstick makes everything better. 

Monica Bellucci for Dolce & Gabbana Makeup. Photo from Swide.com.

Monica Bellucci for Dolce & Gabbana Makeup. Photo from Swide.com.

8. Salad is only a side dish. Alongside pizza/veal/pasta/any kind of bread.

9. How you use your hands is just as important as what you’re saying. Even if you’re on a cellphone and the person you’re talking to can’t see you at all.

10. Accessories make an outfit. If your wrists or hands are naked, you might as well be too. Mimic Italian street style by pairing antique charm bracelets with modern, silicone jelly rings injected with diamonds.

I bought one of these rings for myself while in Rome. Photo from Duepuntimilano.com.

I bought one of these Due Punti rings for myself while in Rome. Photo from Duepuntimilano.com.

11. Pizzas are meant to be eaten whole. And shamelessly.

Photo from WalksofItaly.com.

It’s really just one big slice. Photo from WalksofItaly.com.

6 lessons learned from a month in Rome

Yesterday, I returned from Rome.

Funny how in a new country — surrounded by new people, routines and rules — one can learn the most about him or himself. As I look in the mirror in my bathroom, I see my fast-paced, no-nonsense, always-planning self. But after looking at myself through Rome’s eyes for a month, I find some flaws in that reflection. I push deeper.

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Ponte Sant’Angelo, Roma.

Rome taught me that there’s another way to be. And now that I’m home, I will try to assimilate its teachings into my everyday life. I learned…

1. That luxuries are littler. Rome is a major city, but it has little of the ‘technology’ that I’m used to in New York. The toilets don’t flush themselves — they barely flush at all. The showers are cold more than hot. The air conditioning is non-existent. I quickly came to realize that the things I consider commonplace are unknown luxuries to most Romans, let alone to the rest of the world.

2. That great food isn’t fancy. The best restaurants in Rome aren’t the ones with Michelin stars. They’re the tiny pizzerias with marble tabletops and no name, the delis run out of stone cellars where salamis have hung for 100 years. Romans aren’t flashy with their food. Romans don’t overcompensate with caviar and gold-flakes. For them, eating is an activity rooted in family, friendship and love.

3. That trying is everything. While my Italian language skills are limited to one semester at Wake Forest, when I ordered a meal/asked for a bathroom/tried on a dress in a store, I did it in Italian. I found that if I spoke incorrectly, I would be met with a laugh and a gentle correction, which only encouraged me to try some more.

4. That maps hinder. Next time I go anywhere, I’m putting my map and phone away. During the first week, I missed so much because my eyes were glued to GoogleMaps rather than taking in the sights around me. I am a notorious planner and wanted to schedule tours, make reservations — but it’s better to stumble upon something than to seek it out. 

5. That gyms are unnecessary. The obsession with being tight and toned just doesn’t exist in Rome. There’s a certain pride that each Roman woman carries with her, regardless of her weight. Roman women walk the streets with purpose — owning their sexuality and celebrating the simple joy of just being. I think this is a better workout (for body and soul) than 60 minutes inside, alone on an elliptical.

6. That people are kind. A girlfriend recently tweeted, “commuting in NYC teaches you to ignore everything around you.” I couldn’t help but think of the way I often rush to work, gripping my purse and keeping my eyes glued on one spot — so as not to make eye contact with anyone. I wouldn’t dare say hello to a stranger. But in Rome, everyone I passed on my commute was a stranger and everyone said “buon giorno!” to me.

So the next time I’m sweating when the air goes out on New Jersey Transit or my boyfriend suggests we grab a hotdog off the street instead of a sit-down dinner or I attempt to translate for a lost tourist in Times Square…or am lost myself – I’ll probably be smiling instead of swearing.

Thanks, Rome.

36 hours in Rome

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Much of Rome has looked the same since the 8th century BC. Yet a few short turns away from the monuments and masses – amidst the grinning ragazzi who will call out to you, “ciao bella,” between the ivy-lined alleyways where artisans in 10×10’ shops mold leather like dough, from a sun-streaked piazza where the only sounds you hear are the clinking forks of a family gathered for Sunday cena, to a smoky, strobe-lit river bank where couples pass purple lipstick stained hookah pipes, into the pews of a prayer-humming church where you realize – a new Rome breathes. It’s anything but ancient.

FRIDAY

1. Touch the Sky | 6:30 p.m.

Everyone goes to Piazza Venezia and photographs the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, but few people know that there’s a glass elevator right behind it that will propel you to the top in seconds. Take the last shift of Roma Dal Cielo (“Rome in the Sky”) at 6:45 p.m. and you’ll have the roof terrace to yourself until it closes at 7:30. The view is awe-inspiring. Make sure to go with a friend so you can trade-off snapping pics of one another with the Coliseum, Vatican and Pantheon in the background. New cover photo, anyone? (7 euro. Monday-Thursday, Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with last elevator at 5:45. Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with last elevator at 6:45.)

