This article originally appeared in the April/May 2021 issue of Dream of Italy.
It has been several years in the making, with a pandemic thrown in for good measure, so I’m thrilled to announce that the special, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, is coming to PBS stations and Create TV in June. My life was changed by just one trip to Italy and I know many of yours were as well. This new special is a way to share that Italy is much more than a trip, but also a chance to transform our lives and thrive.
It will air as both a 60-minute regular special and a 90-minute pledge event (the incomparable actor Joe Mantegna joins me as co-host for our 30 minutes of breaks) and it was the tradition of public television pledge specials that first gave me the idea to “teach” or “share” how the Italian lifestyle can make us happier and healthier and help us to age better. After all, most pledge specials are all about aging well, ha! No seriously, you’ve probably watched Suze Orman on saving for retirement and Dr. Amen on helping to keep our brains young.
Italy consistently ranks at the top of the Bloomberg Global Health Index in part because of access to fresh, affordable food, community connections and more. Yet we don’t need statistics or indexes to tell us that in Italy, we just feel better. There are three over-arching themes to the special: how to live like an Italian no matter where you are (even at home), how to travel to Italy in a more meaningful way and how to move there full- or part-time.
In Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, I visit with those who are living their dream of Italy. Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola and Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes have all bought and renovated properties in Italy, leading them to live in Italy part-time. Author David Bach, his wife Alatia and their two sons moved to Florence for a year-long sabbatical (and have stayed on longer), while career changer Arlene Antoinette Gibbs and retiree Sally Carrocino have made their moves to Italy permanent. (I keep telling Sally, by the way, that she’s the break-out star of this special. She gives new meaning to “aging well out of place.”)
The lessons in the PBS special are even more poignant in 2021 than they were when I first envisioned and started filming the special in 2019. When production came to a halt in March 2020, I was even more determined to tell our guests’ aspirational and inspirational stories. As the pandemic progressed, I became even more convinced that “Italy is the answer” to the new life we seek after this turbulent year.
Now, the timing seems serendipitous: Italy is reopening to Americans this summer, just as the special premieres in June. Our captivating guests help shed light on the 11 essentials of Italian life – the land, food, family, art & culture, beauty, pace of life, passion, movement, community, celebrations and sense of home. But what I’ve learned along the way in expanding Dream of Italy is that all of this isn’t just about travel to Italy. It is about having permission to dream! If you yearn for a new life, maybe a move to Italy is in the cards for you too. Here’s a preview of some of the lessons you will learn:
Bright Tuscan sunflowers, cypress tree-lined country roads, turquoise coastlines, rocky mountains—Italy’s landscape has staked a firm pull on Italians and foreigners alike for millenia. At Sting and Trudie’s vineyard Il Palagio, I learn about how “nature is giving back” to the couple. The land bestows both beauty and bounty – wine, fresh vegetables, sustenance for animals and that essential ingredient in the Mediterranean lifestyle, olive oil. But more than the land itself is what the land represents, especially to me, ancestral roots. Tracing my lineage back to Italy has given me a deeper appreciation for the land that nurtured and sustained my ancestors.
To Italians, food is life. To the rest of us, it’s a passport to Italy. Every meal is analyzed; Italians talk about each ingredient, where they got it, how they prepared it, how they can improve the meal and, of course, what they’re going to eat for their next meal. The accessibility of fresh, affordable food plays heavily into why Italy is one of the healthiest countries in the world. Francis Ford Coppola has connected with food through his Italian heritage, and his hotel, Palazzo Margherita, located in his ancestral hometown of Bernalda, is a place to try all kinds of local specialties.
Everything relates to the family in Italy. It is the cornerstone of all aspects of life. One thing Francis Ford Coppola and I, and indeed Joe Mantegna, have in common is that we all went to Italy for the first time in our 20s to see the mythical places our ancestors left. We explore this idea of returning to our roots further in this special. Whether you have Italian blood or not, Italy is also the perfect place to bond with family, especially through travel. I experienced that with my own parents, especially my mother. When I heard that bestselling financial author David Bach his wife and two young sons to Florence for a “radical sabbatical,” I knew I had to spend some time with them for the special. This family is truly thriving and Italy is giving their children gifts they could have only imagined.
