Italy . . . A Dream Come True

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Castello Civitella Ranieri, near Gubbio, is now a foundation for the arts.

By Patricia DeBellis

Italy, for me, has always been a catalyst for my dreams. I was a freshman in high school in California when I met my first foreign-exchange student and from then on my dream was to be a foreign exchange student.

This dream came true when–as an alternate for an American Field Service foreign-exchange summer scholarship (my classmate, Fred, had been picked to go to France)–I was told that an Italian family wanted a student. This was unprecedented.

Our local AFS chapter had never sent two students abroad. But, with the backing of my wonderful teachers and friends who contributed to the “Send Patty to Italy Fund,” off I went to live my dream!

This was only the beginning.

As an adult, my dreams continued to materialize. I was teaching Italian, French, and Spanish languages at Muhlenberg College when one semester I invited my French Civilization students to my house for croissants and cafe au lait.

Language professor Patricia DeBellis (left) savored 15 summers at a fifteenth-century castle in Tuscany.

Language professor Patricia DeBellis (left) savored 15 summers at a fifteenth-century castle in Umbria.

One of the students, Jennifer Downey, noticed a hand-painted ceramic plate in my kitchen. She shrieked with excitement and asked, “Is that a Rampini?” I said I wasn’t sure–I’d chosen it for its medieval knights design.

I wondered how a French major knew of this ceramics maker in Umbria. She explained that a friend had invited her for several summers to visit and stay in a fifteenth century castle not far from the small town where the Rampini family produce their maiolica.

The spring semester was ending and when Jennifer came to my office for part of the final exam, she brought a postcard of the castle and asked if I would like her to ask her friend to invite me and my husband! I gasped in excitement and said: “Is the Pope Polish?”

Jennifer Ursula

Student Jennifer Downey (left) pictured with Castello patron Ursula Corning, made Patricia DeBellis’ Italian dream come true.

In 1982 he was and we were invited!
 Our hostess was Ursula Corning, a delightful, intelligent, multi-lingual British-American who loved people and cats. Jack and I arrived at the fifteenth century Castello Civitella in time to celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary!

The cook, who every day rolled out the pasta on a marble slab, produced a beautiful cake with two entwined hearts. After a Spumante toast, we headed to nearby Gubbio (where the Rampini plate originated) where we attended a candlelight concert in the cloister of the thirteenth century church.

Patrizia Cicitella Road Sign

For Patricia DeBellis, Civitella Ranieri was the road taken.

This was the wonderful beginning of a fifteen-year-long invitation to a magical, artistic and educational summer stay. Is it any wonder that I love Italy?


Where did your Italian dream come true, or, where would you like it to come true?

Scoppio del Carro

Friday, March 29th, 2013
Image credit: Commune di Firenze

Image credit: Commune di Firenze

Back when I lived in Florence, I experienced the spectacle of Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) one fine Easter morning. This centuries-old tradition of is said to have its origins in the Crusades. Thousands now cram Piazza del Duomo for the event.

As the bells peal in Giotto’s bell tower, a rocket in the form of a mechanical colomba (dove), lit by the Archbishop, flies down a wire from the high altar of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) to the 30-foot-tall 500-year-old cart outside, setting off the fireworks between the main door of the Duomo and the Baptistery.

Because it’s daylight, there’s far more smoke than sparkling lights. I just remember being thankful that
no one caught on fire. Spectators crush up really close to the cart to capture images.

Image Credit:

Image credit:

The part I liked most were the chalk-white Chianina oxen with crowns of spring blooms, who pulled the cart through the city streets. Sadly, I don’t have any photos from my viewing so I googled to find some.

I discovered a photo of the Chianina, a perfect crystallization of my recollection of these gentle giants, that led me to an Easter post on My Tuscan Journal, written by Lisa Brancatisano, an Italo-Australian who now lives in Tuscany. Along with a sweet personal report of her father visiting from Melbourne, she shares the tradition of the Scoppio del Carro in words and photos.

Grazie Lisa, e Buona Pasqua a te.

Offering of the Angels

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Treasures of Florence fly to Bucks County on the wings of angels.

