Back to Europe

Knowmad (n): a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker; a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can ‘work’/[create] with almost anybody, anytime, anywhere. (john moravec: knowmad society. 2013)


We ( Nastassja Schmiedt & Lea Roth ) are knowmads who work locally & globally online through our social enterprise We’d been based in Miami for a while, and just published our first book ( Millennial Sex ) in August, so when we were invited to travel with Nastassja’s dad to Tuscany to spend September with their family there, we were super excited! With this post, we invite you to come along with us…


Nastassja: Here I am, at my mom’s apartment in Miami Beach with all our bags packed; ready to leave! We planned to stay for a month and brought our work supplies (including 40 concept notebooks…) with us. The bags were pretty heavy…


Lea: This is my third time going to visit Nastassja’s family in Italy. Each time I’ve learned so much more about where Nastassja came from, the family’s history, and Italian/ Tuscan– well, Florentine– culture. This time I want to learn to speak Italian.


We arrived at Galileo Galilei airport in Pisa, and rented a car to get to the family’s beach house in Marina di Pietrasanta. They’ve come here from Florence to spend the summer for four generations! Nastassja’s Nonna Adriana lives in the downstairs apartment with her caretaker Shana from Sri Lanka , and Adriana’s sister Rori lives upstairs with her caretaker Sonia from Ukraine.


Nastassja: This is the view from the front porch. When my parents and I moved to the US, we left our Dachshund Dagoberto here with my Nonna. He was pretty blind, and as you can see, it’s a long driveway, but when we came back to visit the next year, Dagoberto could tell it was us and got so excited! He came running down the whole driveway, and ran around us so fast that he actually passed out. We thought he had died! We poured water on him, and when he came to, he was so happy to see us. I was about three, and as an only child, Dago was like a sibling to me– I was as happy as he was. This is one of my earliest and fondest memories of the beach house. We brought him with us to the States when we returned.


Meet Nonna Adriana! She was so happy to see her son Nicola after a year of being apart. Nicola moved to the States with Nastassja’s mom, Angel, 21 years ago, & Adriana still says regularly that she wishes Cristoforo Columbo had never discovered America so Nicola wouldn’t have moved there! (The first time she said this, we said that it was actually Vespucci- you know, Amerigo– who was the first European to land in the Americas, that there had already been people living there for a long time, and if Nicola hadn’t gone to the States, he would have gone to Hong Kong or somewhere else, but she didn’t see to care and said the same line the next week… and the next)


Marina di Pietrasanta is an adorable little beach village just south of more popular tourist destinations Forte dei Marmi, Cinque Terre, and Portofino. The families who come to Marina di Pietrasanta for their vacations in the summer months are mostly Italian, although there are some travelers from other parts of the world.


Gentle Mediterranean waves in this panorama of Marina di Pietrasanta. You can see the Apuan Alps in the background!


We were glad to arrive, but just before we departed we got news that Nastassja’s great-uncle who lived upstairs in the beach house had died! He was 99 years old. In Italy, the headlines of the daily news are posted on public boards; this headline in the national Italian paper says, “The writer Manlio Cangogni has died.”


Manlio Cancogni (Rori’s husband) was a writer and journalist active in Italian public life since World War II, when he got his start writing for underground resistance publications. He wrote about the French occupation of Algeria, corruption in public affairs, and wrote many novels about the human spirit. He’s a huge inspiration for our work, and we were sad that he passed the day before we arrived.


A funeral announcement posted in the street. Manlio grew up near Marina di Pietrasanta, and spent the last years of his life here.


Although he traveled for work (living in Paris, New York, and Milan), and taught for many years at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, he spent the later part of his life at the house here on the beach with his wife Rori. It’s a peaceful place where he enjoyed writing. He was well-known in the community (there’s a whole box of his books at the local bookstore) and it was surreal to arrive the day of his funeral.


The family at Manlio’s burial. This little cemetery is perched up in the mountains above Marina di Pietrasanta. Nicola’s father and Nastassja’s grandfather Giulio Schmiedt is also buried here, just two spaces above his friend (and brother-in-law) Manlio.


(some of) The Schmiedts: Nicola, his nephew Giulio, Nastassja, Nicola’s brother Daniele, and Nonna Adriana in front of Nonno Giulio’s crypt.


Manlio’s widow Rori is embraced by a priest who was a longtime friend of the couple; on the right is Manlio & Rori’s great-grandson Oliver who just moved here from New York with his parents.


The three Vittori sisters: Rori (92) with her two sisters Adriana (93) and Miry (88) after the funeral. Now that their husbands have all passed, they remind us at times of the girls they were before they got married- stories winding together, talking over each other, dishing gossip on what one or the other said or did as a teenager…


Nastassja: My Nonna has been a huge inspiration for me throughout my life. She is my last living grandparent and we have always had a deep connection. She identified as a feminist in the 1930s and ‘40s and studied philosophy of religion in college. We have spent many hours discussing the nature of reality, the social construct of gender, social issues, activism, spirituality and unity consciousness. Nonna was very quiet as a young person, but stood up for what she believed in. She has said many times that if we were the same age we would go on many activist adventures together – reading, writing, and standing up for what we believe in.