I mean is there any other word that describes Italians better? They are simply brimming with passion. Yes, the romantic kind that we see in movies, everything is a love story here. But also that great passion for what they do, whether it is a waiter explaining the ingredients in that day’s special or an artisan working with his hands and heart to imbibe a work of art with passion. One of my favorite quotes in the entire special comes from one of Arlene’s friends as we are enjoying a Roman aperitivo. He explains how Italy allows people, like Americans, to get in touch with the passion they don’t know they have deep down. You will have to watch for his exact eloquent words.
Pace of Life
Time is like a river in Italy: it just flows. Is it because their history is so long that things just take the time they take? Everyone we talk to in this special shares how the Italian pace of life has changed them. The pandemic has taught us all lessons about pace of life and slowing down to appreciate the things you cherish most or take up new hobbies just because. Italians, of course, have long been practicing these values through the spirit of dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing. We also air a fun feature on “the Italian day” to learn from the daily routines Italians treasure.
Art and Culture
As Francis Ford Coppola’s Italian father used to tell him, Italy is the greatest culture in the world. For centuries, Italy has been the bedrock of European civilization, and it almost seems impossible that so much treasure is contained in a country of this size. In this special we learn that not only can we age better by enjoying art and culture but creating art and listening to music, indeed participating in this passion, help our brains stay sharp. Maybe that’s why Michelangelo lived to the ripe old age of 88!
Back when we filmed her interview in the fall of 2019, Arlene Gibbs said, “Beauty will save us all.” I knew that soundbite would be in the special, but I didn’t realize just how much it would mean now. Beauty touches everything in Italian life, from how to dress, how to set a table or how to renovate a home. Beauty is like air in Italy. You just can’t live without it. One of the most fascinating things I learned in my research for the show is that patients with Alzheimer’s have been known to retain their aesthetic preferences for beauty. Indeed, beauty remains.
Another reason Italians age well is that they have each other, and form strong social connections across age groups. This is most on display in the piazza of every town. As Frances Mayes says, “the piazza is like the living room of Italy.” Community is one of the main reasons Italians age better and I hope that we can all take a page from them and create community no matter where we are in the world.
A time-honored tradition is the passeggiata, or evening walk, where Italians not only aim to see and be seen but also to get some exercise. Italians live life outdoors gardening, walking, bicycling, dancing and hiking. It contributes to their good health.
Sting and Trudie’s wedding anniversary party, which they throw each year at Il Palagio, started out as a small gathering, but over the years it has grown into a much-awaited event for the locals too. (You will see the party and Sting perform, in the special.) That’s just how Italy is—people love any reason for a party, whether it’s a milestone or festival. Italians will celebrate anything, and that will certainly prove to be even more true once the pandemic lockdowns lift and people can once again host parties and festivals.
Sense of Home
We all long for a sense of home. For me, Italy is a second home because of my familial ties, but even non-Italians can settle in here because the country is so welcoming. And Italy will hopefully be an official second home for me soon, because in filming the special I learned I am indeed eligible for Italian citizenship. Plus, I have tips for others who might be using their Italian blood to do the same.
Not only is Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive a new special that will be airing on PBS stations and Create TV for years to come It is also an extended DVD/digital link (with 30 minutes of additional footage) and a companion book that I just finished writing. I’ve been busy for sure. You can get both of these when you pledge to become a member of your local public television station. You can learn more about this and specific airings at www.dreamofitaly.com/ttt
And this special would not have been possible without our generous sponsors: De Cecco, Monteverdi Tuscany, VIETRI, Lo Schiavo Genealogica (ItalyAncestry.com), Seeds From Italy, Pinnacle Communication Service, Toscana Restaurant (Los Angeles), Mark & Sandy Amorello and Joseph J. Bell, Esq.