Come travel with La Dolce Vita University (L◆D◆V◆U) to the heart of Italian culture in the seductive spirit of la dolce vita. Like a box of Italian sweets, L◆D◆V◆U is the perfect sampler to indulge anyone curious about—or already in amore with—Italy and its remarkably rich trove of cultural treasures. In dozens of entertaining yet authoritative mini-essays, L◆D◆V◆U lets you explore, at your leisure and pleasure, fascinating aspects of Italy’s cuisine, history, art, traditions, style, legendary personalities, and so much more. Even the most sophisticated Italophile will discover dazzling new facts and illuminating new insights in these pages. Charmingly illustrated, La Dolce Vita University brings Italy to life with wit, exuberance and joy—a celebration of why we love Italy.
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 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-lead 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 which 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 Insider’s 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.
Lannie Hart is also a sculptor/painter. She sculpts in mixed media. Her work explores how women are perceived by society and portrayed in myth and legend. Her sculptures are created in a representational, yet surreal style that are paradoxically empowered and beautiful while also exposed or distorted, challenging convention. Hart’s paintings evoke the same emotions in oil on canvas. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums: lanniehart.com
Michael Stein was already a journalist at the age of sixteen, when his high school newspaper articles covering Woodstock and the Vietnam Moratorium were reprinted citywide. A Yale University and NYU Film School graduate, he became a story editor and television writer for shows like Miami Vice and Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a journalist, Mr. Stein wrote on culture, travel, film, restaurants, and music for The Los Angeles Times, Films in Review in New York, the Elks Magazine in Chicago, and Maui No Ka Oi Magazine. Mr. Stein’s novels include Continuous Trama, a legal thriller set in L.A., and Cats’ Eyes, set in the New York of the ‘60s; Fifty Years Ago Today: The Sixties Then and Now, a collection of essays, is Mr. Stein’s nonfiction exploration of that era and its links to the present day. streetlightbooks.com
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, with each virtue reinforcing the other.
This book sustains that combination masterfully. It 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. 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 storytellers, 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.”
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.”
La Dolce Vita University is an authentic full immersion in Italian culture, history, art, traditions, and more. Fun, funny, and informative. Brava!”
Imagine it as a dessert course of dark chocolates, filled with exotic fruits and nuts, packed knowledge and love of history and art 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!”
For someone who is of Italian heritage and anyone who loves Italian food, wine, and culture, this is a must read. Loved it!”
Carla is the consummate Italian. Mille grazie for sharing your extensive knowledge, insights and fascinating little-known backstories with such affection and humor!”
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!”
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.”
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.”
L◆D◆V◆U’s 165 mini-essays surprise, intrigue and “edu-tain.” Collectively they begin to express what Carla finds 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 the book sequentially you may very well feel as though you’re wandering the mysterious alleys of a medieval town, the hidden vicoli 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. Italy is a glorious and fascinating mosaic. Consider the following passages just a few of its glittering tesserae.
Readers who are planning to visit a specific Italian city or region may wish to consult the special L◆D◆V◆U Traveler’s Topic Index at the end of the book.
If you thought the bikini was invented by the French after the war (and cleverly named for the Bikini Islands where “explosive” atomic tests were being conducted), think again. There are floor mosaics of athletic women in Sicily, with very well-toned abs, competing in running and weightlifting in what would pass for bikinis on any beach in Europe, and that predates the post-WWII bathing sensation by about seventeen hundred years.
The “Bikini Girls” are perhaps the most astonishing, unexpected, and famous mosaic in the Villa Romana del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina (see “Hall of the Hunt”). When these 4th-century Roman mosaics were made known, to quite a bit of publicity, one hundred years ago, these portraits of stunningly modern-looking young women were originally thought to be a beauty contest. Closer analysis (of what clearly seem to be barbells and a discus) reveals that they most likely depict a kind of montage of female athletes in a competition; in the center is the winner with her trophies of a floral crown and palm scepter.
