Zia Caterina and her Superheroes

Zia Caterina, a warm soul who looks as if she had just stepped out of a fairy tale, is Italy’s very own Mary Poppins. Affectionately called zia (aunt), she is adored all over the country.

She graced ISI Florence with her presence and it was a memorable event.
All thirty-two girls in our Penn State HDFS in Florence program gathered in front of Palazzo Rucellai to eagerly await her iconic musical horn and brightly colored taxi. When she came around the corner, everyone cheered and passers-by stopped in their tracks to take pictures. When Zia Caterina came out of her car to greet everyone, we were amazed at her outfit. She was adorned in a bright blue and lime green cloak with a doll attached to her back. Underneath her cloak, was an extravagant red-polka dotted dress. On her head, she wore a straw hat decorated with purple and blue flowers. Her style is quirky to say the least, but it matches her vibrant personality and jovial attitude towards life.

Zia Caterina came to ISI Florence to tell us about her experience and the journey to where she is today. She has devoted her life to her job – if one can call it such – and as she spoke about it, tears welled up in her eyes. The passion was evident and her selflessness, contagious. Zia started to work as a taxi driver after her beloved husband, Stefano, passed away from cancer. She inherited the cab, named Milano 25, from her late husband. Like a child, Milano 25 became the representation of the love between Stefano and Caterina.

So what is so special about Zia Caterina and her Milano 25 taxi?
Zia Caternia shuttles children suffering from cancer back and forth from the Meyer Children’s hospital in Florence (a highly specialized pediatric hospital and a national point of reference for childhood cancer treatment). She calls all the children who ride with her superheroes, but for many Zia Caterina is the superhero.
She does not do this for the money, since oftentimes she drives people for free if they cannot afford it. In her eyes, it is the energy of others that pays her. Zia believes that building relationships is more important than anything else. If one is a passenger in her taxi, her goal is to talk, build a relationship, and exchange energies. She stressed the importance of love and the importance of creating a connection with every person that one meets. She told us that the energy we, as an audience, gave her when she spoke, would keep her going for the entire day. The energy that I received from her, I will carry for life.

If you are ever in Florence and see a colorful taxi, followed by a whimsical horn, wave and smile, because Zia Caterina is in town.


Duhaney Keitha-Clemon
Penn State University