Four Seasons in Rome


In Four Seasons in Rome, Anthony Doerr considers the relation of his journal to his published work.

“As I work on yet another draft of my story, I try to remember these lessons. A journal entry is for its writer; it helps its writer refine, perceive, and process the world. But a story–a finished piece of writing–is for its reader; it should help its reader refine, perceive, and process the world–the particular world of the story, which is an invention, a dream. A writer manufactures a dream. And each draft should present a version of that dream that is more precisely rendered and more consistently sustained than the last.”

Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome (New York: Scribner, 2008), 156.

Doerr is a writer of fiction, and he observes early in Four Seasons in Rome that he has been for many years in the habit of starting the day with a journal entry to exercise his writing muscles. But Four Seasons itself is neither fiction nor writer’s journal, though it draws on both, one supposes. Doerr, who spent a year as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, writes of how he at first made slow headway on his fiction in progress. Rome seemed to demand that he pay more attention to his journal, and so he did, eventually, one supposes, recording the raw material that resulted in Four Seasons, which retains the generally chronological shape of a traveler’s journal but has a more finished quality — it is now for the reader, not the writer.

Our own study abroad students in Rome are asked to write journals–starting with the daily observations and reflections that they can then use to create a second and third draft addressed to readers, while retaining the day-by-day shape of a journal. In this exercise our students are participating in a genre that is centuries old.

Thanks to Sarah Benson for lending me her copy of this book.

Tourism – Stay Home

Chances are, wherever you live, that travel and tourism are a big part of your local economy. Not only are we all tourists, but we all live in tourist destinations.

This week our Communication Arts & Sciences students arrived in Rome for the start of their seven week study abroad experience, led by Professor Stephen Browne and graduate students Mia Briceno and Una Kimokeo-Goes.

Here at home in State College, Pennsylvania, we are reminded every day that we, too, are a tourist destination. In our local paper, The Centre Daily Times, this morning, we were informed that “Two years ago, visitors spent an estimated $352 million in the county. Tourism is considered the second largest industry in Pennsylvania.”

Space Tourism

Are you a college student? Have you considered study abroad? Our Communication Arts & Sciences group leaves for seven weeks in Rome in early May. You are too late to sign on for this year, but there’s always next year. On the other hand, you might consider space tourism, for prices starting at about $20 million.

From the New Republic: The first female space tourist was U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari. According to Space Adventures, Ansari took Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto’s place in 2006, after he failed a medical exam prior to his scheduled takeoff. MAXIM MARMUR/AFP/Getty Images. Photo from the New Republic slide show.

Rome Is Reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”

This morning I received the following note from Dean Mary Merva of John Cabot University in Rome:

Dear University Friends,

I hope this finds you all well. John Cabot University is very pleased to announce that we have been awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to undertake THE BIG READ ROME during October 2009.

JCU is the first overseas American university to be awarded such a grant and we are proud that we are increasing the reputation of JCU as one of America’s important educational assets abroad.

We shall be reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the Italian high schools, US military groups, and the local Roman English speaking community. We would like to involve your students as much as possible in this project so we’ll be sending you the website links with contact information. As you can imagine, there will be internships and volunteer opportunities for your students to bring this program to life in Rome.

This is a wonderful chance to bring more of America to the Mediterranean region which is part of JCU’s mission as an institute of higher education in Rome. The American students you send us bring as much to our community as we hope they gain from their international experience at JCU.

With warm regards,

Mary Merva
Dean of Academic Affairs
John Cabot University

U.S. State Department report on travel to Italy

Here is a recent U.S. State Department release on travel to Italy —

Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino

January 21, 2009

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:  Italy is a developed democracy with a modern economy.  The Holy See is a sovereign entity that serves as the ecclesiastical, governmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church, physically located within the State of the Vatican City inside Rome, with a unique, non-traditional economy.  San Marino is a developed, constitutional democratic republic, also independent of Italy, with a modern economy.  Tourist facilities are widely available.

Read the Department of State Background Notes on Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:  Italy is a party to the Schengen agreement.  As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.  The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.  For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. 