This interpretation is supported by evidence from the 4th century that it was expected for a wealthy aristocratic Roman woman to participate in sports—these were not Stephen Sondheim’s “ladies who lunch.” The sponsorship of contests of female athletes was clearly an elite pursuit attesting to the elevated status of the owner of the Villa Casale, no doubt one reason for the celebratory mosaic. Also, this sort of garb was for female participation in sport, since Romans swam nude.
Which means that the young women in the mosaic don’t just anticipate the bikinis of the 1950s, but the sports bras and female triathlete gear of the 21st century! Well, Italians have always been “fashion forward.”
The “Inner Italian”—a concept that will have resonance for anyone reading this book regardless of inherited ethnicity—is that part of our nature that most easily falls in love, dreams, and revels in the senses. It is our most expressive, exuberant, spontaneous self—there inside just waiting to be set free.
We associate Italians with being convivial and festive. We’re used to visiting sunny Italy and encountering a host of garrulous, gregarious, and ebullient people. But it’s worth remembering that we also love Italy for its centuries of monumental (especially in Rome) achievements in art, architecture, music, clothing, glassware, not to mention, of course, the cuisine . . . and the list goes on and on.
Still there seems to be a lightness of spirit that’s gone along with these centuries of struggle and labor, and a feeling of celebration of life as the embodiment of the Dionysian (Bacchus in Roman mythology) archetype. Demeter, it was said, put Dionysius, the god of wine, on earth to “lift the care of mortals.” And not just with drunkenness. Dionysius is also the god of divine inspiration, releasing the best in us.
For part of his spell is an acute passionate experience of the presence of life in the present moment, being at one’s most receptive and responsive. Perhaps that, and not just the tendency to speak more honestly when not so inhibited, was what Pliny the Elder meant when he so aptly said “In vino veritas,”—in wine, truth.
To be truly in the moment, open to life, enraptured by it. . . that was captured by another lesser-known Italian sage, Domenico Modugno, in his very Italian song “Volare.” He sang about flying in an endless “blue painted blue” sky of love and art (Marc Chagall, to be specific) to “the heights of the sun” as a soft music played just for him.
Letting yourself go, flying free, as one arranges beautifully words, and art, and life.
We all love and need to travel to Italy, with or without a plane ticket.
Lions had disappeared from what is now considered Western Europe by the time of Christ, half a millennium before the first settlement formed near what is now considered Venice. One might wonder, then, why lions seem to pop up on buildings, flags and countless other surfaces throughout the city.
It all began with a heist.
The year was 828. Two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, made their way to Alexandria, Egypt on a surreptitious mission, their objective to retrieve the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist who had been martyred in that African city seven and a half centuries earlier.
Although Venice possessed the remains of Theodor of Amasea who it claimed as its patron saint, the Adriatic city was by then well on its way to becoming a commercial and territorial world power, fully deserving of a patron saint of sufficient status to affirm its rightful standing before God as well as man. In a sense, snagging an evangelist’s bones was like securing ecclesiastical plutonium: one instantly became a member of “the nuclear club” (along with, say, Rome, which boasted the primo apostle Peter) in first millennium terms.
The two Venetians had willing accomplices: priests from the church of St. Mark in Alexandria who feared for the saint’s remains from the ruling Saracens. Thus the heist was in part an inside job. Employing an ingenious gambit, the merchants were able to smuggle Saint Mark’s body past Muslim guards at the port of Alexandria and out of the country by wrapping it in a layer of pork and cabbage; the guards recoiled at the porcine cargo and readily let it pass.
When St. Mark’s body (sans head, as it happens) arrived in Venice, it immediately supplanted the remains of St. Theodor in the doge’s private chapel, and work began almost immediately on sumptiousand grand basilica— also a property of the doge, but open to citizens of the Republic—that would serve as a more suitable setting for such a prize possession. (Back in Alexandria, St. Mark’s remains had been replaced by a lesser known martyr, St. Claudia, so something of a slow motion “three-saint monte” had just played out across two continents.)
The ubiquitous lion of Venice is in fact the winged lion symbol of St. Mark (established in the Apocalypse of St. John 4:7), the patron saint to which the rising Venetian Republic had traded up.
