'Falling in love with Rome came very naturally and easy to me. As an artist, photographer and a dreamer at heart, my imagination was captivated and inspired by the timeless grandeur, compelling beauty and irresistible ambience and spirit of this great city.'
It's always interesting to meet Australians who live and work overseas. Susan Wright is one such Australian — a photo-journalist living and working in the heart of Rome. She has compiled her love for and knowledge of this ancient city, together with other fascinating regions of Italy, in her first book, Rome Secrets: Cuisine, Culture, Vistas, Piazzas.
An Aussie girl born into life on a cattle station west of Townsville, Susan has worked as a professional photographer for more than 20 years. Her travel and landscape images have appeared in many national magazines, travel brochures, calendars and books.
In Rome, Susan found herself to be like Alice in a Roman Wonderland, exploring the rich, vivid, beautiful city full of exotic theatrical characters. Through her book, readers can travel along with Susan as she discovers secret doorways, delicious districts, amazing vistas, and the changing moods of the city throughout the seasons. Susan also shares her favourite destinations for eating, relaxing, shopping, romance, strolling, and even prayer.
Susan says she has traversed many corners of Italy to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation and love for the culture. 'In creating Rome Secrets, I hope to impart to all travellers a local's view of this eternal city,' she says. We caught up via email recently. Our conversation is below:
Susan, congratulations on the publication of your book, Rome Secrets. It's a big, beautiful book and a credit to your work. Thank you for taking the time for a conversation with me!
It's my pleasure, Liz, thank you for this opportunity.
You grew up on a cattle station in Queensland, such a vastly different landscape to Italy. Tell me, what first sparked your interest in photography and how old were you at the time?
Yes, an incredible contrast both visually and culturally. Even as a child growing up in rural Australia, I was an avid artist. I loved to draw and paint portraits of people in both charcoals and acrylics. When I moved to Sydney in my late teens, I became interested in photography and was inspired by some of the great photographers of that period - Herb Ritts, Annie Liebovitz, Patrick Dermarchelier, Robert Maplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and others. I traded my paints and charcoals for a camera and films and have loved the medium ever since.
What first took you to Italy and how long have you been living there?
I came to Italy in 2003 for a photographic conference in Orvieto in Umbria. I found the country, the people, the landscape, the culture and the history so incredibly inspiring and fascinating. Previously, I had been working in a government position as a photographer for more than three years and I felt my creativity was depleted. I knew without a doubt that I had to follow this rich source of inspiration that I found in Italy as a positive step forward in my artistic and personal journey. Now I have been here for ten years and am continually inspired and discovering so much about this amazing country and culture.
Do you have a most favourite place in Italy? Tell me about it...
Gosh there are so many that it is really hard to narrow it down. Rome is of course a city dear to my heart, but I also love the mysterious beauty of Venice and the spectacular landscape of the Amalfi Coast. I also love Torino – a super elegant city with exceptional cuisine and in complete contrast, Palermo for it’s vivacious energy and raw beauty.
Who are your food heroes, or who inspires you the most when it comes to Italian food and cooking?
I’ve met and photographed so many amazing people here in the food industry it’s really hard to narrow it down. Italians are so proud of their food culture and passionate about enjoying quality food. I think they are all ‘heroes’ - from acclaimed chefs in Michelin-starred restaurants to the hard working, dedicated producers in the fields, vineyards and crops. Their passion and enthusiasm is inspirational.
When it comes to the cookbooks you cook from, do you prefer to keep the pages pristine or do you like it when they’re well used and the pages are just a little splattered?
Most of my cookbooks are beautifully illustrated coffee table books, so I tend to keep them as clean as possible.
Do you have an all-time favourite recipe? Would you like to share a recipe with Good Things readers?
When I first came to Italy 10 years ago, I was really taken with the cucina Amalfitana - Dishes from the Amalfi Coast. My favourite dishes would have to be the traditional Spaghetti alle Vongole and Spaghetti alle Cozze… even better when eaten by the sea on a pretty coastline somewhere in Italy.
SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE
1.4 kg vongole (baby clams)
450g dried spaghetti
220ml s extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon chopped garlic
½ teaspoon chopped red chilli
100 white wine, such as pinot grigio
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Soak the vongole in cold water for 12 hours to purge them of any sand or grit. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the spaghetti, cooking until al dente. Just after adding the pasta, heat 120 ml of the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium–high heat. When hot, add the vongole, garlic and chilli and turn the heat to high. Stir once or twice as the vongole begin to cook. When around half of the vongole have opened, season with salt to taste and add the wine. Simmer briefly. Add the remaining oil and parsley. Drain the spaghetti and toss through the vongole.
And finally, what’s for dinner this evening in your part of the world?
Tonight I am cooking another of my favourite dishes – Pasta alla Norma. I ventured to the market at Circo Massimo this morning so I have some delicious fresh produce to cook with. This is a delicious dish with eggplant in tomato sauce and I will top it off with mozzarella, fresh from the farms just outside of Rome in the Latina province. Yum!
Rome Secrets by Susan Wright $60 is published by images Publishing. I'd like to thank Susan for the opportunity to catch up and discuss her life, her work and this beautiful tome.
Thanks to the generosity of Susan Wright and her publisher, I have ONE copy of the book to give away.
To enter the competition, simply sign up to receive my regular updates (via the subscription box on the top of my side bar), and in the comments below tell me in 50 words or less why you'd love to win a copy of the book. Make sure you use a current email address in your entry, one that you check frequently.
Apologies to my readers from overseas, this giveaway is limited to Australian readers only. Please do pop in to Susan's web site to find out more about her work. The competition will close at midnight on 27 July 2014.
This competition is now closed. Many thanks to everyone who commented and entered. And the lucky winner is Kyrstie! Congratulations Kyrstie, it seems you did not have enough time to explore and savour when you visited, so Susan felt perhaps the book might whet your appetite for more. Thank you to everyone who entered the competition and commented. xo
Tell me, dear readers, have you ever visited Italy? Perhaps you live there? And for my Australian readers, why would you like to win a copy of Rome Secrets?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.