Outdoor Spaces

Hello, my name is Arlene Antoinette Gibbs and I have a Sicily problem.

It’s bad.  Every time I go, i wish I could stay longer.  There’s so much of the island I haven’t seen yet, for example the entire West Coast, the interior, and other islands like Stromboli, Lampedusa, etc. etc.

This time I was on the island for a week, Mt. Etna then Ortigia, for vacation (and to celebrate my birthday).

“It’s good to back,” I said to Rosa, the newish manager, when I walked into the reception room at Monaci delle Terre Nere.   Last year I wrote about Monaci and my first trip to the Sicilian mainland for FATHOM.

This time I stayed in the Floreale room.


The bathroom!


Photos: Monaci

The view from my balcony.


Lunch was served by the pool.

The first time I went to Monaci, it was raining and winter so I had no idea how spectacular the views were. The grounds are gorgeous.


The main villa at sunset.  I would like to decorate a Sicilian villa one day.


One morning I jogged around the forty acre property.  Most of the food served at Monaci comes from their organic gardens. There is a huge chicken coop.  I hesitate to call it a coop.  It’s more like a palace as it’s bigger than my apartment. Lucky chickens.

The breakfast spread was serious.  On the other side were eggs, cheeses, salumi, cakes, breads, cereals, and many other things I didn’t have a chance to try.


I had to buy a jar of their honey.  Fifteen percent of the honey made in Italy comes from this small town.


I had some great Sicilian wines.   I love their aperitivi.  Although there were more guests during this trip (the hotel was at full occupancy) fewer people went to the aperitivi. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t child appropriate?


Several rooms, located a few meters from the main house, have been renovated now. The atmosphere during high season was completely different from off-season. There were lots of families and half the tourists were American.

I had a moment with a fellow American guest who was so rude, it took my breath away.  I believe I had a strong reaction to her snub because it was completely out of context.  The vibe at Monaci is very friendly and chill.  The owners, Guido and Ada, are lovely and as are the other people who work there.  For this basic lady to not understand that said a lot about her.

As soon as I sat down with my book by the pool, I got over it.  I was in a beautiful place and no one was going to put a damper on that.

A slight scent of Sicilian jasmine, and lavender filled the air.  There were roosters in the background and sometimes the volcano “groaned”, loudly.  It was very relaxing despite the sounds coming from Mt. Etna.

A grazie mille to Rosa, Sara, Federico, Nujuan, Salvatore, and of course Guido and Ada for helping make this the best birthday ever.

Note:  My room was in the main villa and on the same floor as the kitchen. I’m an early riser, so I never heard a peep from the kitchen or from the downstairs reception area.

From Monaci, I went to Oritigia.  This time I rented an apartment on the other side of the village.  I couldn’t understand why it was cheaper than my place from last year.  It had a terrace with a partial sea view.

It’s because that side of the town wasn’t completely regentrified, yet.

As you can see in the photos below, some of the buildings are derelict and the empty former prison is on the left.  I liked being only two blocks away from the farmers market but can see how that might not be appealing.

I had to work a bit during my vacation but at least I had a view.


Love the old faded tiles on the right.


Before unpacking, I ran out to get pick up some yogurt, wine, and other important things.  All of a sudden I heard my name and it was X, Erica’s daughter.  Once again, without planning it, our apartments were only blocks away from each other.

The tiny piazza in front of my building at night.


The architecture here is incredible.  Remember to look up.


My friends at Casa Mia wrote about Tabaré (Sicilian dialect for tray) and I had to check it out.  It’s a must.


On my birthday we went to Arenella beach.  We got there early and scored great beach chairs, second row.  It was my first trip to a Sicilian beach and I had a great time.  I love how people of all shapes and sizes rock bikinis and Speedos.