La Serenissima gained a high octane saint and the ruling caliphate in Alexandria lost a strategic asset, if only for blackmail purposes. Had the Muslim port guards only known of Homer’s Odyssey they might have been better prepared: Beware of Venetians importing pork.
The experience of gelato in Italy is a revelation. As in so many of their native products, Italians seem to achieve something bordering on magical with this dessert.
The word “gelato” is derived from the Latin for “frozen,” but that does not remotely begin to capture its essence. Those who know both gelato and American ice cream tend to equate the two, but it’s truly “different in kind” from its American counterpart.
For starters, in warm weather months gelato is ubiquitous throughout the Boot, which is not necessarily good, but in this case, it is. In every village, town, and city you will find dazzling displays of colorful flavors swirled into creamy peaks garnished artistically with fresh fruit and nuts, which create curiosity and wake up your appetite even if you have none (so often eyes tell the stomach what to think). Most gelato cases are filled with a plethora of flavors, usually no less than twenty, some of which you may have never had before or even imagined. Many proprietors, especially in a busy place, are not much for letting you sample, but you can get multiple flavors in a cup, and you can have gelato more than once a day. Still nothing quite prepares you for that first experience on your palate (and being reminded of “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”… or, in other words “I’ll have what she’s having”). The differences come down to both texture and flavor. Typical American ice cream is whipped at high speed with air, something it sometimes contains by as much as 60 percent, while gelato contains very little. You’ll notice as soon as gelato touches your tongue that it’s exceptionally creamy.
Fat conscious? Don’t fret; creamy richness does not equate to fat grams! The intense “true” flavor you experience when you sample well-made gelato is a result of the significantly lower fat content (up to 50 percent). Extra fat serves to coat your tongue and mask your taste buds’ ability to more directly experience the true flavors from the finest ingredients. So in the case of gelato less fat means more flavor (for many of us, this is perhaps the most important food fact we will ever learn). And much of the gelato served in Italy is held at higher temperatures, softening it and further amplifying the flavor.
Cool refreshing indulgences similar to gelato have a long history dating back to biblical times. Isaac served Abraham a yummy concoction of snow, honey, and goat’s milk: this was referenced as “sherbet.” Around 3000 bce, Chinese emperors began enjoying frozen treats made from snow, fruit, wine, and honey. Later the Chinese introduced their delicacy to Arab traders who then shared their delicious discovery with the Romans and Venetians. Something similar to sorbetto was a favorite of Emperor Nero who sent an army of slaves into the Apennines each year to gather snow that could be stored in caves so that he could enjoy his favorite cool fruity indulgence throughout the year.
It was in late Renaissance Florence that the revolutionary idea of using cow’s milk was first conceived by one of the personal chefs of Caterina de Medici. When Caterina married Henry II of France, she was accompanied by her chefs, who were included as part of her dowry along with their recipes and many other ingredients of modern cuisine. A century later a Sicilian opened a wildly successful café serving gelato on the Left Bank of Paris that is still in business today—Café Procope, at 330 years of age the oldest restaurant in continuous operation in Paris. Remaining more a delicacy of the noble class, these frozen delights spread to England and then made their way to America, where they evolved (devolved?) into ice cream. Gelato, meanwhile, never waned in its hold on Europe and especially Italy. You can find outstanding gelati everywhere on the peninsula (however quality does vary and there is more and more mass production; look for “artiginale” and beware of colors that are too bright and peaks that look too uniform). If you are in search of the Holy Grail of gelato, many suggest Sicily, where most gelateria still make gelato by hand in small batches. In the modest yet dazzling baroque city of Noto on Sicily’s southeastern coast, legions of visitors come to Caffè Sicilia on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in search of its artfully made marmalades, honeys, nougats, pastries, and, above all, gelati. Aficionados describe the store’s fourth-generation owner and chef as a (mad) genius and an alchemist of flavors. They say his fragola sorbetto tastes like the iced cool essence of luscious, sun-ripened strawberries, freshly picked; the chocolate gelato is so dark and rich it is said to be almost a spiritual experience; and that seismic sensations can be brought on by tasting gelato di fior di spezia (spice flower) and gelato di insalata di arance (blood orange salad) flavors, fusions of tastes woven from centuries of cultural history combined in the heavenly experience of true gelato.
