Coins in the Fountain by Judith Works
As a bumbling expat trying to etch out a life and a living here in Verona, I am always interested in learning about the experiences of others in similar situations. Coins in the Fountain is a memoir by Judith Works that describes her life as an expat in Rome.
Q&A With Judith Works, author Coins in the Fountain
1. Why did you write your memoir?
One evening after I finished the last of the Italian expat stories stacked up on my bedside table I thought: “No one has had my experiences. They all write about vineyards and old farmhouses. I lived in Rome.” I thought back to that first day in our Roman apartment when I could hear my husband screaming “Stop that!” I had rushed into an empty room to see him hanging out the window yelling at a group of nuns who were dumping garbage behind our apartment. Yes, it seemed that there was a story to tell. No rural idyll, but the story of life in Rome and a job working for the United Nations. A story of traveling around Italy and even travel to some of the places the UN works to provide humanitarian assistance. A story of running away in middle age to join the circus (that is the Circus Maximus in Rome).
2. What was the most difficult/complex aspect of pulling it all together in an interesting (to a reader) way?
As a lawyer I spent my career writing in dull and passive legalese. To tell a story I had to change my thought process entirely – become a story-teller instead of an arguer trying to prove some arcane point. That was a challenge.
3. What were your biggest hurdles in writing your memoir?
The biggest problem was that so many things happened during our two stays that I had to decide what to leave in – to tell the story in a way that would be interesting to readers, capture their imagination and interest without overwhelming them with details of daily life which in the end aren’t much different wherever you are. Another major hurdle was how to deal with our two stays in Rome, the first for four years and the second for over six. Should I write about one or both? I decided on both because our experiences were so different each time. Smaller issues were figuring out how should I depict some of our more exotic friends and acquaintances (changed names and toned it down); whether I should talk about the difficult times or only write about the best. I wrote about most of the downside but not all, but as anyone who has lived abroad for an extended period knows, it’s not all a fabulous fairytale; and of course: should I begin at the beginning or at the end and look backward? Thank heavens for the delete key!
4. Is there a consistent theme in your story?
The theme is mid-life change. My husband and I were both bored but didn’t know what to do about it. Chance took care of the problem when it threw us into a life that alternated between the ideal Italy that everyone dreams of and the realities of expat life which has its own complexities, none of which we were prepared for. I think that other readers can learn that it is possible to escape from the ordinary to a different life – one that offers both opportunities and challenges and definitely cures boredom. It doesn’t have to be Italy of course, but some activity or location consistent with their own interests and desires.
5. Why was it important to you to write it at this time in your life?
I realized that retirement with all its changes had caused me to tumble into somewhat of a depression – not serious but one that made me uncertain about the rest of my life. I had left a fascinating job, a country I loved, opportunities to travel, and numerous friends. In addition, my mother had died six months after we returned to the US. While I knew that there was no lack of opportunity for contacts and volunteering in my town, I had to process the past first before I could go forward. Beginning to organize nearly 15 years of my life – from getting a law degree to Rome to Washington DC to Rome again and now back to Puget Sound - was a lot to think about and I found that the way to do that for me was to write my own story.
Coins in the Fountain by Judith Works
"Innocents Abroad collide with La Dolce Vita when the author and her husband arrive in the ancient city of Rome fresh from the depths of Oregon. While the author endeavored to learn the folkways of the United Nations, her husband tangled with unfamiliar vegetables in a valiant effort to learn to cook Italian-style. In between, they attended weddings, enjoyed a close-up with the pope, tried their hands at grape harvesting, and savored country weekends where the ancient Etruscans still seemed to be lurking. Along the way they made many unforgettable friends including the countess with a butt-reducing machine and a count who served as a model for naked statues of horsemen in his youth.
But not everything was wine and wonders. Dogs in the doctor’s exam room, neighbors in the apartment in the middle of the night, an auto accident with the military police, a dangerous fall in the subway, too many interactions with an excitable landlord, snakes and unexploded bombs on a golf course, and a sinking sailboat, all added more seasoning to the spaghetti sauce of their life.
Their story begins with a month trying to sleep on a cold marble floor wondering why they came to Rome. It ends with a hopeful toss of coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure their return to the Eternal City for visits. Ten years of pasta, vino, and the sweet life weren’t enough.
Part memoir, part travelogue, Coins in the Fountain will amuse and intrigue you with the stories of food, friends, and the adventures of a couple who ran away to join the circus (the Circus Maximus, that is)."
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City of Illusions: Amazon
Life was routine until the author decided to get a law degree. Then a chance meeting led her to run away to the Circus (Maximus) – actually to the United Nations office next door – where she worked as an attorney in the HR department and entered the world of expat life in Rome.
Her publishing credits include a memoir about ten years in Italy titled Coins in the Fountain, a novel about expats in Rome, City of Illusions, and flash fiction in literary magazines. She continues to travel in her spare time, having fitted in over 100 countries. And when she is in Rome, she always tosses a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure another visit.
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