Later that night we went to dinner.  In Italy when it’s your birthday and you invite people to celebrate with you, you pay.  It makes sense to me. You’re the host. I have some American friends who really have an issue with this custom but it’s not just an Italian thing. In the Caribbean if you invite people out for your birthday, you pay.  I get it if you’re in your early 20s and you meet at a bar or something. However, by your 40s/50s and up, the whole invite people to celebrate you and then expect them to pay is a little odd to me.


After dinner Erica insisted on treating me to a post dinner drink in the main piazza.  This is probably one of my favorite churches and piazzas in Italy.  It is ridiculously beautiful.


I was worked up about this birthday but in the end, it turned out to be a perfect day.  Thank you, Ms. Firpo and Ms. Arya.

I’ve been back for less than two weeks and I’m already trying to figure out when I can return. I’m tempted to join one of my friends in Rome who has to go to there for work in October.  Seriously.

Photos (except for the first two): me and my iPhone

The song UMBRELLA is playing on a loop in my head.

Finally, we had a sunny day in Rome today. I try not to complain too much on Twitter given what my friends who live on the East Coast in the States are dealing with.  I love snow but it’s easy to say that when you don’t have to commute in it or shovel it.

There are tiny signs of Spring busting out in Rome.  Flowers are starting to bloom, tourists are wearing T-shirts while locals still wear winter coats, and the Farmers Markets are filled with artichokes.

I have Spring Fever.  Hardcore.

Villa Borghese Park.




I was jogging in the park and saw this peacock enjoying the sunshine.



Another sign of Spring, the Rome Marathon.



Blooming tree in Villa Borghese Park.












Springy colors.



These strawberries from the Testaccio Farmers Market were delicious.



A clear sign of Spring.  Roman artichokes.



And spring peas at the market in Campo dei Fiori.


Photos:  Me and my iPhone


Borghetto Flaminio is not as well known as the famous Porto Portese market.  The latter has more furniture but Flaminio is the market to check out for authentic vintage/used designer clothes and interesting tableware.

As with any flea market there could be some fakes, but this market has a good reputation.  Many of the vendors are regulars. If they were selling fake Prada, Gucci, Hermès, etc. the word would get out pretty quickly.

Borghetto Flaminio is tiny. I suggest getting there early. It’s packed with fantastic finds.  I hadn’t been there in years so when my friend, artist and florist Marta, suggested we check it out, I was ready.

A cool tea set from the 40s.



Lovely monogrammed vintage linen.



A taste of Hermès.  This was the most popular vendor in the market.  They also had some drop dead gorgeous vintage Gucci, Valentino, Prada, and Fendi bags.



Love this Murano glass set from the 60s.



Marta was VERY excited about this patent leather Prada bag.


Sundays (except holidays)

Piazza della Marina, 32
Sundays, 10AM – 7PM
€1.60 entrance fee

From mid-September to mid-July

For me the day after Thanksgiving has nothing to do with shopping. It means I can start playing Christmas carols.

This probably comes as a shock to people who don’t know me well, as I appear to be a person who loves to shop.  It’s even part of my job.

However, the whole Black Friday thing always left a bad taste in my mouth.  While Short Hills Mall is one of my favorite places in America, I’d rather listen to Izzy Azalea on a continuous loop than go there on the day after Thanksgiving.

We don’t have such a thing in Italy and I don’t see it happening anytime soon.  The concept of standing/waiting in line is completely foreign, even in places (like the post office) where we’re supposed to.

One thing that is also popular here, are street lights.  This week crews were putting them up all over town.

In my neighborhood, Campo de Fiori, we have these:


I adore the simplicity of them.

Now, I’m off to play some of my favorite holiday jams.

Buon weekend!


Perhaps I’m naive but I believe good design incorporates a space that functions well.

This is why I completely disagree with the finale (SPOILERS ahead) of the NBC show “American Dream Builders”.  Looking at their Facebook page, I’m not the only one.

Earlier, I wrote about why I enjoyed the show.

They should change the name of the show because there was nothing about Lukas’s beach house that worked for the clients.

The job of a decorator/interior designer is to address the needs of the client.  He did not do that.   All Lukas talked about was his vision. He is talented but Jay should have won.