Imagine possessing so many gems that there’s no more room in your jewelry case for a flawless gold and radiant-cut diamond necklace. You’re forced to stow it in a box in the attic.

No space, either, for the marquise-cut ruby bracelet. Upstairs it goes.

Those pear-shaped sapphire ear drops set in silver filigree? No spot for them in the case. A shame they’re out of sight.

More Offering of the Angels

Botticelli Comes to Bucks County, PA

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Sandro Botticelli, (Florence 1445-1510), Madonna with Child (Madonna della loggia), circa 1466-1467, oil on panel, Collection of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

By Walter Sanders

So how, you might ask, did the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA manage to snag “Offering of the Angels,”one of the most prestigious exhibitions of the new millennium?

The triumph involves the Association of Museums Conference, an empty bus seat, and a fortuitous question.

Bruce Katsiff, the Director/CEO of the Michener related at the media launch event, at the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia, how a chance meeting with a representative of Florence, Italy-based Contemporanea Progetti led to this exciting exhibit coming to Bucks County.

“There was one empty seat left on a bus going to a special event at the Getty Museum in LA three years ago,” said Katsiff. “I introduced myself to the woman next to me and we talked a little. I eventually learned that she was seeking four U.S. museums to host a spectacular exhibition of Italian art from the Uffizi in Florence. She told me that she had already booked three of the museums.”

“Does the exhibit include a Botticelli?” Katsiff asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

Katsiff jumped at the opportunity and the brilliant result is the Michener hosting the exhibit which will run from April 21 through August 10, 2012. This will be the only venue in the northeastern United States. (Look for a future post about the works in the exhibit after SimpleItaly attends the preview.)

From left, Bruce Katsiff, Director/CEO of the James A. Michener Art Museum, Dottore Luigi Scotto, Italian Consul General, Philadlephia, and Jerry Lepping, Executive Director of Visit Bucks County, announce the "Offering of the Angels" exhibit.

Renaissance Italian art lovers, rejoice! An incredible exhibit and value priced at $15 per ticket which includes the exhibit, an audio tour and parking.

The Inner Italian Q & A: Linda Dini Jenkins

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

One in an occasional series of conversations with those who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.

"La Principessa" in Perugia

Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance travel writer and photographer and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (more later on how to win a free copy!). She also blogs regularly about travel and travel writing at Travel the Write Way and teaches creative writing and journaling. She enjoys taking small groups of friends, to explore what Italy has to offer beyond the Florence-Venice-Rome triumvirate, and she can pack her suitcase in 15 minutes.

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Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a great way to live or the greatest way to live?
A: Well, I think it’s the greatest way to live. When you take into account the slower pace of life (outside the big cities!), the immersion in history and art, the fantastic cuisine, the love of design and music, the respect for taking time out to enjoy the simple things . . . whether it’s Italian or Mediterranean or European, it’s how I want to live.

Q: Why?
A: Are you kidding? Start with the food, the design sensibilities, the language, the arts, the vino, the pausa, the passeggiata . . . need I go on?

Q: When did you discover your Inner Italian? What is your Inner Italian named?
A: I always knew about my Inner Italian but, like other children of first-generation Italian-Americans who desperately wanted to assimilate, “being Italian” was something that just happened and was never really encouraged. In fact, I’d heard stories growing up of how hard it was for my father to be Italian in a New York suburb in the 1930s and ‘40s; even being Italian in my first job in New York in the 1970s was something of a liability. And I was always a little ashamed after that of being part Italian (my mother’s side of the family was English/Irish/German) until I met my husband and he took me to Italy in 2000. Since then, I have been a proud and vocal Italian-American. If my Inner Italian has a name and it needs to be something other than Linda, I suppose it’s Principessa . . .

Q: What does “living Italian” mean to you?
A: My grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1890s and they were anything but rich. So for me, living Italian has to do with cooking and eating together, always having crusty bread and wrinkled olives and green olive oil on the flowered oilcloth-covered table. It means not being afraid to be emotional—even if that involves fists and things flying when you’re angry. It means loving music and feeling the arts very deeply. It means trying to have a sense of style—of la bella figura—even if the clothes or table settings come from Target. And it means being a storyteller and a traveler and something of an adventurer.

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