For all other purposes, a visa is required and must be obtained from the Italian Embassy or Consulates before entering Italy.  For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, travelers may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, via telephone at (202) 612-4400 or online at, or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy web site.

Americans staying or traveling within Italy for less than three (3) months are considered non-residents. This includes persons on vacation, those taking professional trips, students registered at an authorized school, or persons performing research or independent study.

As of May 2007, under Italian law (, all non-residents are required to complete a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). Tourists arriving from a non-Schengen-country (e.g. the United States) should obtain a stamp in their passport at the airport on the day of arrival. This stamp is considered the equivalent of the declaration of presence. Tourists arriving from a Schengen-country (e.g. France) must request the declaration of presence form from a local police office (commissariato di zona), police headquarters (questura) or their place of stay (e.g hotel, hostel, campgrounds) and submit the form to the police or to their place of stay within eight business days of arrival. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the Italian authorities. Failure to complete a declaration of presence is punishable by expulsion from Italy. Additional information may be obtained (in Italian only) from the Portale Immigrazione at and the Polizia di Stato at

Americans staying in Italy for more than three (3) months are considered residents and must obtain a permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). This includes Americans who will work or transact business and persons who want to simply live in Italy.  An application “kit” for the permesso di soggiorno may be requested from one of 14,000 national post offices (Poste Italiane). The kit must then be returned to one of 5,332 designated Post Office acceptance locations.  It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the post office.  Additional information may be obtained from an Italian immigration website online at  Within 20 days of receiving the permit to stay in Italy, Americans must go to the local Vital Statistics Bureau (Anagrafe of the Comune) to apply for residency. It generally takes one to two months to receive the certificate of residence (Certificato di Residenza).

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:   There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in Italy, most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.  Italian authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, received bomb threats, and were subjects of letter bombs.  Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night.  These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.  Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances. 

Demonstrations may have an anti-American character.  Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Italy should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.  American citizens are encouraged to read the Warden Messages posted on the Embassy’s web site at

Italy remains largely free of terrorist incidents.  However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Italy’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:  Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed towards tourists, principally for motives of theft.  Some travelers are victims of rape and beatings.  There are incidents of drinks laced with drugs being used by criminals to rob, and in some cases, assault tourists.  Many of these incidents occur in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini train station and at major tourist centers such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona, as well as in Florence and Naples.  Criminals using this tactic “befriend” a traveler at a train station, bus stop, restaurant, caf´┐Ż or bar in tourist areas, then eventually offer a drink laced with a sleeping drug.  When the tourist falls asleep, criminals steal the traveler’s valuables.  There are also instances where the victim is assaulted, either physically or sexually.

Americans are urged to exercise caution at train stations and airports, and when frequenting nightclubs, bars and outdoor cafes, particularly at night, because criminals may make initial contact with potential victims in such settings.  Individuals under the effect of alcohol may become victims of crime, including robbery, physical and sexual assault, due to their impaired ability to judge situations and make decisions.  This is particularly a problem for younger Americans visiting Italy, where the age limit on the sale of alcoholic beverages is lower than in the United States.  If you are a victim of such a crime, please file a police report and contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.  There are also in-country organizations, which provide counseling, medical, and legal assistance to certain crime victims.

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, and purse snatching are serious problems, especially in large cities.  Pick-pockets sometimes dress like businessmen.  Tourists should not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that well-dressed individuals are not potential pick-pockets or thieves.  Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses or trains, or at the major railway stations: Rome’s Termini; Milan’s Centrale; Florence’s Santa Maria Novella; and Naples’ Centrale and Piazza Garibaldi.  Travelers should also be alert to theft in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, particularly at car rental agencies.  Clients of Internet cafes in major cities are also targeted.  Tourists who have tried to resist petty thieves on motor scooters have suffered broken arms and collarbones.

Thieves in Italy often work in groups or pairs.  Pairs of accomplices or groups of street urchins are known to divert tourists’ attention so that another can pick-pocket them.  In one particular routine, one thief throws trash, waste or ketchup at the victim; a second thief assists the victim in cleaning up the mess; and the third discreetly takes the victim’s belongings.  Criminals on crowded public transportation slit the bottoms of purses or bags with a razor blade or sharp knife removing the contents.  Theft of small items such as radios, luggage, cameras, briefcases, and even cigarettes from parked cars is a major problem.