On what planet is it a good idea to paint a beach house in SOUTHERN California black?  It’s not edgy.  A black shingled house in Maine, or Martha’s Vineyard, that could be cool.  Does Lukas know that that the light is different in New England compared to the Southern Californian  Coast? One of the judges said the house looked like it had been in a fire.

Also, Lukas did not deal with any of the design flaws of his house.  That kitchen was awkward.

This a beach house for a multigenerational family.  Their reaction at the reveal was priceless.  I adore mid-century design and would use it in a beach house but would mix it up.

Nate kept saying Lukas was forward-thinking.  Has Nate ever been to IKEA? I know he has traveled to Europe.  This beach house would work for a single person with no kids who never entertains.

Nate raved about Lukas’s $30 chandelier.   Again, this is in a beach house.  I go to a beach house to relax.   Who’s going to clean it and replace the light bulbs?  It’s not functional.

This room.  Where are the young children going to hang out?



Nice to look at.  Wouldn’t want to sit there for a long meal.   What is that statue about in the corner?

View More:


Not relaxing.  These chairs would be fab in a loft apartment, not at the beach.

View More: the Neighborhood Council voted for the finale winner, Jay would’ve won hands down.    Elaine was eliminated for her red family room because it didn’t fit the décor of the rest of the house, but Lukas can win the whole competition for this house?  Please.

If they didn’t want a home builder to win, don’t put them in the competition.

I don’t know if the series has been renewed for a second season.  It’s a shame that the finale was such a disappointment but I enjoyed the earlier episodes.




Suddenly, Fall has arrived in Rome.

On Sunday my friends were swimming at the beach.  Monday was a Bermuda shorts day.  Tuesday? The temperature dropped by 20 degrees (F).

This morning the air was very clear and crisp.   I think I need to bake an apple crumble.

The leaves are started to drop along the Tiber River.  The chestnut vendors are actually selling chestnuts now.  They started weeks ago but nobody wanted to buy hot chestnuts when it was 85 degrees out.

One thing I loved about growing up on the East Coast, was the change in seasons.  Our town had a LOT of trees and many of them were in our backyard.  It wasn’t so fun to rake them but we did enjoy jumping into the piles.

The last two weeks of October is best time to drive up to the Hudson River Valley to check out the leaves.

The reds and oranges in this photo are gorgeous.

Three Bridges

Photo: Eric/Flickr Commons

Buon weekend a tutti!

Anguilla is quite the A-list celebrity/VIP destination these days.  However, the small island has managed to retain it’s relaxed, quiet charm.

My most recent piece for FATHOM Magazine went live today.


ANGUILLA – I wish I could say I have always appreciated this beautiful island. That would be untrue.

When my family moved from New York City to the leafy suburbs of Verona, New Jersey, I knew I had to become a true American teenager. I was hampered by my parents’ insistence on raising their children as if we were a family living in the Caribbean.

My parents are from St. Martin (totally different from the Dutch side, St. Maarten) and both my grandmothers were Anguillian. Whenever we went to St. Martin to stay with my paternal grandparents, we ferried over to Anguilla to visit family and friends. When I was a child it, was fun to hang out with my cousins, go the beaches, and stuff ourselves on Johnnycakes, rice and peas, and salt fish cakes. But as for the stunning white beaches of the island, they were lost on me when I was older. I mean, I was a teenager. Visiting relative after relative while sitting on their verandas for hours drinking Ting was boring.

The final anti-island straw happened one night when I was walking back to my aunt’s house and a mongoose ran across my foot. I was done. I thought, “I could be chilling at the Short Hills Mall with my friends instead of being stuck on this tiny island.”

It wasn’t until my parents moved to back to St. Martin after retirement and I moved to Rome that I began to understand why those trips back home were so important.

To read the rest and see more pictures, click HERE.


The beach at Cap Juluca with the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten in the background.

Photo: Me and my iPHone


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