La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z

La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z

by Carla Gambescia


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La Dolce Vita University (LDVU) is the perfect sampler for anyone curious about (or already in amore with) Italy and its remarkably rich cultural gifts, both past and present. True to its lighthearted name, La Dolce Vita “U” is all about pleasurable learning, or what we prefer to call “edu-tainment.” Its dozens of entertaining yet authoritative mini-essays on a wide assortment of intriguing topics encourage random dipping at the reader’s pleasure. Even the most erudite Italophile will discover fun new facts and fascinating new insights in the pages of La Dolce Vita U.

Mini-essays treat specific topics in one or more of the following subject areas: the Italian character; the visual arts (art, artists, architects); the performing arts (music, theater, cinema); history and antiquity; language and literature; cuisine and agriculture; wine and spirits; traditions and festivals; style and applied arts; unique places. In a wink and nod to the book’s “academic” identity, the 165 mini-essays are arranged alphabetically and accompanied by charming illustrations throughout. A special traveler’s topic index is provided at the end of the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609521318
Publisher: Travelers' Tales Guides, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 528,348
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Carla Gambescia’s passion for Italy began early—with her mother’s love of the Renaissance masters and her father’s discourses on Italian geniuses of every calling. In the ensuing decades she has toured every region of Italy (often by bicycle) and immersed herself in its astonishing array of cultural treasures. In recent years Carla has combined her passion as an Italophile and writer with her skills as a career marketer and branding expert, acting as a consultant to and a collaborator with boutique tour operators. She conceived and co-led the Giro del Gelato bicycle tour, winner of Outside magazine’s “Best Trip in Western Europe.” In 2008 Carla founded Via Vanti! Restaurant & Gelateria, in Mount Kisco, New York, with the ambition of creating a unique environment and dining experience that would enable guests to feel as though they had stepped right into Italy. Via Vanti! quickly won plaudits not just for its innovative Italian cuisine, extraordinary gelato (named “Best Gelato Shop in New York”) and dazzling jewel box interior but also, under Carla’s direction, for its active program of culinary and cultural events. It is Carla’s conviction that all of us, regardless of our inherited ethnicities, share an “inner Italian”—that part of our nature which is most expressive, festive, spontaneous and fun—just waiting to be unlocked.

La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z is the natural outgrowth of Carla’s work and play in both the restaurant and boutique travel industries, as well as a lifelong love affair with the land of her ancestors.

Table of Contents

Arlecchino • Arrangiarsi, the Art of Making Do • Arte • Artemisia’s Revenge • Anacapri, the Other Capri • Aperitivi to Digestivi • Amaretti, Amaretto, Amarone • Amorini, The Flying Bambini

Barbells and Bikinis • Bellini • Bernini’s Angels • Beatrice, Love at First Sight • Botticelli’s Venus • Bonfire of the Vanities • Burano’s Candy-Colored Casas • Bolognese . . . Sauce or Dog?

Carnevale • Carpaccio • Caterina’s Carciofi • Casanova, So Misunderstood • Centenarians of Sardinia • Carpet Slippers • Cosimo, Caesar of the Renaissance • Canticle of the Creatures • Cave Canem • The Castrati

The Davids • Dante’s Commedia • Dome-estic Pride • Duomo, Not a Dome but a Home • Dolomiti and the Via Ferrata • Il Doge and His Palace • Divorce Italian Style • Dog Days of Summer

Empire • The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa • Explosion of the Cart • The Exclamation Point! • Ebru, the Art of Marbled Paper • Espresso, Cappuccino, and Italian Coffee Culture • The Enormous Emperor

Ferro • Farro • Fichi Fantastiche • Flowering in Fiorenza • “Florence Syndrome” • Firewater • Fra Angelico and Frangelico • Felliniesque

Graffiti • The Grand Tour • Gelato, Ambrosia of the Boot • Gianduia, Grown-up Nutella • The Greek Soul of Sicily • Giotto, Master of Emotion • Girasole

Human Chess Game • Hand Gestures • High Heels • The Harry Behind Harry’s Bar • The Four Horses of the Basilica • Hall of the Hunt • Head of the Moor

Inner Italian • Illusionist Magic • Isabella D • Ippolito’s Golden Apple • Ignudi, not a Gnudi

J ~ K
Jazz • Jeans of Genoa • Sangiovese by Jove • Jewel Box of the Adriatic • Kabbalah and the Pope’s Ceiling

Leone • The Laocoon • Latin • La Bella Lingua • La Bella Figura • Limone • Livia’s Painted Garden • Le Vite • La Dolce Vita

Mapping Eternity • Magi Chapel • Mezzogiorno • Margherita, Queen of Pearls and Pizza • Marinara • Murano, Island of Glass • The Many Faces of Venice • Marcello