Carjackings and thefts are reported by occupants of vehicles waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.  Vehicles parked near beaches during the summer are broken into and robbed of valuables.  Robbers take items from cars at gas stations often by smashing car windows.

In a scam practiced on the highways, one thief signals a flat tire to the driver of another car and encourages the driver to pull over.  Often, the tire has been punctured by an accomplice, while in other instances, there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with the vehicle.  When the driver stops, one thief helps change the tire, while the other takes the driver’s belongings.  Use particular caution driving at night on highways, when there may be a greater incidence of robbery attempts.  There are occasional reports of break-ins of rental cars driven by Americans when the precautions mentioned above were not followed during stops at highway service areas.

On trains, a commonly reported crime involves one or more persons who pretend to befriend a traveler and offer drugged food or drink.  Also, thieves are known to impersonate police officers to gain the confidence of tourists.  The thief shows the prospective victim a circular plastic sign with the words “police” or “international police.”  If this happens, the tourist should insist on seeing the officer’s identification card (documento), as impersonators tend not to carry forged documents.  Tourists should immediately report thefts or other crimes to the local police.

The U.S. Secret Service in Rome is assisting Italian Law Enforcement authorities in investigating an increase in the appearance of ATM skimming devices.  These devices are attached to legitimate bank ATMs, usually located in tourist areas, and capture the account information stored electronically on the card’s magnetic strip.  The devices consist of a card reader installed over the legitimate reader and a pin-hole video camera mounted above the keypad that records the customer’s PIN.  ATMs with skimming devices installed may also allow normal transactions to occur.  The victim’s information is sold, traded on-line, or encoded on another card such as a hotel key card to access the compromised account.  Here are some helpful hints to protect yourself and to identify skimming devices:

1) Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas, or secured inside the bank/business
2) Cover the keypad with one hand as you enter your PIN
3) Look for gaps, tampered appearance, or other irregularities between the metal faceplate of the ATM and the card reader
4) Avoid card readers that are not flush with the face of the ATM
5) Closely monitor your account statements for unauthorized transactions

Organized criminal groups operate throughout Italy, but are more prevalent in the south.  They occasionally resort to violence to intimidate or to settle disputes.  Though the activities of such groups are not generally targeted at tourists, visitors should be aware that innocent by-standers could be injured.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.  Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.  In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.  More information on this serious problem is available at

According to Italian Law (Law 80 of May 14, 2005), anyone caught buying counterfeit goods (for example, DVD’s, CD’s, watches, purses, bags, belts, sunglasses, etc.) is subject to a fine of no less than EUR 1,000.  Police in major Italian cities enforce this law to varying degrees.  Travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and other licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit and illegal merchandise.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:  The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Lost or stolen credit cards present risk of identity theft and should be cancelled immediately.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Italy is: 113.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:  While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those of the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Persons violating Italian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.  Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Italy are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:   Strikes and other work stoppages occur frequently in the transportation sector (national airlines, airports, trains, and bus lines).  Most are announced in advance and are of short duration.  Information on strikes may be found at  Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended.

U. S citizens using public transportation while in Italy are reminded they must adhere to local transportation laws and regulations. Travelers must purchase train tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines usually located near the entrance of train tracks prior to boarding.  Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train. Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:  Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside urban areas.  Public hospitals, though generally free of charge for emergency services, sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States, so travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover a stay in a private Italian hospital or clinic.  It is almost impossible to obtain an itemized hospital bill from public hospitals, as required by many U.S. insurance companies, because the Italian National Health Service charges one inclusive rate (care services, bed and board).

In parts of southern Italy, the lack of adequate trash disposal and incineration sites has led to periodic accumulations of garbage in urban and rural areas.  In some cases, residents have burned garbage, resulting in toxic emissions that can aggravate respiratory problems.

The U.S. Navy initiated a public health evaluation in the Naples area in 2008.  Updates on that evaluation can be found at  After finding levels of bacterial and chemical contamination of potential health concern, particularly in samples of area well water, the Navy recommended all personnel living off-base in the Naples area use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, ice-making, and brushing teeth.  For more information on safe food and water precautions, see the CDC’s web site below.   