Wed June 6, 7 PM, Trivia Challenge Italian Style and book signing, The Ridgefield Library in collaboration with Books on the Common, 472 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 203 438-2282
Sun June 10, 4 PM, Trivia Challenge Italian Style, Book Signing, Wine & Cheese Reception Larchmont Public Library, Larchmont, NY 10538
Fri July 13, 4 PM, Italian Foodie Trivia Challenge presented by La Dolce Vita "U"; test your knowledge, discover fun facts, win prizes; Arthur Avenue Summer Concert Series, East 186th Street and Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
Tue July 17, 7 PM, La Dolce Vita "U" presents Trivial Pursuit Italian-Style -- test your knowledge, discover new fun facts, win prizes, espresso and dolci reception; in collaboration with the Italian American Museum and Capri Ristorante 145 Mulberry Street, NY, NY
Fri July 27, 4 PM, Italian Foodie Trivia Challenge presented by La Dolce Vita "U"; test your knowledge. discover fun facts, win prizes; Arthur Avenue Summer Concert Series, East 186th Street and Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
Sat Aug 10, 4 PM, Dolce Vita "U" presents Trivial Pursuit Italian Style; book signing and vino e formaggio reception; Explore Booksellers, 21 East Main Street, Aspen, CO
Fri Sept 7, 7 PM, Trivia Challenge Italian Style test your knowledge and discover new fun facts; espresso and cannoli reception; Westchester Italian Cultural Center, One Generoso Pope Place, Tuckahoe, NY 10707 - http://wiccny.org/
Thurs May 31, 7 PM The Alchemy of Italy presentation and Book Signing, Warner Library 121 North Broadway, Tarrytown NY 10591
Thurs May 17, 6-8 PM, La Dolce Vita Giro d'Italia ” Spin, Spuntini,Vino, Raffle & Book Signing. Equinox of Armonk
Wed May 23, 7:30 PM Trivia Challenge Italian-Style and Book Signing. Head House Books, 619 South 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA
Wed May 16, 6:30 PM The Alchemy of Italy presentation and book signing, Columbus Citizens Foundation, 8 East 69th Street NY, NY, 10021 http://columbuscitizens.org/events
Mon May 7, 4 PM, The Alchemy of Italy presentation and book signing Bronxville Public Library, 201 Pondfield Road, Bronxville, NY10708
Sat May 5, 6 PM Trivia Challenge Italian-Style, I AM Books, 189 North St. Boston, MA 857 263 7665 https://www.iambooksboston.com/
Thurs May 3, 6:30 Meet the Authors Wine & Cheese, Elm Street Books, 35 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT o6840 http://www.elmstreetbooks.com/
Sat April 28, 4 PM, Triva Challenge Italian Style, Book Passage Corte Madera, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA
Sat April 21, 7:00 PM, Trivia Challenge Italian-Style, Dolphin Books and Cafe, 299 Main Street, Port Washington, NY; Register by phone $5 518 767 2650 .http://thedolphinbookshop.com/index.html
Thurs April 19, 6:30 PM, The Alchemy of Italy presentation and book signing Westchester Italian Cultural Center, One Generoso Pope Place, Tuckahoe, NY 10707 - http://wiccny.org/
Fri April 13, 6:30 – 8:30 PM, Main Line School Night, Creutzburg Center 102, 260 Gulph Creek Rd. Radnor, PA 19087.
Mon April 9, 7-9 PM, Circolo DaVinci at Little Sorrento's RTE 202 in Parkside Mall 3565 Crompond Road, Cortlandt Manor, NY 10567. Dinner and presentation $35 per person.
Mon April 2, 7-10 PM, Sicilian Meet-Up and Cultural Trivia Night, 83 1/3 Restaurant, 345 East 83rd Street, NY, NY
(Pre-launch) Thurs Feb. 22, 6:30 PM, Italian American Museum, 155 Mulberry Street, NY
Use the contact form to reach Carla for any questions and press info