Nutella • Nativity Scenes • The Italian Navy • Norman Arab Sicily • Nepotism’s Legacy • Nero’s Golden House

Viva Oliva! • Ovid’s Transformations • Gli Occhiali de Sole • Oculus, Gateway to Heaven • Orphans of the Ospedale

Primavera Springs Eternal • Paparazzi • Patron Saint of Chefs and … Comedians? • This Little Piggy came from Parma • Pecorino, Cheese and Wine • Peggy’s Palazzo • Ponte Vecchio’s Surprise Savior • Plague Doctor • Pliny the Elder, Storyteller of the World

Q ~ R
The Queen Who Refined the French • Renaissance Man • Rock Star of the Renaissance • Rocks of Capo Testa • Relics, Rest in Pieces • Rocco, Patron Saint of Dogs and More • Running of the Saints • Rome’s Decorator • Ridotto “Royale”

Sympathy for the Borgia • Strangled Priest • Sins of the Father • Shakespeare in Amore • La Serenissma • The Salute • Snow in August • The First Snowball Fight • Scent of a Truffle

Trulli, Hobbit Houses of Puglia • Trevi • Tiberius’s Swimming Pool • Terrace of Infinity • Tears of Christ • Tempest in a Tiramisu Cup • Torri Saracene • Tuscan Tarot Fantasy

Ugly but Good • Uccello’s Battle • UNESCO Bonanza • Unswept Away

Venus’ Navel • Venice’s Venus • Little Venice & Vespucci • The Vespa • Vesuvius • Vitruvius, the Man • Vin Santo e Biscotti • Volare

Where the Wild Boar Roam • The Wolf Whisperer • Word-Playing with Your Food • Windmills of Sicily • The Wonder of the World

X ~ Z
You Say Xitomati and I Say Xitomatho • Za’Faran, From Persia with Love • Zin’s Twin? • Zecchino • Zucarri Mostri Mashup • The Zanni

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for La Dolce Vita University

The title—La Dolce Vita University—captures the great virtues of this reader-friendly book perfectly: it’s delicious and educational at the same time, which each virtue reinforcing the other. Dulce blended with utile, as the great ancient Roman poet Horace recommended.
This book sustains that combination masterfully. It’s is a complete delight to read, but (as a professor of Renaissance literature for many decades) I’m happy to report that the authors know their stuff. The research is careful and the analysis is intelligent and witty. I learned amazing new things about dozens of topics – Artemisia, Burano, Casanova, Dante, and onward through the alphabet to zanni. La Dolce Vita University also seasons lots of popular myths with just the right number of grains of salt. It’s written in prose as clear, bright, crisp, and lively as a spring morning in the Dolomites. Add to that graceful but also playful prose, the talent of skilled story-tellers, and it’s no wonder that the entries stay so fascinating.

La Dolce Vita University makes me crave a return to Italy, and helps me daydream that I’m already there. Like an ideal platter of antipasti, it’s made of deliciously varied bites you can pick your way through. If you want – or want to give a friend – an appetizer that will rouse up a hunger for the glory and festivity of that wonderful place and its’ no less wonderful culture, this book is perfect.

—Robert N. Watson, PhD.

Distinguished Professor of English, Associate Vice-Provost for Educational Innovation, UCLA

Imagine it as a dessert course of dark chocolates, filled with exotic fruits and nuts, packed with her parents' knowledge and love of history and art, her grandmother's epithets, and her own wisdom and wit, Italian, American, global. The chocolates are alphabetically listed, described and presented beautifully, and offered as something to dip into as you wish. You open it, choose the one you think you will like best, then another, and another. Suddenly it’s gone. Because Carla wears her scholarship lightly, you don't feel over full, but what a feast!

—Denise Scott Brown FAIA, Int. FRIBA and Robert Venturi FAIA, Int. FRIBA

Excellent! Bravissima! Delightfully informative, a book to enrich any reader’s life with a greater appreciation of Italian culture—even in everyday experiences here at home, from visiting an art museum to dining in a local Italian restaurant, or from cooking for friends and family to the usage of common expressions and words. Not to mention, it might just inspire you to hop on a plane!

—Commendatore Professor Carlo Sclafani

SUNY Distinguished Professor and Former Chairperson of the Modern Languages Department at Westchester Community College

Carla is the consummate Italian. Mille grazie for sharing your extensive knowledge, insights and fascinating little-known backstories with such affection and humor!

—Joan Tucci

Author, The Tucci Cookbook

An enlightening, entertaining guide to the history behind so much of what we love about Italian cuisine and culture. As a chef and cooking enthusiast I enjoyed the variety of information and perspective on the Italian and Sicilian culture. From antiquity to today, reading this special history written with color and style is a pure joy for the food aficionado and any lover of Italy. You won’t want to miss reading through any part of this book.

—Chef Bert Cutino, CEC, AAC, HOF, WCMC

Co-Founder/COO, The Sardine Factory Restaurant, Cannery Row, Monterey, CA

La Dolce Vita University is an authentic full immersion in Italian culture, history, art, traditions and more. Fun, funny and informative. Brava!

—Cristiano Bonino

Founder, Food, Stories, Trave1

An obvious love of all things Italian is evident in every essay of this quirky, delicious, and absolutely delightful book. From A to Z topics are peppered with insights, memories, fun factoids and the intrigues of history. Whether you are a seasoned globetrotter or an armchair-traveler, La Dolce Vita University will inspire you to dig deeper into the magic and allure of Italia.

—Tara Coniaris

Secretary, Board of Trustees at Katonah Museum of Art

The enthusiasm that Carla brings to her work is unmistakable and contagious. La Dolce Vita University merits many “students” and readers who share a passion for Italy.

—Comm. Stefano Acunto

Hon. Vice Consul, Republic of Italy

I believe that most rewarding travel experiences are those that engage the senses and enrich you emotionally and intellectually. Reading La Dolce Vita University is a great armchair vacation that captures the essence of Italy. This is the one book to read before visiting Italy – or to put you in the mood for your next one.

—Lauren Hefferon

Founder & Director

Ciclismo Classico and Travel Vision Journeys


Author's Note

The mini-essays that follow each treat a topic that I found surprising, intriguing, quirky, fun, or some combination of those qualities. Collectively they begin to express what I find so endlessly captivating about “the Boot.”

Their organization appears as alphabetical. But nothing is ever quite that straightforward when it comes to Italy. Even if you choose to read these mini-essays sequentially you may very well feel as though you’re wandering the mysterious alleys of a medieval town, the hidden viccoli of a larger city or even along the serpentine canals of La Serenissima. Unexpected connections emerge and fresh discoveries await around each corner. Or perhaps you’ll choose to dip in and out of this volume at random. Either way, just relax—you’re in Italia!—and enjoy the passeggiata. It will lead you to new insights and marvelous revelations, as it has, on my own journey, for me.

Readers who are planning to visit a specific Italian city or region may wish to consult the special Traveler's Index at the end.

Italy is a glorious and fascinating mosaic. Consider the following passages just a few of its glittering tesserae.



By Carla Gambescia

I've been writing this book my entire life … though I only realized it a few years ago.

My earliest sense of myself was not just that I was a little girl but that I was Italian. This made me feel special. I don't know why I felt this, but I did. As it happens I wasn't born in Italy, and Italian was spoken only rarely in our household by my father and grandmother and occasionally by visiting relatives.

Three of my four grandparents immigrated at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and my parents came of age during the Depression. A favorite family story was that when my father was courting my mother, he once gave blood for a small payment so he could buy her a Coke. He graduated from medical school, they married, war was declared, and my father joined the Navy. Like so many Italian-Americans, my father was eager to defend the country of his birth. (During the war his troop ship participated in the invasion of Sicily.) After the war family life resumed, and eleven years later I made my grand entrance. My parents were fiercely proud of being Americans, but within the family there was also tremendous pride in our Italian heritage. Both my parents imparted this to me in ways that were more than just a “feeling.” I learned to appreciate being Italian through the lenses of their personal interests and passions.

Every Sunday after church, my father gave me my Italian lessons. Lessons always began with words and pronunciation but inevitably lead to what I loved best, stories—the stories of my father’s favorite Italian geniuses throughout Italy’s history, beginning with the Romans. Daddy admired Julius Caesar and was named for him: Pasquale Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar had been captured by pirates when he was a teenager, crossed a famous river, and triumphally returned to Rome as one of the most brilliant military leaders who ever lived. I had several favorite stories: the story of Galileo dropping a big ball and a little ball off the Leaning Tower in Pisa; of Mr. Vivaldi teaching young orphan girls to sing and play violin in Venice; of Michelangelo painting the great ceiling upside down all by himself; and a sad story of Dante who couldn't marry Beatrice, the girl of his dreams, but who instead wrote the greatest love story in the world, dedicated to her. Like all children I loved to hear my favorite stories over and over, and they imprinted on me just like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.

My mother much preferred art to history and loved Italian Renaissance art in particular. She had several big beautiful books of paintings which we would often look at together. By the age of seven, I could reliably identify a Raphael from Michelangelo or a Botticelli from a Titian, and began forming my own artistic opinions. My parents are very proud of my precocious skill which I was called upon to display for relatives, all of whom were naturally impressed! But I can also remember feeling frustrated with Mom’s love of Madonna and Child scenes, especially during the Christmas season. I would beg her to choose a family Christmas card with Santa Claus, Frosty or, better yet, Rudolf—yet she would not relent and stuck with her beloved Madonnas or a Holy Family, even on the postage stamps! One year she selected a card with Raphael's Madonna Della Seggiola which caused me to impertinently ask why the baby Jesus was so chubby. There was no critiquing Raphael, her very favorite artist. When I was eight we all traveled to Italy and visited the Vatican Museum; my mother was so moved by Raphael’s Transfiguration she wept.

My father died prematurely three years later. By that time I had outgrown his storytelling, but I can still remember those stories almost word for word. My mother lived a long life, and art and painting and applied arts—not just by great Italians—always filled her with wonder, and she passed that passion on to me.

I passed through my teen years and young adulthood with the typical detachment young people can have from their childhood. Italy receded into the background as I built a career in advertising and marketing while also traveling widely across six continents for work and play.

Then in 1995 I signed up for a cycling trip in Sicily with a boutique travel company specializing in “authentic” Italy with native guides. A magical thing happened: I rediscovered my roots and I fell deeply in love with the land of my ancestors. Following that fateful trip, I took dozens more (eleven by bike) exploring the cities and the countryside in every region, seeing Italy in summer and winter and spring and fall, and delighting in the richness of its cultural gifts. In 2007, while a consultant to the Ciao Bella Gelato company, I co-created and co-led a unique tour dubbed the Giro del Gelato which went on to be awarded “Best Trip in Western Europe” by Outside Magazine.

But that original “Bella Sicilia” tour was life-changing, and that is no exaggeration. As a result, I resolved to open an Italian-inspired restaurant, not because I was a foodie—though I love food!—but because I wanted to create a place through which my guests could feel they too were “there” even when they were still “here.” About 12 years later I made that dream a reality and operated a very special restaurant for nearly a decade. It was called Via Vanti! (a contraction of via and avanti for “the way forward”) and was very popular, not just because its food was delicioso—we were a top Zagat®-rated restaurant for years—but because of the experience we created for our guests. We transformed the interior of a landmark train station into a veritable jewel box decorated with colorful Murano light fixtures, a Carrera marble bar, and assorted Venetian design motifs. Patrons were greeted with a dazzling gelato case offering 18 award-winning flavors daily. I took on the role of both Culinary and Cultural Director and became the impresario of all sorts of special dining events with catchy titles like Carnevale Evening in Venice, Swept Away in Sardinia, Sicilian Summer and Fichi Fantastiche, during which, between courses, I’d share the “backstory” of the food and wine, surprising historical facts about the region, and the like.

I discovered I loved to share with others the things that gave me pleasure, most especially talking about Italy and all things Italian. The restaurant’s food and wine were “portals” though which I could share my stories, stories that I built into the menu and weekly specials. A favorite annual event included our own unique take on New Year’s Eve Neapolitan Plate Tossing based on a quirky “out-with-the-old” custom originating in Naples (yes, we actually threw plates, though the paper variety, out through a window frame positioned on the bar). I enjoyed creating all sorts of “edu-taining” touches and souvenirs for my patrons, including laminated “La Dolce Vita University” fun fact discovery cards and “Parliamo Italiano” vocabulary cards placed at each table, which guests often collected. In addition, I authored a monthly column titled “La Dolce Vita U” for a local newspaper. Frequently I shared my “thesis” with guests that all of us, regardless of ethnicity, possess an Inner Italian—that part of us which is most joyful, spontaneous and expressive. This was invariably met with a knowing smile and unanimous nod of understanding and agreement. La Dolce Vita University began to take on tangible form through the restaurant.

I never imagined I would write a book as I’ve always had difficulty sustaining much of a written narrative, but La Dolce Vita University is different. Its “stories” are shorter than short stories—mini-essays, really, designed to impart surprising or intriguing nuggets that will enrich and enliven your appreciation of all that is Italian, whether you are an armchair or seasoned traveler, a lover of art, food, history, or of any other facet of Italian culture. What I have chosen to write about in La Dolce Vita “U” is what has most captured my imagination, so I have not attempted to be comprehensive or scholarly—just to share my passions.

Special thanks go to Mauro and Claudio, the guides on that fateful cycling tour, for being inspiring catalysts to my own Italian renaissance. Most of all, I shall be always grateful to my sweet and humble parents who cherished me and gave me the confidence to feel that anything is possible. I know they would be so very proud La Dolce Vita University is dedicated to them, and I hope that they would be able to see a small part of themselves in its pages.

I hope you love it too!

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