2. Con Panna | 9:00 p.m.

Ciampini, a built-in-1941 caffè and gelato institution, serves a handful of classic gelato flavors, plus one or two seasonals like lampone e Nutella (Nutella with raspberry) or marron glacé (candied chestnut). The gelato hides in aluminum buckets behind a glass counter, so you can’t actually see what you’re ordering. An aproned waiter bows his head before the bucket, and viola – you’ve got a cone of bliss! Make sure to say “con panna” and he’ll dollop a scoop of light-as-air whipped cream on top for free. All gelato is made with organic milk, egg and cream. (Piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina, 29. http://www.ciampini.com/en/contatti)

3. A Roman Rager | 12 a.m.

The nightlife in Campo de’Fiori is teeming with not-yet-21-year-old American students. Annoying, fast. But by veering slightly left of the square on to Via dei Cappellari, you can hang out and drink with a group of real-life Italians. At Orusdir Pub, slap down a 10-euro note and order the “dodici per dieci” – 12 shots of your favorite alcohol. It’s a great deal, and a great way to make friends with the pony-tailed, tight-jeaned Italian men at and behind the bar. Cin cin! (Via dei Cappellari, 130. http://www.orusdirpub.com)

SATURDAY

4. Outside the Box| 10:00 a.m.

The Ara Pacis Museum is a contradiction. Outside, a giant cluster of white beams, squares and rectangles designed by American architect Richard Meier. Climb the sleek, stone staircase and inside, you’ll find the exquisite Ara Pacis monument to Emperor Augustus, dated in 9 BC. The space blends modernity and antiquity, light and heaviness. Amazing photo-ops when the sunlight streaks through Meier’s beamed windows, hitting the Ara Pacis and casting shadows on the white-washed floors.
(Museo dell’Ara Pacis 
Lungotevere in Augusta (at Via di Ripetta, off Piazza Augosto Imperatore) Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Last admission 1 hour before closing. 8.50 euro.)

5. Roses and Romance | 2:00 p.m.

Even the least nature-inclined can enjoy an afternoon at the Villa Borghese. In fact, the gardens make for quite a romantic date spot. GINA, a restaurant at the foot of the hill leading up to the garden, will pack a picnic lunch for you and the Italian you’re being courted by. The basket comes equipped with dishes, a tablecloth, Panini, fruit salad, cookies and a bottle of wine. Hook it on the back of a Vespa. Take your goodies up to the garden, grab a bench and enjoy a fun and flirty lunch. (Via San Sebastianello, 7/1. Every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. http://www.ginaroma.com/index.shtml)

6. Shoes, Glorious Shoes | 5:30 p.m.

Rosario De Simone is the super cool and crafty Italian uncle that you wish you had. He makes handmade leather sandals from his shop, Oriani, on Via Torre Argentina. With his help, you can design your own– all the way down to the heel size and the color and number of the straps. Time flies as you watch De Simone carefully cut and pound each piece of your sandals-in-progress. The process takes about a half an hour. A comfortable and fashionable souvenir for your feet only. (Via Torre Argentina, 43A. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (tentative). Sunday, depending on weather. Email: info@orianigioielli.itwww.orianigioielli.it)

7. Eat Like a Local | 9:30 p.m.

So many locals chow down at Il Gattabuia in Trastevere that you might feel like you’re crashing someone’s big fat Italian wedding rehearsal dinner. You probably are. The homemade pastas here are amazing, especially the gnochetti (10 euro). Since portions are generous, a primi and a bottiglia di vino della casa is all you need. If you’re feeling carbed out, order a side of the spicy, sautéed cicoria (Italian spinach) for added fiber. BONUS: there’s free wifi!  (Via del Porto, 1. Trastevere. http://lagattabuia.jimdo.com/)

8. Just Around the River Bend | 11:00 p.m.

Every June to August, Lungo Il Tevere rolls in – a summer-long festival with pop-up restaurants, bars, craft stalls, comedy acts, jazz, films and quasi-carnival rides clustered around the banks of Tiberina island. Discover that ‘nachos’ in Rome are smothered with red-pepper studded marinara sauce instead of salsa at Taqueria el Paso. Grab a group of friends, sit on the floor and smoke apple-flavored Hookah at Crociera sul Nilo. Gawk at (and be a little envious of) the couples making out on the Ponte Sisto. (http://www.lungoiltevereroma.it/)