Lea riding back from the burial in the backseat with Miry and Adriana. The two were teenagers during World War II and shared lots of stories during the drive. It was a bit like time traveling to drive through the timeless, winding streets of Pietrasanta and Camaiore and to hear their memories of growing up under fascism and Nazi occupation. Adriana used to get in trouble for wearing her uniform wrong, and one time dropped the flag during a fascist demonstration at school. “You got in so much trouble!” remembers Miry. “It was on purpose!” says Adriana.


The mountains in this area are rich with marble caves; Michelangelo and other Florentine sculptors during the Renaissance came to Pietrasanta to get marble for their work. We stopped at this little church on the way back down from the cemetery- it’s near Michelangelo’s marble cave, and Michelangelo hand carved this rose window!

Lea: I have a bit of an aesthetic obsession with rose windows- I think this is an oculus window actually- and there are so many gorgeous ones here in Italy. Look at the symmetry and sacred geometry!


A monument dedicated to Michelangelo five hundred years after his birth by local quarrymen. Translation: To Michelangelo Buonarroti, who from 1518-1520 at the will of Pope Leone X experienced the agony and ecstasy of quarrying marble from the surrounding mountains for the most beautiful work ever done in Italy and who in this parish left the seal of his genius.


View of Marina di Pietrasanta from up in the mountains; the Mediterranean blending into the sky.


Back at the house, showing our website, bow ties, and projects to Rori, Adriana, Shana, and Nicola. “What do you mean, digital book? Where is it?” ask Rori and Adriana. It felt like that scene in Zoolander: “It’s IN the computer?!”


Dinner at home with Nastassja, Shana, and Adriana. A typical Italian meal starts with pasta, then meat and vegetables, followed by fruit or something sweet for dessert with espresso- and always wine and olive oil! Shana has been taking care of Adriana for a few months now, much to Adriana’s annoyance- she is very independent and loves to cook, but her forgetfulness has been getting worse, and it’s a big help to have Shana staying with her. The two constantly get in little arguments over what Adriana can do to help. Adriana will say, “Oh, we’re out of bread? I’ll go to the store and get some!” and Shana will say, “Senora! That’s my job! You don’t go to the store anymore!” Adriana will roll her eyes, Shana will say, “Be patient!” and Adriana will reply, “You be patient! I’m old!”


One of our favorite meals: breaded veal, roasted peppers, and salad.

Lea: The first time I came to Italy to spend Christmas with Nonna Adriana, she was still cooking a lot. I was a vegetarian then, but many Europeans think of meat as red meat, so when we told her, she made fish for us. I really don’t like fish, and Nastassja doesn’t either, so the next meal, she made veal. “What is this?” I asked. “Veal,” said Nastassja. “Veal??” I responded, “That’s like.. the worst type of meat!” But she had already made it, so I tried it… and it was pretty delicious. Veal, pork, and rabbit are some of the most common types of meat eaten in Italy.


We went to a special dinner at the restaurant Il Soggiorno in a little mountain village called Pedona with Nicola’s cousins Silvia & Cecilia (Miry’s daughters- got that all straight?), Silvia’s husband Marco, Nicola’s brother Daniele, and Miry & Adriana. Meet them all in this short video we made for Cecilia’s daughter Augusta who couldn’t make it:


Ciao tutti! Get ready for some Tuscan specialties:


Antipasto (appetizers): Prosciutto, Salume, & Lardo (yep, that one’s just fat), panzanella (fried dough), crostini with paté & sauces, mushrooms and an onion.


Tordelli- special local type of ravioli with meat filling




Funghi fritti- fried mushrooms


…and a bowl of Tiramisu. Buon Appetito!


Nastassja and Adriana leaving the restaurant. The chef’s grandmother used to take care of Daniele and Nicola when they were little! Connections go back generations in these little Tuscan villages.


Nastassja: My grandfather Giulio was a cultural archaelogist and amassed an amazing personal library; here I am in his study in Florence preparing a digital teach in for student activists in the States.

Surprise ending: we liked it so much we decided to stay! The lower floor of the beach house is unused during the winter, we do our work online, and there are amazing resources here in Europe for the historical fiction we’re working on- like Giulio and Manlio’s libraries, and Adriana, Rori, & Miry’s stories- so we decided to extend our stay in Tuscany for another few months! Maybe we were inspired by Manlio, who loved the tranquility of staying at the beach all year round, once all the summer vacationers are gone.


We’re so grateful for our time here in this magical place; for good food, family, and stories! We thank the universe for all of the amazing opportunities we have to travel, connect, and love. The universe is on our side if we keep our eyes open, are flexible, take a leap of faith, and believe that this adventure was meant to be.

Next post will be about life at the beach!

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