Apartment Entry- Prati, Rome, Italy

Apartment Entry- Prati, Rome, Italy
(click on this image to begin)


Exchanging Love Letters with Harry

On January 22, 1973, Roe v Wade nationalized the abortion rights many states had already legalized. In 1983, the NY Times published a 10th anniversary interview with Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe’s author. In that interview Blackmun’s emotional candor underscored the rarity of a Justice speaking directly to us. He recalled hate mail received after Roe – calling him the “Butcher of Dachau.” He dreamed of retirement.

Then CEO of Planned Parenthood of RI, I realized we likely had never thanked him. I reached for my letterhead and penned a note.

I wrote that he was a savior to women who—for centuries—had suffered under legislated forced pregnancy. I begged him to, “never retire until the current [Reagan] administration fades into political oblivion.”

Days later I was stunned by his response. Justice Blackmun thanked me as “someone on the cutting edge of this issue.” He wrote, “I am in your debt.” 
His letter still hangs on my bedroom wall.

Forty-five years since Roe breathed life into gender equity for women, we remember the quiet man who codified privacy.

Son of modest parents from America’s heartland, Blackmun brought to the Supreme Court a brilliant legal mind and the unique healthcare knowhow decades as legal counsel to the Mayo Clinic provided. Devoted husband and father, he was best man to Chief Justice Burger who lobbied for Blackmun’s eventual high court appointment. (Lifelong friendship, notwithstanding, Blackmun avoided Burger’s arch-conservatism.)

One of Blackmun’s three daughters faced an unintended college pregnancy, and married the father of her child. That marriage ended in divorce. Blackmun treated with dignity every human being he met, friend and foe. Younger, uber-conservative William Rehnquist-- eventual Chief -- was a fan. Rare among Justices, Blackmun drove his blue VW Beatle to daily breakfasts with his clerks. (In his 1999 funeral procession, a blue Beatle rode proudly.)

Blackmun took his responsibility to the law seriously knowing how personally important and stressful unintended pregnancy decisions are. He researched tirelessly the historic right to privacy which, though implied in the Bill of Rights, came into its own in the Griswold decision on contraception argued from the 1940’s and finally decided in 1965.

This hugely important validation of the intimate rights of women and the people who love them were Blackmun’s gift. 45 years later, too many of us still remember pre-Roe women hemorrhaging and delirious, from fevers and infections after illegal abortions which sometimes included pre-surgery sexual favors demanded by “doctors” as partial “payment.”

We recall beloved women looking 75 at age 35, their health and spirit decimated by raising more children than they ever wanted or could care for adequately. Attempts to self-abort involved coat hangers. One metropolitan ER’s more graphic case cited a vacuum cleaner hose as the cause of death.
Such was the despair of women before Roe.

Eliminating access to services women need and want will never suffocate their determination to free themselves from enslavement by forced pregnancies. We are resolute!

My successor, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England President and CEO, Amanda Skinner, reminds us, “Opponents bet we are too tired and demoralized to keep fighting: we continue to prove them wrong. We will never stop fighting for a woman’s right to access vital reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion. Our vision is a world of equity, where reproductive rights are basic human rights whoever you are or wherever you live. Together, fighting side-by-side, we shall prevail.”

Justice Blackmun would expect us to remind today’s Supreme Court-- and all of you-- to stand our hard-fought ground.



Getting to know our Prati neighborhood

August 29, 2017

Ciao tutti,

By now we know our way around the Prati neighborhood where our apartment is located. It is a bustling area with lovely old buidings, lots of boutiques, a wonderful upscale Coin department store as well as dozens of daily markets that move from place to place and sell everything from shoes, to kitchen supplies, to underwear or costume jewelry!  There is a great 24 hour supermarket 2 blocks from us and they deliver to our fourth floor (with elevator) apartment free - and wthin an hour of my leaving the store!

Here are a few buildings within a block of ours:

Piazza Cavour and the Supreme Court Building on the left

House across the street  and detal from the exterior wall here below

Since last I wrote you, Al and I went to see a wonderful exhibit on Spartacus at the Ara Pacis Museum.

