Italy . . . A Dream Come True


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?

Joyce Heitler’s Inner Italian

By Joyce Heitler, guest writer

Joyce Heitler in the southern hill town of Piciotta.

Joyce Heitler in the southern hill town of Pisciotta.

Retired from teaching kindergarten in Chicago after 45 years, I, too, have an Inner Italian.

My husband Frank and I went to Italy about 11 years ago with my son- in-law Renato, who was born in Italy, to see his sick uncle in Tuscany. The uncle lived in a beautiful four-story castle with antique furniture.

We decided to learn Italian so Frank looked up schools on the Internet and found a small language school in Pisciotta, about one hour south of Salerno. The photos looked fabulous and we signed up for a three-week total immersion class. After one week, I fell in love with Pisciotta and the people. Being the impulsive person that I am, I decided to buy an apartment there.

Not many apartments were available for sale so when I went to church I prayed that I would find a place. When I left church, a man, who had heard us speaking English, approached us. His name was Agnello, named after the patron saint of Pisciotta. He had worked in New York for 12 years and then moved back to Pisciotta. I asked him if he knew of anyone who had a house for sale and he said, “Yes, me.”

Read more about Joyce's Inner Italian

The Inner Italian Q & A: Lenora Spatafore Boyle

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

Lenora Spatafore Boyle

Lenora Spatafore Boyle has worked as a Speaker, Life Coach, Option Method Mentor, and Workshop Leader for the past 20 years. Every September, she leads the Italy Retreat for Women to live la dolce vita on the Italian Riviera and Tuscany. She grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in West Virginia surrounded by 34 first cousins. Married to an Italian-American, she is the mother of two adult children. She blogs at Italy Retreat for Women and Be Happy Life Coach.

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Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a good lifestyle or the best lifestyle? Why?
A: It’s the best lifestyle. In the DNA of those who live in Italy, even though there are troubles and challenges, they know how to enjoy the moments in a day.

In Italy, you experience the best life has to offer. You soar beyond the ordinary and there are always surprises: Like finding the local chefs cooking in the street one night, followed by a parade and dancing in the street. The flavors of Italy imprint indelible memories into your heart. The fragrance of pesto or tomato sauce, the sweetness of lemon trees, grapes, basil and other herbs fills the air. You can taste the fresh mountain air or the salty air of the Mediterranean. Air so fresh, like a new morning after a rain.

In Italy, your heart opens, mind expands, freed from too many ‘shoulds.’

Q: Where are you from in Italy?
A: My four Italian grandparents are from Calabria in Southern Italy. My two children and I have our dual citizenship with Italy, and have U.S. and E.U. passports.

Q: What does “living Italian” in the U.S. mean to you?
A: Living Italian is living la dolce vita, “the sweet life.” This is all about enjoying an enriched life and living a happier life. It is going on adventures, making life at home sweeter, having fun with friends and family, cooking together, walking together, learning together—all in the spirit of la dolce vita. ‘Living Italian’ is transforming. Cooking Italian food together with family and friends, with some Bocelli or other Italian music in the background, drinking a red wine, and sitting and eating together, is the best way to “live Italian” in the US.

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The Inner Italian Q & A: Linda Dini Jenkins

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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