“Italy will not let you down,” my wise friend Judy Witts Francini told me the other day. And I in turn thought, “we will not let Italy down.”
When the news came in that the entire country of Italy was in lockdown (or “grounded” as Frances Mayes said, she always has the right words), I was in the edit room working on my most ambitious project yet, a Dream of Italy special for PBS stations and Create TV about the transformative power of Italy. When I say “ambitious,” I mean not only in content (this goes beyond travel to a range of ways Italian culture can help us live better) but in the financial risk I take to bring this show to air. I will admit, I had a moment, literally just a few seconds where I questioned what were doing. Sometimes you have to ask the question, to know you are on the right path. I answered it with more resolve than ever to keep moving full steam ahead.
Why? Because I believe in Italy. I’m betting on Italy. Italy has saved me again and again. Italy has been my constant. And I believe in dreams and their ability to become reality.
I’ve also witnessed first-hand through this work – again and again and again – how many of YOU feel the exact same way. I’m getting emails from readers/viewers asking when I think the first possible day they might be able to fly to Italy. I see that people are still joining Dream of Italy and it makes my heart dance each time I see a membership come in because it means that if we’re dreaming, that means we are going (eventually – and that is going to help all of our Italian friends recover spiritually and economically). Your support keeps my business (which employs a number of people part-time) running and allows me to keep telling the stories of Italy and Italians, promoting their businesses and passions, and ultimately helping them survive.
I’m thinking about two things right now, the first is how can we use Italy and that unmistakable Italian passion to help us survive a scary and uncertain world right now.
I have vast vast experience at using Italy to distract oneself from difficult times – ahem – so I’m an expert. Let’s use Italy to distract us – the tastes, the smells, the beauty, the warmth of the people, the memories, the dreams. In 17 years of publishing Dream of Italy, I’ve always wanted to do a crowd-sourced issues where YOU my amazing readers/viewers fill our audience in on your favorites. We’re going to launch that project this month (I’ll link it here when we have it posted), where you will have a chance to submit a short article about what you are thinking about right now when you dream of Italy. This is your chance to write about the meals you’ve had, the places you’ve stayed, the locals you’ve met – and be published in Dream of Italy. It will be open to all and I will even hold a virtual travel writing class via Facebook Live to teach you my favorite travel writing tips. Have I mentioned that writing is a great distraction? Certainly one of my favorite distractions.
We can consume Italy – media-wise – even when we can’t travel there. Of course Dream of Italy offers so many ways – our membership publication, podcast and TV show. And there are so many amazing books on Italy to buy and support the authors. We are featuring Return to Glow by Chandi Wyant as our current book club selection. By purchasing this book you’re not just feeding your dreams with an inspiring story (which will discuss virtually in our book club), you’re supporting Chandi, who as a tour guide in Florence, is obviously experiencing a difficult time.
Our friend Frances Mayes has a STUNNING new book called Always Italy (how appropriate a title) out at the end of this month.
An idea for all those tour guides, chefs, cooking teachers now on lockdown in Italy is to create content and ask for our support. Who could write better guides to special places in Italy and self-publish them to Amazon but some of our favorite guides and art historians? Our friends at Rome Is Live were developing a series of web tours before authorities heightened the restrictions. I know a number of cooking schools in Italy are now turning their attention virtually and starting online classes (I’d love to compile a list so if you know of any, send them to me). Our friend Judy Francini mentioned above has created a membership/Patreon model for the classes she was already offering on YouTube.
And of course, we can buy Italian in every category. When I was stocking up at the supermarket the other day, I grabbed some imported Pastificio di Martino rigatoni off the shelf – an easy thing to do that took me 20 seconds. Obviously, they are a bigger producer and it is important to try to also shock small. My friends at Girl in Florence and Revealed Rome have done a good job in curating some of their favorite smaller producers and artisans of all kinds. If you have a round-up list that I can add, please let me know.
I particularly love the idea of looking at piece of Italian artwork at this time or wearing some jewelry from Italy (they are the best jewelers ever). I cannot tell you how much my Delbrenna sunflower charm makes me smile when I see it around my neck when I look in the mirror – this is also one of our bonuses right now when you join. We’re truly making our memberships full of ways to Dream of Italy even when we aren’t there.
The second thing I am thinking about is committing to future travel to Italy, whether in spirit or with your dollars, or both!
We are all going to need a vacation, aren’t we? Do what makes you comfortable. Maybe that’s just reading about where you want to go and talking to some friends who might want to join. Even the act of talking about it is an act of faith. And when you put that intention into the world it helps. Talk to a travel planner. Think about fall 2020 or travel in 2021. Don’t be afraid to call the companies you’re interested in traveling with to see what they can do for you to make you comfortable to book. I know they would be thrilled to hear from you. I’d particularly recommend the small boutique travel companies who supported our Tuscan Sun Special as well as Season 2.
Travel companies are going to have to become more nimble and creative to accommodate the current situation. I am really impressed with the creative solution my friend Kenny Dunn is offering through his company Eating Europe. His Rome food tours are among my favorite Italy experiences. He created a Flexi-Pass which you can buy now but can use to save 30% on any future food tour and it never expires. It is a way of buying now – putting money into these travel companies – but getting great value in the future. Numerous Italy-based travel businesses can use this model to survive. I know that if some of my favorite restaurants in Italy offered gift certificates at a discount say 100 euros for the price of 75 euros, never expires, I’d be happy to snap some up now to save when I am ready to return to Italy and dine.
I read a suggestion from Giulia of Valle Nuova that we could all take a few minutes during this time to go online and leave reviews for our favorite businesses in Italy on Trip Advisor, Google, etc. I think that is such a fantastic idea!
If you know of Italy travel companies offering innovative deals like Eating Europe, please let me know or comment below and we will add them to this post.
And I’ll be adding some other thought as well – just wanted to take a few minutes to write some thoughts down and now I’m back to working on the TV show and publication to keep feeding our dreams no matter what! — Kathy McCabe