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Italy.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at  For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at  Further health information for travelers is available at

MEDICAL INSURANCE:  The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:  While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning Italy is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Streets in historic city centers are often narrow, winding and congested.  Motor scooters are very popular and drivers often see themselves as exempt from conventions that apply to automobiles. Travelers who rent scooters should be particularly cautious.  Pedestrians and drivers should be constantly alert to the possibility of scooters’ sudden presence.  Most vehicle-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions with scooters or other vehicles.  U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and alert while walking or cycling near traffic.  Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks can be extremely congested and uneven.  Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows and park and drive on sidewalks.  For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green avanti (“walk”) light illuminated.    
Traffic lights are limited, often disobeyed, and a different convention of right-of-way is observed.  Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 mi.) of Autostrada, or superhighways.  Commercial and individual vehicles travel and pass on these well-maintained roads at very high speeds.  Accidents occur in which contributing factors include excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, and/or sleepiness of long-distance drivers.  Italy has one of the highest rates of car accident deaths in the European Union.

In rural areas, a wide range of speed on highways makes for hazardous driving.  Roads are generally narrow and often have no guardrails.  Travelers in northern Italy, especially in winter, should be aware of fog and poor visibility, responsible for multiple-car accidents each year.  Most Italian automobiles are equipped with special fog lights.  Roadside assistance in Italy is excellent on the well-maintained toll roads, but limited on secondary roads.  Use of safety belts and child restraining devices is mandatory and headlights should be on at all times outside of urban areas.

U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations.  Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway).  Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit.  Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded.  Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer.  Whenever possible, the fines imposed for these violations are forwarded to the driver’s home in the United States to request payment.  The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.  A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations.

U.S. citizens driving in Italy should also note that, according to Italian regulation, if a resident of a non-European Union country (e.g. the United States) violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the violation occurs to the police officer issuing the ticket.  If the citizen does not or cannot pay the fine at the time, Italian regulation allows the police officer to confiscate the offender’s vehicle (even if the vehicle is a rental vehicle).

For specific information concerning Italian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) offices via the Internet at:, tel: 212-245-4822 or the A.C.I. (Automobile Club Italiano) at Via Magenta 5, 00185 Rome, tel: 39-06-4477.  For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.  Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at and national authority responsible for road safety at

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the Government of Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Italy’s air carrier operations.  For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:  Several major earthquake fault lines cross Italy.  Principal Italian cities, with the exception of Naples, do not lie near these faults, but smaller tourist towns, like Assisi, do and experience earthquakes.  General information about disaster preparedness is available online from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at  Detailed information on Italy’s earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at

Italy also has several active volcanoes generating geothermal events.  Mt. Etna, on the eastern tip of the island of Sicily, has been erupting intermittently since 2000.  Mt. Vesuvius, located near Naples, is currently capped and not active.  Activity at Mt. Vesuvius is monitored by an active seismic network and sensor system, and no recent seismic activity has been recorded.  Two of Italy’s smaller islands, Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Island chain north of Sicily, also have active volcanoes with lava flows.  Detailed information on volcano activity in Italy is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at

CHILDREN’S ISSUES:  For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:  Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located at Via V. Veneto 119/A, tel.: 39-06-46741 and fax: 39-06-4674-2217; web site:

The U.S. Consulates are located in:

Florence:  Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38, tel: 39-055-266-951, consular fax: 399-055-215-550;
Milan:  Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, tel: 39-02-290-351, and fax:  39-02-290-35-273;
Naples:  Piazza della Repubblica, tel:  39-081-583-8111, and consular fax:  39-081-583-8275.

There are U.S. Consular Agents located in:

Genoa:  Via Dante 2, tel:  39-010-584-492, and fax: 39-010-553-3033;
Palermo:  Via Vaccarini 1, tel:  39-091-305-857, and fax:  39-091-625-6026;
Venice:  Viale Galileo Galilei, 30, tel: 39-041-541-5944, and fax: 39-041-541-6654.

* * *

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections onSafety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Tom Benson – Penn State University

Skip to toolbar