We take buses everywhere with our monthly pass and we think it's a hoot. Here are a couple of Rome bus scenes

and one of my favorites

This week we were in Florence for three nights visiting friends there. It was our 52nd anniversary and one of our friends, Enrico, had a dinner party for us at his wonderful villa near the Certosa in the hills above Florence.

We are having a great time and looking forward to going to Naples and Ischia next week with friends from RI....We return home 9/17.

Look for my Italy Commentary in the Providence Journal next Sunday, September 10, 2017.

For now BIG HUGS  (Abbraccioni)


US xx


Mary Ann and Al's Italy Adventure 6-11-14 thru 8-6-14

Mary Ann and Al's Italy Adventure 6-11-14 thru 8-6-14


Tuscany Discovered - July 2014

Like many of you, I had been to Florence many times. I even lived here for a year during my college days' Junior Year Abroad. During some of those visits, I had visited Fiesole, the mystical village high in the hills above Florence with its Roman amphitheater and breathtaking views.

I have seen Pisa with its leaning tower a half dozen times, and I have driven with my husband from Florence to Perugia in nearby Umbria, so we had been awed by what is in fact Tuscany, and Florence as its capital.

But the Tuscany countryside many of you know from films and books of recent years is an area we had not explored in detail -- until now.

Here are a few of the panoramas we would like to share with you.

First, San Gimignano with its many towers dating back to the first millennium. Buildings along its medieval streets were constructed anywhere from 1000 to 1400 and beyond.

The main square

  the beautiful residences beyond the square
An ancient castle still standing guard, with vines of caper plants pouring down its walls

After walking the whole town and soaking up its wonderful vibe, we stopped for a cold drink in the main square, listened to the medieval clock chime noon, then moved on to Siena, about 90 minutes away.

Siena is the home of the most authentic Italian language in all of Italy. It is also famous for its yearly Paglio - a horse race in its main conch-shaped square. The various neighborhood "Quarters" surround the square and each has its own flag and its own horse entered into this historic race. The men of Siena participate heartily (women have no role in the Paglio since Middle Age rules excluded them and that has never been changed.) The men still wear ancient costumes (or replicas of those) in the colors of their "Quarter."  The winning horse is allowed into the cathedral as a demonstration of the honor paid to that animal for winning the race. Never doubt that this isn't a VERY serious matter -- even today -- among the Sienesi. If a woman marries a man from another Quarter, on the day of the actual race she goes to her parents' home in her native Quarter not to participate in any way with her husband's rival territory!

Here are some images of lovely Siena:

 Siena's Main Square where the Paglio is held

The Medieval Costumes and Flags of one Quarter

This is a SERIOUS matter!!

We had a lovely lunch in Siena at a restaurant called "Le Sorelline" (The Little Sisters) which we HIGHLY recommend. All the pastas as well as the desserts are made fresh DAILY....the main courses were superb and the prices reasonable (party of 4, 90 Euros or about $120. total or $30. per person!)

Around 4 PM se said good-bye to Siena and headed through the breathtaking Tuscan countryside toward our last stop, Piensa...but I'll just let these images speak for themselves.

Looks like a post card, right??

Finally, the fairytale town of Pienza, one of the most well-kept, meticulously manicures towns I have ever visited.

Pienza's ancient gate with beautiful fresco scene in the arch

Typical Pienza side street

So we said farewell to breathtaking, Pienza hoping that

THESE two (on the side of Pienza's duomo)  will last as long as



uh..duhh..uh..duhh...That's All Folks!  (for now anyway)


The Homeless of Florence-- In Their Humbling Refinement

6/26/2014 Florence - St. James Episcopal Church, Via dei Rucellai

We have been in Italy for two weeks and only now are we experiencing a few welcome showers to cool off a torrid Florence (know as Italy’s “frying pan.”) This is also the day I started my volunteer work at St. James Episcopal Church, one of only three such churches in Italy (the others are in Rome and Bologna.) 

I have had a little experience working with the homeless through my past association with Travelers Aid (now Crossroads Rhode Island.) I have never forgetter former Director Marion Avarista’s reminder that we are all only one paycheck away from homelessness.

