Sundays with Schoolhouse Moms Interview 8: Michelle Alexis Smith

Name: Michelle Alexis Smith
Occupation:Artist, Interior designer and occasional translator and interpreter and relocation consultant
Affiliated website/business:www.artistinrome.com

How long have you been in Rome and what brought you here?

I've been in Rome and the surrounding area for 33 years now. I was 16 and a half when I met my italian ex-husband at the Stoke Mandeville Games ( paralympics). I came just to see what it was like, thinking maybe then I would return home to go to art college, but I ended up staying.

Where are you from and how many languages do you speak?
I was born in Subiaco Australia, but my English parents returned to just outside London when I was 4 years old. I grew up in a village called Butlers Cross, about 40 minutes from London (just down the road from Chequers, the Prime Minister's Country residence) a lovely area set in the Chiltern Hills. I speak English and fluent Italian, plus what I can remember of school French (let's say Frenglish!).

Have you lived anywhere else other than Rome?
For the first 15 of my years here in Italy I lived in central Rome ( Villa Fiorelli) but for the past 18 years I have preferred the country-life up in the Castelli Romani. Frascati, Rocca di Papa and now near Monte Porzio. I needed to have a garden and somewhere with less smog to bring up my two children.
I agree with you regarding the needing a garden thing.  I would love to have a huge space for our kids to run around--it's so common in the states and I have a lot of guilt about them not growing up with a backyard and sprinklers!

Tell me about your family background and structure:
My eldest, David, is now 28 and enjoying his career in London, where he took his degree, and my youngest, Emily, of nearly 18, is still at school doing her Art Baccalaureat. I am divorced from their father and things have been pretty complicated at times, but both my children are well balanced and intelligent individuals. The biggest compliment a mother can receive is when her son says that his mother is his role model and example to follow. Their admiration is very important to me.

How did you approach language in your home while raising your kids?
Here I'm quite ashamed to say that I gave up talking to my first son in English after getting off to a good start because of my shyness and also because my husband and his family didn't speak English, so, in same way, I felt I was excluding them. I have never really spoken to my daughter in English because of her refusal to do so. Even though I used the text of songs she liked to give here 'subliminal' lessons…But luckily thanks to frequent visits to England and having friends and relatives to stay, they both speak very good English anyway.

Which language is your child more dominant in and why? 
My eldest speaks 3 languages fluently, plus others 'just enough to get by'..he has a knack. He has a French fiancée who speaks some Italian so they use all 3 languages. I would say that Italian is his predominant language but his English is excellent, with his own particular undefinable accent. The youngest definitely italian, for the moment.

How do you think languages are best learned? How did you learn the languages you speak? 
The best way is definitely to be put in a situation where you HAVE to communicate, I mean thrown in at the deep end if you are older or from birth if we are speaking about children. I really regret not being more consistent with my children.

We're really excited about the possibility of you coming on board as an art teacher on Saturdays at the schoolhouse. In your opinion, why is art so important for young learners? 
For many reasons: art aids communication, thinking and creative skills, develops imagination. It helps with their self-discipline, self-expression and self-confidence, letting them see things from a different 'angle'. There are no social or cultural barriers either. Other subjects can be complemented with the use of art ( science and history for example).

Now the fun stuff...

How did you get into painting? 
I have painted for as long as I can remember ( as well as doing other crafts…) My father was an amateur artist and he definitely influenced me. I just can't put down my brushes--it's what has kept me sane. I think we should all set aside some time for creative activities. When I'm not around anymore some of my work and soul will be.
Wow. That's a really interesting thought.

What are your top 3 favorite restaurants in the city? 
I live in the Castelli Romani, so I usually eat out in or around Frascati..But in Rome I would go to the Enoteca Regionale in Via Frattina because the wines are excellent and they are informal about how many courses you have, so even if you just opt for a plate of cacio e pepe and a bottle of wine, they are cool about it. Gusto for their Happy hour I would say, then for a nice pizza or nibbles and great beers in an unusual an suggestive ambience I would go to Buddha Smile , Via di Passo Lombardo (Vermicino).

Have you met anyone famous while staying in Rome? 
Many years ago I was a tour escort so it was highly likely to come across someone famous at the Hilton or Excelsior..(I bumped into Christopher Lambert, Howard Jones, Al Jarreau, Roger Daltry all on the same day in the Hilton once). More recently I was lucky to attend a press conference at the Rome Film Fest where I was just a few meters away from Robert Redford and Tom Cruise.

What's your favorite place to hang out? 
My favorite place to hang out is my home and studio! Though recently I've discovered how pleasant the wine bar 'Campioneschi 'is in Piazza Farnese, plus the terraces of Hotel Exedra or the Vittoriano are very nice. Eataly is pretty cool too.

Any good recommendations for a date night out? 
Date? What's a date….seriously, I would say I'd let my date choose.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why? This is hard to answer, somewhere where it is perpetual Spring, by the sea, not too far from a historic city…I'm still thinking.

In your opinion, what's Rome's best kept secret? Mmm, hard. A few years ago I would have said maybe the keyhole view at the Cavalieri di Malta, but everyone knows about that nowadays I should think. Now I think my sincerest answer would be that the best kept secret is actually what is to be found just outside of Rome, in other words the Campagna Romana with its vineyards, Frascati with its Baroque villas and wonderful climate and the other Castelli Romani ( the two lakes in particular…).

If you have a little bit of time to yourself, how do you normally spend it?
…looking at art exhibitions or exploring villages.

What's your favorite app? Librivox
….audio books.

What website do you waste the most time on?
At the moment I have 13 different ones open on my browser as I am reading things and exploring all of them. I watch instructional videos, I read about art history and techniques, artists biographies, catch up with friends on Facebook and generally look for inspiration.

What's your favorite magazine? 
Favourite magazine is Homes and Gardens.

How's your Italian?
After 33 years is has to be pretty good or I should be ashamed of myself. I express myself usually better in Italian than in English...
You know, people say that will eventually happen to me if we stay in Italy for decades, but I just can't see that as a possibility!  Time will tell, I suppose.

Favorite children's book?
Moonfleet.

What was the last book you read and how would you rate it? 
I have about 5 started ( 'How to think Like Leonardo', 'Make Mother Laugh' by an author that lives in Rome, a Book on the history of Rome, A art recipe manual and Extra Virgin by an expat in Liguria called Annie Hawes) the last one I finished was Perfume by Suskind..very good, but the ending I found to be a bit of an anti-climax.

Anything else you want to add? Shameless plug?
..about my workshop for the 8th May, I'll be dealing with water colour painting. Relaxed, in English by my pool on the terrace. A chance for people to get away from the hustle of the city for a few hours. And to suggest that art is not as expensive as some think…instead of buying mass produced pictures take a look around some of the smaller, less famous galleries or even auctions for something with a real soul.  My contact info is as follows: phone-339 3255064, email michellealexisith@gmail.com
This is something I would love to attend but just can't do it schedule-wise.  I hope you do it again in the future! 

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