Interview with Francesca Caruso

While your lead guide takes care of you from start to finish on a Rick Steves tour, we search far and wide for the best local guides to bring their cities to life like only a proud resident guide can. Francesca Caruso meets most of our groups who visit Rome — giving them a wonderful insider's look at her potentially overwhelming city. Francesca speaks English like a native (her mom's American) and knows Rome like the back of her hand (she's lived there all her life). And our groups love Francesca.

How did you become intere​sted in guiding?

I was born in Rome and have always lived there. But my mother is American and she transmitted to me a passionate awareness for my city that sometimes comes more natural to foreigners than to locals. I graduated from the University of Rome with a strong desire to teach. My best friend's dad had been a guide for 20 years and encouraged me to take the state exam for the license to "teach Rome."

What do you like most…and least…about your work?

I love to make visitors realize how much Rome is already part of their cultural world, how they can "read the city" with a handful of solid ideas and absolute trust in their eyes and their reaction to what they see. What I don't like is how some of the sites are run and the inevitable chaos determined by large crowds in small, fragile places.

For visitors, how do you make sense of so many historical periods colliding together in Rome?

The key for me is in abandoning the concept that we learn only by accumulating facts, and to focus on making the most of being there in person. The wealth of buildings and art from every era that coexist side by side in Rome helps us realize that 3,000 years of history can be experienced as "one infinite present moment" — and that we shouldn't be intimidated. My job is to provide context and themes so that visitors can "reason" with sites and truly comprehend them.

Taking groups to these places every day, how do you keep from getting burned out?

I cultivate empathy. My passion is renewed and refined everyday by the response I sense in the people who are with me. And also, is it really possible to get tired of Michelangelo or of the way the seasons affect the light in the Roman Forum?

Are some groups more satisfying to work with?

Maybe it is because they come from a relatively young country, but Americans have a unique capacity to respond to Old World art and history with genuine intellectual and emotional excitement (I cannot think of a better word). Rick Steves' travelers always interact with, participate with, and look for cultural substance. They are also very flexible and don't let difficulties and complications spoil their experience. I really find them to be ideal.

Would you ever live anywhere but Rome?

My friends tell me I stop functioning the moment I leave the "ring road" that surrounds the city, and I always have withdrawal from old bricks and stones when I am away. So I guess Rome is the only real home for me!