Brooklynites In Rome
Former New York ad executive Lauren Caramico
moved to Rome in search of her Brooklyn childhood
Lauren Caramico is a 33-year old Brooklyn native and former successful advertising executive who not long ago gave up everything and moved to Rome. Her life-changing move was not as much a specific disenchantment with Brooklyn as it was a search for a simpler life that reached back to her Italian heritage and Brooklyn childhood. At this time, she felt, such a life could be better realized in Italy’s “Eternal City.”
Eagle: Where and when were you born in Brooklyn?
I was born in Dyker Heights in 1983. My mother and grandmother grew up in Carroll Gardens, to which I would later move. It was an area simply referred to as “Downtown Brooklyn” back in the day. That was the neighborhood my great-grandmother called home after coming from Italy.
Eagle: Do you have any special memories about your childhood in Dyker Heights?
LC: We saw my family much more when I was younger. Sunday suppers were a regular event, and the family still lived close enough to swing by for an unexpected visit. Now, besides a select few of us, the only way to get the whole family together is at weddings or funerals. And sometimes not even then.
Eagle: What did you do as a kid?
LC: As kids, we played in the streets and were called home for dinner by our mothers’ voices and not by our cell phones. Everyone sat on the stoop, and I found it strange explaining what that meant to my non-Brooklyn friends.
When I was in junior high school, a group of my friends would always come by the house the same time every night. We would just walk around the neighborhood until our curfew. The ring of the doorbell was guaranteed, and I looked forward to that sound almost as much as the ice cream truck during the summer nights.
Block parties were also still a thing then, and we had a lot of good options like playing pool, going bowling, to the movies or just sitting at a cafe. All of these places have since shut down where I used to live. I probably sound about 100 years old right now!
Eagle: You mention walking around? While in Rome recently, my friend and I easily walked 20 miles each weekend.
LC: Exactly. It’s the aimless walking I did with my friends that I miss most. It’s sad, but I think this activity may no longer exist in Brooklyn. But it’s alive and well in Rome. There’s even an Italian word to describe it — la passegiata!
Eagle: What were your favorite restaurants in Brooklyn?
LC: Going out to dinner wasn’t really a thing growing up — especially when I was younger. We ate dinner at home every night. It was only on vacations or special occasions that we went out to dinner. On New Year’s Day we had a huge family dinner on my mom’s side at Marco Polo in Carroll Gardens. It was such a turnout that we had to rent out the entire second floor to accommodate my family. Luckily, that restaurant is still around, though my family tradition is long gone.
As I got older, the place to be was Manhattan — we referred to it as “the city.”
But then some years later, Brooklyn somehow became a restaurant destination almost overnight. So of course I made sure to go to all the new restaurants that popped up. First, it was The Grocery on Smith Street just off Union Street and Saul at the Brooklyn Museum. Later on it was Bergen Hill on Court Street. But I would always be sure to frequent some of the old neighborhood places that had been there for decades to pay my homage.
Eagle: Where did you go to school, and what did you study in college?
LC: I went to P.S. 229, I.S. 187 and Fontbonne Hall Academy. I went to Pratt Institute for only a semester, and I got my B.A. in English from the University of Delaware.
Eagle: What did you do in advertising? What advertising firm did you work for?
LC: I worked in account management after a brief stint in media planning. I never formally studied advertising in school. I made my way up from administrative assistant in a medium-sized agency in the city.
After some years, I went along with my boss and some colleagues to help start up the New York branch of another firm based in Chicago, UMarketing. I helped build our client base from scratch.
After a few years I decided to move to a larger, global agency, and I was fortunate to land a great gig at MRM//McCann.
Unfortunately, by this time it was already too late. However great my job was, I knew that this was the year I would finally move to Italy.
Eagle: Any specific memories or influences during your youth in Brooklyn that you feel are important factors in making you who you are today?
LC: Well, this is a hard question because I would have to say everything. Every memory and influence during my youth in Brooklyn has shaped who I am today.
I learned how to be street-smart and tough on the outside, but when it came to family, friends and your neighborhood, I’ve always been incredibly soft and sentimental.
I learned to never forget where you came from or where your roots are, no matter where life took you. This was something I found out recently when visiting my cousins in Calabria, Italy.
I first visited them eight years ago and felt the connection despite the language barriers. Yet somehow, this recent trip, only two weeks ago, was so emotional. Perhaps it was because I was visiting this time around to look into getting dual citizenship through my ancestors.
Or maybe it was because my Italian was slightly better than last time. Whatever the case, even though it had been almost a decade since my last visit, I felt this incredible closeness to them. It was something they all felt too, because we were trying to find the right words to express this feeling on my last night there. We didn’t really know each other that well or for very long, but there was a special sense of an unspoken bond and affection between us, I believe because we had the same blood running through our veins.
Eagle: Can you say more about what you mean when you say you are searching in Rome for a quality of life you remember from Brooklyn?
LC: I understand that giving up your job, your apartment, your cat and most of your belongings could be viewed as nuts, but it was totally logical to me. It was my gut feeling and I felt it in my heart. And since being here in Rome, my life feels like I am finally going in the right direction. I no longer feel like I am swimming upstream, against the current. Things are actually working in my favor for once.
To me, the Italians seem to be able to preserve the life I had remembered so vividly growing up in Brooklyn, where people (and yes, food) mattered most. You didn’t have to rush past life here. You were allowed to stroll through it and enjoy those little moments that make life so special. Italy has always been in my veins.
And perhaps by going back to your roots, you can find out who you truly are.
Eagle: You said something about living a way of life in Rome that will allow you to be more creative. Creative in what way?
LC: Creatively, I used to write and paint — one of which I started doing again my first day in Italy.