The church itself is magnificent - a classic gothic house of worship today decorated for a bride expected later in the day.

The clothing bank at St. James is held every Thursday morning starting at 10. Small bags of food are also distributed (today a can of cannellini beans, cheese, saltines, juice and a piece of fresh fruit will barely take the edge off the hunger of the homeless in a country known for its gourmet food. 

But the dignity and even the surprising elegance of the homeless here is amazing to see. Yes, some need a bath and a haircut, but, in general, they manage to carry that great Italian grace in their bones and in their rags. The African women especially--  still preferring their native costumes--  are amazingly beautiful and even regal. They are polite and handle the used clothing delicately. Finding nothing that will culturally accommodate their chosen dress, they thank us and leave with only a small bag of food. We agree to look for each other next Thursday when hopefully some items like long scarves or shawls will be on the table ready to be turned into wraparounds or turbans these women can use.


Carla, the main overseer of the clothing table, knows many of these people by name (and shoe or waist size.) She saves items she knows certain men and women have been looking for and— to their delight— runs to her stash to bring out a saved pair or sneakers one woman has been looking for for weeks, in almost her perfect size. Later she tells me she finally gave a new radio from her own home to a man here today who had no TV or radio to listen to all day and night. 

Carla is driven by the contagious realization that what we see in these people at the table could easily be us or people we love. I can already sense she will be my friend here, and the person who will personify the St. James experience in my memory for years to come. I am proud to call myself her colleague.


I think my Dad would have been proud of my work here today, in the country he never stopped loving.



"We have looked at all issues which can bring people to talk and we have seen that sex is the answer," says Rukia Subow, chair of the Women’s Development Organization, Kenya's oldest women's group. And with that, 11 feminist organizations in Kenya banded together to withhold sex from their men for one week in an effort to stop the political squabbling threatening that nation’s fragile coalition government. The women are paying prostitutes to temporarily go celibate, and the wives of Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have also been asked to participate.
Men in Kenya are polygamous by law, and AIDS rates are high, so there may be increased sexual activity with multiple partners. If this is true, organized sexual inactivity could influence male politicians. More likely, not all women will comply and men will have their way by intimidation if necessary. Also, seven days isn’t enough time.

Such a plan would be even less likely to work here at home.

Internet statistics about frequency of sexual activity among Americans--particularly married people-- indicate that abstaining from sex for a week would be fairly normal. This isn’t a nation of sexually hyper-active folks, especially in the over-forty ranks from which political leaders usually come.

Michelle Obama doesn’t seem like the type of woman who needs to join in such a strike. She could probably just talk Barack into submission.

Lacking a prime minister, we’d have to look to Hillary Clinton our Secretary of State as the other possibility. Hillary probably adopted the withholding-sex-from-Bill strategy long ago (not that he’s since “gone without.”)

Leaders like (use any first name here) Kennedy and Chris Dodd have always demonstrated that they could have as many women as they wanted, wherever, whenever. Across the aisle, Republicans like John McCain give the impression that their interest in sex is but a memory. In the case of conservatives such as Orrin Hatch, one wonders if they ever have had a sexual temperature beyond 98.6.

Then there is the Barney Frank contingent (exact numbers still hiding in the great congressional closet) to whom threats of sex-withholding by people of the opposite gender mean nothing.

The Trojan idea of women strapping on chastity belts toward political ends will probably fail to resurrect democracy in Kenya. It does, however, remind us that empires and political careers have historically been kicked to the curb in exchange for a moment or two of lust. (Eliott Spitzer, Gary Hart and others can, have and will write books on the subject. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s wife also went public again this week on her husband’s zipper problem.)

Power remains a great aphrodisiac and one likely to allow the endless supply of available men and women determined to sample just one more dose, whenever they can, to find each other.

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007
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About Me

Hillsboro Beach, FL/ Cranston, RI, United States

"JOACHIM" - Oct. '92-March '08

"JOACHIM"  - Oct. '92-March '08
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Castel Del Monte

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