SUNDAY

9. Say a Little Prayer | 9:00 a.m.

From the Ponte Sisto and along Via dei Pettinari, the Church of San Salvatore in Onda is completely unseen. So it’s been since the church was built at the end of the 11th century. Dare to open the wooden, wrought iron doors and you’ll find a small plot of serenity. The church holds the funeral urn of Saint Vincent Pallotti. Spend a few minutes reading the open prayer-book in front of the altar to Saint Elisabetta. In it, visitors scrawl their deepest wants and fears in all different languages. Feel humbled and grateful as you turn the tear-stained pages. Write too, if you need. (Via dei Pettinari, 51)

10. Thoughtful Trinkets| 11:00 a.m.

Monti is the crux of Rome’s ‘hipster’ scene, harboring an eclectic group of musicians, chefs and artisans. At MERCATO MONTI you can mingle with ‘em all while checking out (and most likely buying) some of their unique and affordable sunglasses, sundresses and jewelry. Great gift options. The market runs from September to the end of June, so make sure to check the website for dates ahead of time. MERCATO MONTI is indoors and air-conditioned, so it’s the perfect spot for a rainy or brutally hot Sunday. (Free entry. Via Leonina, 46. Rione Monti. 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. http://www.mercatomonti.com/mercato)

A sandal-maker with soul

“Leather, real leather,” the Italian man in the purple polo-shirt tells me proudly, motioning towards a dainty white pair of strappy sandals with blue jewels. The sandals are cute, but the thought of squeezing my feet into anything right now hurts. He knows. He looks me up and down; shaking his head slowly at the now-shredded sandals I purchased from Bloomingdale’s a week before leaving New York for Rome.

“The worst,” he says, in broken English. “Bad. Bad to walk on stones. Siedete.” I sit.

The brown and gold Oriani sign is hidden under a faded, salmon awning on Via Torre Argentina.

The brown and gold Oriani sign is hidden under a faded, salmon awning on Via Torre Argentina.

For visitors to Rome, finding comfortable shoes for the cobblestone streets is a feat that starts way before setting foot in Italy. After three weeks, the jagged rocks have destroyed the shoes I bought specifically for my trip here. I need a new pair – a pair that will stand up to the stones – immediately.

So perhaps it is a combination of the colorful, comfortable looking sandals in the windows and the warm smile of Rosario De Simone in the doorway that pulls me into Oriani on Via Torre Argentina. Inside the creamy, peach-colored walls I find tall showcases displaying sandals and jewelry, all handcrafted by De Simone himself.

“Tutti i piedi sono diversi.” All feet are different, San Simone says, which is why he takes the time to measure each carefully.

“Tutti i piedi sono diversi.” All feet are different, De Simone says, which is why he takes the time to measure each carefully.

My cheeks redden as he gently traces the space between each of my toes, ignoring the three Band-Aids I slapped on that morning in an attempt to hide my throbbing bunion. “Avete i piedi gonfi,” De Simone laughs. Swollen feet, he tells me. I soon learn that he knows how to fix them.

Sandals have always been a vital part of Roman identity, so much so that they contributed to the development of early Roman civilization. As the Empire expanded, so did shoe making and vegetable tanning; Romans would introduce both practices to the peoples they conquered. Using a pragmatic yet fashionable approach, Romans coined a thong sandal that was durable enough for military activity. Nowadays, sandal making continues to thrive in Italy – especially in coastal areas where the weather is warmer all year round.

De Simone uses the same practical mindset, and the secrets of sandal making he gleaned from his uncle, “Zio Alfonso,” to design sandals at Oriani. His uncle has been making sandals for 60 years and owns two shops in Capri and Positano, on the Amalfi. Handmade sandals from the Amalfi Coast gained notoriety when Jackie Kennedy, in the summer of 1962, went on a midnight shopping spree at Canfora. After Kennedy purchased nearly every design imaginable, the secret was out. Canfora sandals are well known today and beloved by tourists all over the world.

Photographs of the Kennedy’s on vacation are displayed throughout Oriani.

Photographs of the Kennedy’s on vacation are displayed throughout Oriani.

An admirer of Canfora and a lover of the craft, in 2009 – about five years after his daughter Oriana was born – De Simone opened a sandal-making store of his own. In Rome. And named it after her. He is the only employee. His customers are primarily Italian women, whom he says prefer hand-sewn, chemical-free shoes to the ones sold in department stores.

Even so, when the occasional tourist wanders inside Oriani, she is hooked. Take for example, Angela from Canada. Angela first bought a pair of handmade sandals from De Simone on a visit to Rome in 2013. It is June 2014, and she has returned for a second pair. De Simone rushes to kiss her on both of her cheeks.

