In 2011, during the Arab spring uprising, Giulia Laganà’s humanitarian work took her to Sicily in southern Italy. “I was working for a UN refugee agency, helping people who were arriving and monitoring conditions,” she says. Mads Frese, a Danish journalist living in Rome, travelled to the island in October as part of a group of reporters who were producing a film about the crisis. They needed access to interviewees. “I’d called Giulia before we came, through some contacts, hoping that she could help set up meetings,” he says.
After arriving, he drove from Palermo to Cara di Mineo, the largest refugee camp in Sicily at the time. “I remember hearing that Gaddafi had been killed. We had no idea what would happen next,” he says. When the journalists reached the camp, Mads got the chance to meet Giulia in person. “We’d spoken in Italian on the phone, so I think he was a bit taken aback by my English. He was expecting me to be more typically Italian,” she laughs. “I’m from Rome originally, but grew up bilingual and studied in the UK.” Giulia says she found Mads handsome, but he didn’t say much. “She sounded so Roman on the phone that I was just expecting to meet someone completely different,” he says.
Over the next few days, Giulia took the journalists out for some meals and found them a temporary flat in her building. “I cooked for them one night and it turns out I served the only thing he hated – strong cheese,” she says. “But then, one day, I slipped a slice of homemade chocolate cake into his flat. He definitely liked the cake.”
Despite cooking mishaps, they started to realise there was more than friendship between them. When Mads went back to Rome, they chatted on the phone constantly. At the end of the month, Giulia decided to visit him. “That’s when we went on our first proper date,” she says. “A lot had been going on in the world at that time, which meant the first few weeks after we met we spoke a lot about politics. It made us realise how much we had in common.”
A few weeks later, she moved to Syracuse in Sicily and Mads came to see her. “I just arrived with my suitcase,” he laughs. For the next few months, he travelled between Sicily and Rome, spending time with Giulia whenever he could. “We talked about everything, but especially travel,” he says.
In March 2012, Giulia moved to Rome to be with Mads and the couple travelled around Italy and Brussels for work. They married in Sicily in 2014 and their elder daughter was born later that year. At the start of 2019, they welcomed another daughter to the family. “We love travelling, going out for dinner and watching good movies together,” says Mads.
When the pandemic hit, the family was based in Brussels. “We’ve come back to Rome again to be close to family. It’s a good place to ride out the storm,” says Giulia. With their family spread across the UK, Belgium, Denmark and Italy, they are finding the lack of travel challenging, but they love the time they get to spend with their daughters. “Marrying someone from a different country enriches your life, but it also requires hard work and mutual understanding,” says Mads.
After six years of marriage, Giulia says the things that keep the relationship strong are the same things that brought them together. “Mads has a lot of patience and puts up with a lot from me,” says Giulia, laughing. “We just see the world in the same way. Now we have children together, we see eye to eye on how they are brought up.” When they first met, Mads was struck by Giulia’s serious nature and consistency. “Our relationship is ever evolving,” he says. “But in moments of crisis we can always go back to that initial energy we had.”
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