I Read 'Eat, Pray, Love,' Went to Rome, and Fell in Love

Elise and Luca met on a rainy day on the streets of Rome. (Photo: Elise O’Donnell Tixon)

Who: Gianluca and Elise O’Donnell Tixon

Where we met: Via Veneto, Rome

When: March 22, 2008

Relationship Status: Married in 2009. One “baby,” Ireland (the dog).

(As told by Elise O’Donnell Tixon to Caitlin Kiernan)

Seven years ago this January, on a cold, snowy night in my apartment on the Upper East Side, I decided to read one of my Christmas gifts, the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Christmas at my childhood home in Goshen, N.Y., was picturesque, and I loved going back to celebrate. But with each passing year, I felt more anxiety about still being single in my late 30s, especially at the dining room table. It wasn’t any different at my job at a hedge fund on Park Avenue. I struggled watching co-workers getting engaged, planning their dream weddings, and going on exotic honeymoons. Maybe it was a culmination of the holiday season, a stressful job, or the tough New York dating scene, but I wasn’t five chapters deep before I booked a ticket to Italy at Easter.

It was the rainy season when I arrived, but I didn’t care — I was in Rome! After the long trip, which included a plane, a train, and a metro, I arrived at my hotel. The next day, I snacked on bruschetta and gnocchi and drank three large glasses of Chianti before I set out to visit the Villa Borghese Gallery, for which I had prepaid tickets to see. 

Luca and Elise on New Year’s Day in Prague (Photo: Elise O’Donnell Tixon) 

As I was walking up Via Veneto, in the pouring rain, an attractive Italian man said something to me. I was in a rush to get to the gallery and get out of the rain, so I ignored him. Then he addressed me in English, “Scusi, are you English? I don’t want to scare you, but I’m walking in the same direction, may I walk with you?” We were the only two people in the street. He introduced himself as “Gianluca, but Luca for short,” and we quickly fell into conversation. When we arrived at the gallery, he decided to join me. Afterward, he gave me a tour of the grounds. When it became dusk, Luca brought me back to the place we had met. He bought me gelato and asked if I had dinner plans. I didn’t. Normally, I never would have gone with a stranger. I was a streetwise New Yorker, but Luca was so kind, thoughtful, and different from most men I had met. He told me he’d be back in two hours.

When Luca returned, I wasn’t ready. My hair was in a towel turban, and I couldn’t find the lock to my suitcase. I told the man at the front desk to let Luca come up. I needed help opening my bag! While he got my bag opened, I dried my hair, and then we went out on our first official date. After dinner, Luca took me all around Rome from the Spanish Steps to the Piazza Navona. He was such a gentleman, walking me back to the hotel lobby. When we arrived, the clerk at the front desk handed me a package. It was my ticket to Easter Mass at the Vatican. But instead of just one ticket, there were two! Before Luca left, I asked if he wanted to join me. His response: “I’ll be here at 7:30 to take you to breakfast!”

The couple cruising in Capri, Italy, after getting engaged (Photo: Elise O’Donnell Tixon)

We went for breakfast and then went to Easter Mass at the Vatican. We parted ways so that he could have Easter brunch with his family — but not before we made plans to meet up later that night. The following day, I would return to New York, and Luca’s Easter holiday would be over. We had a great time at dinner, and the whole time I kept thinking how unbelievable it was to meet someone so special on a weekend getaway. Plus, I had gotten to see Italy from a Roman’s point of view — better than any guidebook!

The minute my plane touched down, I received an email from Luca saying he was so sad that I had to leave. Twelve days later, Luca came to visit me in New York — and he continued to come every other weekend for the next two months. In June, I returned to Italy and met Luca in Capri. He had hired a private boat to give us a tour of the Faraglioni Arch, something I had always wanted to see. I noticed he was acting nervous, and out of nowhere, he handed me a card. I read, “Will you please marry me? I have never been so happy in my life until I met you! I love you so much!  Luca. Of course, I said YES!

The couple’s courthouse wedding (Photo: Elise O’Donnell Tixon)

Luca came to New York once a month from the time we got engaged until our courthouse nuptials on Feb. 20, 2009. I continued to work at the hedge fund while Luca perfected his English and went through the immigration process. On Sept. 7, 2009, we had the most amazing wedding in Positano, Italy. We had a “Godfather Parade,” in which my wedding party and I walked through the streets from the Hotel Marincanto to the church down by the sea. As the musicians escorted us playing “Funiculi, Funicula,” the entire town came out and joined the procession. The day prior, we boated to the Amalfi Coast and swam in the grottoes of Capri. It was truly an amazing time to share with family and friends.

Luca and Elise also said “I Do” in Italy! (Photo: Elise O’Donnell Tixon)

We lived in New York for another year and later decided to move to Italy to start a family. Although we have encountered difficulty having children, our lives continue to be enriched by what we love most — traveling. In 2012, we adopted a miniature schnauzer puppy from Ireland, whom we named Ireland. She came to Rome with an Irish pet passport, and she travels everywhere with us  eight countries already! She is our baby. 

We have lived in Rome for 4½ years now. We went from being die-hard New York Yankee fans to never missing an A.S. Roma soccer game. We were blessed by Pope Benedict XVI at his last Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica; we witnessed every smokestack signal of the recent conclave at the Vatican; and we watched Papa Francesco become our latest pope — all historical moments we will never forget. We’ve traveled all over Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Spain, France, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as Sardinia and Corsica. I can truly say we are living la dolce vita.

Our mantra: Keep traveling; you never know where life will bring you!

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