For his beloved customers, De Simone works six days a week, exercising his creativity, thoughtful personality and skilled hands. He cuts leather imported from his Zio Alfonso’s stores. He sews and sews, each strap separately, attaching one to another with minuscule screws. “No glue,” he states firmly. This is important, as shoes made with glue will come apart if they get caught in the spaces between the cobblestones.

I choose a black, bronze and white leather color-scheme for the tri-strap sandals De Simone creates for me. Even though I normally prefer a simpler style, De Simone explains – through a series of hand motions and pointing – that I need more support for my naturally wide feet and toes. I watch as he inserts non-skid pads into the soles of the sandals-in-progress, making them extra cushiony and safe for the slick-when-wet stones.

Non-skid, rubber pads on the bottom of the sandals prevent sliding on the cobblestones, especially in the rain.

Non-skid, rubber pads on the bottom of the sandals prevent sliding on the cobblestones, especially in the rain.

Whimsical, gold ceiling ornaments twinkle as he calmly paces up and down the 20-foot deep, 3-foot wide space, gathering his tools and models. The tools are remarkably simple ones: a hammer, a half scissor-half razor instrument and a screwdriver of sorts that is used to mark where the inserts of the straps are placed on the sole.

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Above the diligent De Simone and the piles of his empty shoeboxes, glimpses of the shop’s original stone foundation are visible. How fitting – as he works sandals strong enough for Rome’s stones, he is completely surrounded by them.

It is true; the cobblestones are inescapable. Most of Rome’s historical center and main streets are studded with the brick-sized slabs of volcanic rock. They have been since the end of the 1500s, when Pope Sixtus V’s carriage – with the Pope himself inside – almost fell over in St. Peter’s Square. As a result, Monsignor Ludovico Sergardi, the Vatican’s supervisor at the time, decided to repave the area with basalt cubes. According to Roman-Catholic legend, each stone laid around the Vatican represented a soul saved by Saint Peter.

By the end of the Italian Unification in 1871, the cobblestones, cut and sized by hand and pounded into beds of coagulated dirt, covered nearly all of Rome. They are called Sampietrini in Italian. Translated, the word means “the children of St. Peter.” The stones were probably nicknamed after the maintenance workers of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Rosario De Simone prefers the word “tradition.” He also credits the cobblestones with securing his business profits, as they perpetuate the need for sturdy, well-made sandals year-round.

The Nadino – or little knot – is the favorite sandal style of San Simone’s customers.

The Nadino – or little knot – is the favorite sandal style of De Simone’s customers.

There are three iconic sandals that De Simone insists are just as enduring as the stones themselves: the Ragno, or “the spider,” a beautiful tangle of overlapping straps that look like a web, the Capri – a simple, classic design a la Jackie O and the most popular, Nadino – “the little knot” made of two straps woven together into a thong. De Simone uses mostly white, black, brown and tan-colored leather for the straps. While neutral tones are the best sellers, he has nearly every shade of the rainbow available, if desired. He once made a pair for a woman using red, green and white leather – the colors of the Italian flag.

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All sandals cost between 70 and 90 euro. De Simone can also add some of his handmade embellishments – jeweled flowers, stars and other shapes – to the sandal straps, which will raise the price accordingly. The entire process lasts 30 minutes, including the time that De Simone takes to readjust your straps if they happen to be a bit looser or tighter than you would like. Part of the fun is watching him work quietly, patiently and passionately.

As he perches on his wooden stool, Rosario De Simone keeps tradition alive. He is a one-man show. An artisan. A firm believer of “made in Italy.” For him, the Sanpietrini in the streets are just as Italian as the Vero Cuoio – the genuine leather – he holds in his hands. With each pair of sandals, he places a tiny brown card with a warranty number on it. The warranty promises, “high quality achieved from using tanning vegetable extract with most advanced technologies…in compliance with nature and man.”

A smiling San Simone with my new sandals.

A smiling De Simone with my new sandals.

There are other sandal-makers in Rome, but for some reason, my feet – or fate – have led me to Oriani. “Vivo di questo.” I live for this, De Simone tells me, as I slip into his masterpieces.

A half an hour earlier, I wished Rome would do away with its cobblestones. But now, in my handcrafted, custom fit leather sandals, my feet feel a new sort of appreciation – a new connection – to the secrets cradled between the cracks in the stones.

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In my Italian sandals, I am an Italian. I have Italian sole. And I will walk with pride the Roman, cobblestone streets.

Oriani Gioielli. Via Torre Argentina 43A. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (tentative). Sunday, depending on weather. Email: info@orianigioielli.it, www.orianigioielli.it