Garibaldi-Meucci Museum

Owned by Sons of Italy Foundation, Inc.Administered by Grand Lodge of NY Board of Commissioners, OSIA

Nancy and John Petralia **** EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

October 7, 2014 : Co-Authors of Not in a Tuscan Villa, BESTSELLER for Travel Italy!

Interview by Marianna Randazzo

GMM : Tell us about your lives before your year long sojourn in Italy.

We were retired, but involved in our community on Long Beach Island, NJ. Both of us were volunteers at the LBI Foundation for the Arts & Sciences. We chaired fundraising events and Nancy enjoyed working at the clay studio where she was exploring sculpture. John was on their board and started the Science Initiative, to put more science into their offerings. We started a winter lecture series called Science Saturday. In summer we created Barnegat Bay Day, to educate islanders and visitors about the environment. And with a small group of other volunteers we wrote a small book about the island's ecology and what people would do to preserve it. Through sponsorships, 10,000 were given away to island residents and visitors. For several years we took Italian lessons there too. While John worked to bring demonstration science projects to the LBIF, Nancy became a board member of the Friends of the Library and chair of their programs. For over 20 years we've participated in a book club that we founded in Philadelphia and we started a second chapter on LBI. John also founded the Italian Cultural Society of LBI.

GMM: In your book , you discuss some extreme differences of attitudes between Italians and Americans. Tell us about a few. What parallels have you found between both countries?

Italian loyalties are more local than national. Family first, then town and province rather than country. (Well maybe the soccer team comes second.) The idea of the Rugged Individualist is American. Italians tend to be naturally more social, gathering at cafes and bars and sharing the evening passeggiata. Food is religion in Italy. Their relationship with it is on a much higher level than ours. There's no There's no genetically modified food, most food is sourced locally and frozen is the exception rather than the rule. There's an expression una bouna forchetta, a good fork, for people who are especially discriminating. Their attitude towards work is different. They turn it off when they leave the office and they take long breaks for family and friends.

Both countries have a love affair with the automobile. Surprisingly, Italians own more cars per capita than Americans do. Like Americans they like too drive fast and appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of a find automobile. We share a love of sport. For Italians, it's almost exclusively soccer but they also play basketball, swim and celebrate gymnastics. Both countries are wrestling with the challenges of immigration. Although further left on the political spectrum, Italians have a lot of political diversity and political arguments abound. They also seem to love their dogs the way Americans do, taking them on their scooters, bicycles and into restaurants.

GMM: What, if any unexpected financial situations did you encounter in Italy. Biggest challenges?

Probably the biggest surprise was when John had emergency surgery for his detached retina. We knew we had good insurance to cover the cost, but they wouldn't let us leave until we had personally paid the $9000 bill. Fortunately we had enough credit available to do so and we were reimbursed before the bill came due. The other was when we got caught in a speed trap and had to pay $158 euros in cash on the spot. Our biggest challenge was breaking the lease on the Bologna apartment that wasn't as advertised.

GMM: During your presentation at the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, in Staten Island, NY, you discussed your disappointment when seeking authentic articles only to find that Italy was just as jam-packed with cheap reproductions as America. Share some of your experiences.

Primarily it was in Venice where tourists are looking for Venetian glass and masks. Years ago you could find real Murano beads in St. Mark's square, but now what you see there is knock-off Chinese. The masks you find in stands and in some stores are also not authentic. Buying in flea markets is an inexpensive option, but the woven leather belt John bought in the leather market in Florence fell apart in a couple weeks, and was actually made of cardboard.

GMM: You mentioned that Italians love controversy. What experiences have you had that have proven that?

Just sit in the bar and listen. They enjoy engaging over politics, food, soccer, and current events. The verbal debate is part of their culture. The one thing they seemed to be united on was their belief in Amanda Knox's guilt.

GMM: In what ways, if any, did you have to lower your profile in order to fit into the Italian way of life?

We avoided looking like a tourist, wearing big tennis shoes and carrying a camera bag.

GMM: What was the most remarkable experience you had during your time in Italy?

Other than meeting the people who have become great friends, going to see Aida in Verona's amphitheater was the most memorable. It was a dream fulfilled.

GMM: What tips would you offer to anyone considering living abroad or taking an extended vacation in another state or country?

Learn the language. Be flexible and accepting of another way of doing things. Be open to new possibilities. Say YES.

GMM: What connection do you have to the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum? What do these two historic giants mean to you?

We came to the museum late in 2012. We had gotten interested in Garibaldi while living in Italy and were curious about his home in the USA. We were warmly welcomed and left with an appreciation of the esteem that Italian-Americans have for him. Eventually our interest in him has led us to writing another book. We've now traveled to his home in Caprera and will be going to Argentina and Uruguay next February-March. For Nancy, who worked in the Bell System for 27 years, Meucci was a revelation. While we don't understand the intricacies of the patents, it's clear that like the auto industry of the time, there were many people working in the same technology areas.

GMM: What's next? How can people contact the two of you?

Next is to finish that second book, tentatively titled Looking for Garibaldi. We hope to have it completed late next year. You can contact us through our website, or on Facebook where the book has a page and we post regularly about our adventures and things Italian.


Most of us have a "big dream." It may not be to live in Italy for a year, but whatever yours is, find a way to make it real. Just doing that is a life-changing experience. And you never know where it will take you for the rest of your life. Avanti.

To learn more about John and nancy visit their website: