My TV show ‘When Patrick Met Kylie: A Love (of Food) Story’ came out in Italy this month on National Geographic. I could say “I never dreamed this would happen” but in truth, that’s all I did: I’m an extremely dedicated dreamer. Diets I abandon, boyfriends I have trouble committing to, friends I am hopeless at calling back… but wishing up lovely things and believing they’ll come true – that’s the only time discipline doesn’t elude me.
I don’t think Italians really got the ‘When Harry Met Sally’ reference so they renamed the show ‘Italia Dolce Vita’ over here. Ironically, it would appear that even the Italians are in search of that elusive ‘sweet life’. Amanda Ruggeri, a very talented friend and journalist, wrote a provocative post on the enigma of ‘la dolce vita’ and the unspoken truth that most Italians don’t actually live as well as many of us expats or tourists, who spend our time in the visually decadent centro storico of this city. It’s a complete cultural reversal as Italian viewers are now all writing to me, the Anglo-saxon, asking how to live the life that they unwittingly sold to me in the first place.
Much as Amanda concludes, whether you are a practising dolce vita-ist or not, I maintain that a version of this cinematic beauty exists, and for me, never more so than this month. It’s so surreal to think that after all this time of longing and striving to become a part of Italy, finally all of it is encapsulated in one dream broadcast on national television… well, at least in the homes of those who can afford Sky.
It felt like a fairytale to think back to when I was a naive girl visiting Rome on a late spring holiday and fantasizing about merely renting an apartment here. I had been invited to Rome by Bulgari for a beautiful party in Castel Sant Angelo. I was staying in a hotel on Via Giulia and I remember waking early, emerging out onto the cobblestone street and wandering as if in a trance through this movie set that I’d only ever seen in Bertolucci films. A girl on a bicycle glided past me, a breath of flowing cotton and loose hair. How I lusted for her look of nonchalance, how I yearned to be her, off to buy something as banal as toothpaste at Despar, because she was lucky enough to call this city her home. And so I decided to leave a rewarding career, a creative country and one of the best boyfriends a girl could ever hope for and try with all my heart to attempt the foolish: make a holiday last forever and what’s more, find the added intimacy of becoming a local and riding as that girl did, as though she were a part of Rome and not merely some ill-fitting stepsister trying to squeeze into a shoe destined for Cinderella. Now when people ask me whether my show is airing in my home town, instinctively I reply: “Why yes, it’s on air in Rome this month.” And my cheesy but heartfelt story will be airing everywhere from China to Canada to Switzerland convincing more fools like me that Italians do it better, whether they believe so or not.
I haven’t actually seen the show in Italy as I don’t own a television and I’ve been in London selling the series to a British network. And yet just seeing the show in the TV guide in Italian gave me this tremendous feeling of triumph. Somehow I romanticized that TV guide listing and told myself it meant I was one step closer to making a real life here, to being less of an outsider. Today as I’m awaiting an interview (in Italian!) with Conde Nast Traveller I realise that this hasn’t really happened overnight at all, that perhaps in any other country I would have given up.
As anyone who has ever tried to create a business or career in Italy will attest, there are countless moments in which you think – damn, it would just be easier if I gave up and went home, why am I making things harder for myself?! Nepotism, the language barrier, the languid way in which things are executed… but then when you do make something work in a foreign country there is this tingling childish joy, like a word of flattery from an unattainable crush that convinces you it’s worth the struggle, despite his exasperating behaviour and the niggling suspicion that you might not even understand who he is.
I was so nervous about the criticism I might receive from Italian viewers. While I tried to preface everything with the admission that I am no expert, at the end of the day I produced a show commenting on how they live and eat AND cooking my own recipes, which are a slight departure from the beloved classics. Even the most diplomatic Italians will still have a good argument with you regarding their recipes. Surprisingly, they’ve been so kind… or perhaps I just haven’t searched the blogosphere hard enough. 😉
Anyway, apologies for being even more self-indulgent than usual. I guess my point is, if you’re on holiday this summer and you’re wondering whether a lover, a whim or a passion could last beyond your two-week vacation… I say that if you’re prepared to wait, to save, to work, to wish and to take a leap, then sometimes you really can live a never-ending Roman Holiday.
As I am, “that girl” who thinks everything happens for a reason, finding this post today was seemingly from The Divine. Having recently moved to Rome, I am finding that learning a new language and seeing my new home with whimsical delight; is not always a day to day reality. So, today I felt I needed a bit of convincing that the dolce vita exists and found your recent post. This part literally brought tears to my eyes,”As anyone who has ever tried to create a business or career in Italy will attest, there are countless moments in which you think – damn, it would just be easier if I gave up and went home, why am I making things harder for myself?! Nepotism, the language barrier, the languid way in which things are executed… but then when you do make something work in a foreign country there is this tingling childish joy, like a word of flattery from an unattainable crush that convinces you it’s worth the struggle, despite his exasperating behavior and the niggling suspicion that you might not even understand who he is”. There are people who you never even meet, but can say something that changes an entire perspective. Your post was not overindulgent at all and in the case that no one else comments on this article, I just wanted to thank you for helping to reiterate why I came here to begin with…
All the best to you! You have earned it. The people who matter and who you truly touch in life will display that sentiment with ease. Just a side note of my own experience.
Nicole!!! I cannot tell you how happy your message made me! I think that as expats in Italy we’re often told by friends and family back home how lucky we are to live here. This makes one slightly guilty about ever complaining or admitting that not every day is blissfully romantic. While living in this city has brought me more joy than ever, I believe it’s equally important to share our frustrations so that fellow foreigners know it’s worth the struggle. I remember going to dinner parties and feeling completely alienated by being the mute who couldn’t speak Italian. In the beginning I also spent days walking the streets alone and wondering how to even make friends in a foreign city when Roman social circles are incredibly tight and seem to have been formed at birth. And until you’ve been on the phone begging to be paid for a job you completed a year ago only to be told “ma questo e’ normale in Italia”, you haven’t really experienced real life here. That said, I held out, I didn’t pack up and leave, I used those months of being a social failure to study the language and gradually everything got easier. I promise you, one day you will wake up and feel that this is truly your home and laugh about how much you struggled in the beginning. Good luck with your own journey. Thank you again for your generous praise.
All thoughts genuine and thank you again for inspiring and encouraging growth, independence, dreams and a love of life. Falling down a few times is not failure, it is essential to becoming strong and mindful of our purpose. Blessings~
I can relate to your moving to Italy so well as when we moved here we could not speak a word of Italian. Luckily we moved to a small town and our Italian neighbours took us under their wings and helped us find ourselves!! We can now speak the language and know our way around and have made some fantastic Italian and English friends and as you say life here, sometimes is not perfect but its damn close to it!
I’m glad you agree Marina! Expats who don’t try to learn the language really don’t know how much they’re missing, do they? You can get by easily in Italy with just English but once you speak Italian people open up to you like you were family. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Your quote about sharing the frustration is going to be my quote of the week on my blog! Burnt by the Tuscan Sun — let’s call it the antithesis of your beautiful, awe-inspiring work…
I’ve been in Italy nearly 23 years and not a day goes by that isn’t just pinch-yourself wonderful – from the tire guy who brings me my daily paper, to the animated conversations at the dog park, to passing by the Colosseum…
But, I felt it was my duty to let people know that Italy is not all ‘Dolce Vita’ – which, no one realizes anymore, was used ironically by Fellini…!
Thank you both for all the enthusiasm you share & I cannot wait to try out some of your recipes!!!
Burnt by the Tuscan Sun – A User’s Manual to Life in Italy
Thanks so much for your comment Francesca – I must have missed the alert and only just read it today. I’ll have to check out your blog. It is funny how Fellini’s film has ended up being completely misinterpreted. In spite of the ubiquity of that phrase ‘la dolce vita’, I find that few have actually seen the film and fewer realise the title was intended to be ironic. I studied Italian Neo-Realist Cinema at university and I do have to say that perhaps this was what convinced me of how unique Italy is. Although all the films from this period deal with alienation and despair, Italian directors manage to imbue the narrative and the cinematography with a certain beauty that left me feeling emotionally and intellectually full and hopeful.
This said, even with all the beauty in this country, both secret and self-evident, every foreigner needs help adjusting to life here so I can imagine your manual would be a godsend!
Hi. I was wondering if you could give us a link to your show. I would like to see it. And yes, you are lucky to be there. I’m one of those who want to be there this coming April 27. 🙂