Barbara Conelli on All Things Dolce
Who hasn’t dreamed of living la dolce vita in some achingly quaint corner of Italy? Italophile Barbara Conelli is one of those rare “artists of life” with a knack for finding sweetness wherever she goes.
A bestselling author, seasoned travel writer specializing in Italy, and acclaimed radio hostess, Barb is a born nomad and globetrotter fluent in eight languages. Blessed with preternatural enthusiasm and stamina, she loves sharing her travel adventures with her readers and listeners. In her delightful Chique travel books filled with Italian passion, Barb invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their dolce vita no matter where they are in the world. Welcome, Barb!
Your new book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, is cresting the heights at Amazon. I must admit that I began the book expecting titillating vignettes of love and romance, Italian style. But you approach dolce amore quite differently. What is your new book about?
It is about love of life, and about falling in love with the daily, ordinary, yet unique and magical life, which is the art that Italians have mastered. In Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, the city of Milan becomes your lover who invites you to dance the eternal dance of secret corners, intoxicating smells and beautiful sights. You become the star of its streets, discovering its most magical mysteries: the gardens, the houses, the food, the artists, the people and their stories. Milan is the city where you can dream your big dreams and the city that makes them come true for you. And my intention is to take my readers with me and guide them through this marvelous, wondrous city adventure. Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore is a travel book with a chique twist.
How did your love affair with Milan begin? What fires and sustains it?
My Grandma Lily was born in Milan, and although my family is multicultural, the Italian influence has always been dominant. Grandma taught me to love the language, the people, the sunshine and the sea breeze, the traditions and the quirks. Milan became my home away from home, and although I love Italy as a whole, Milan has a special place in my heart. As I say in my previous book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita: “My repeated encounters with Milan are ardent, thrilling, exciting, and unique every single time. Its streets are full of old loves, present loves, and the expectation of future loves. In its shadows there is laughter, joy, delight, and emotion. Its embrace is passionate and its kisses are endless. Milan is a sensual lover, a devoted friend, and a loving family. It is a city that gives all that is new and good, and takes away all that is old and bad. To put it simply, it is my city. A city where I am always different, yet each time myself, always the same, and yet each time newborn.”
You divide your time between New York and Milan. Does New York inspire passions of its own—and if so, have you written about them? What do you see as the advantages of living a double life?
I love New York – and coincidentally, Milan and New York share more than you’d think. Milan has always looked up to New York (as well as to London and Paris) in many ways, like a brash disciple striving to surpass the master. Milan is an adorable brat you can’t help falling in love with; it is creative, open-minded, free-spirited, laid-back, yet ambitious and hard working—just like New York. It’s funny you should ask me about New York-inspired writing. The last chapter of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore has an open ending, leaving the author on the plane to New York with a mysterious Manhattan date ahead that started in Milan. I’m very tempted to continue the story in New York and show the city through my Italian eyes.
You were kind enough to interview me on your Chique radio show. How did you decide to become a talk show hostess, and how does this role fit within the larger framework of your life as a globetrotter, writer and Italophile?
I founded Chique Show before my first Chique travel book was published, with no specific goal in mind. At the beginning, it was just something I enjoyed doing and another platform to spread the word about my books. Somehow (as it usually happens when you do something just for fun), it started to grow and has been growing ever since. Today we have more than ten thousand listeners, and I’m getting ready to re-launch the show as a fully professional, branded show, maybe even network. I’ve met so many wonderful people through the radio and have made so many precious friends. Chique Show has been an amazing connector, and a source of great fun and joy.
You reviewed my novel You, Fascinating You, much of which takes place in Milan. My protagonist dreamed of dancing at the world-famous opera house, La Scala. You, too, have entertained fantasies regarding La Scala—and realized them, to some extent. Care to share?
I have two stories about La Scala in my books, one in Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, and one in Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore. La Scala is a magical place, and it has played a magical role in my life. My personal experiences with the theater are enchanting and miraculous. And one of them has a lot to do with my passion for dance. I love dancing; I love learning it, I love doing it, and in many ways, dance is a powerful metaphor that expresses the beauty of life. I always tell my readers to dance with life and enjoy every step. I’m a big fan and admirer of ballet. I used to think that ballet was only for those extraordinarily talented, fragile nymphs who danced before they learned to walk, but I was wrong. In Milan, I had a chance to take ballet classes with Annamaria Bruno and her daughter Liliana. Annamaria, a famous prima ballerina who started her career at La Scala and danced on leading European stages, founded the very first Milanese private ballet school for talented children, and fortunately for me, also for not-so-talented adult women who long to become ballerinas at least for one day. They made my childhood dream come true. I still do ballet at home every now and then, enjoying the lovely basics they taught me. Being able to close your eyes, do a pirouette and for a little while imagine the passionate applause at La Scala is exciting, romantic, and it gets me every single time.
Some people seem to live larger than others, to pack more enjoyment into their days, to savor what others miss. You are such a person. Is this a congenital condition or a discipline? Can anyone live a life of dolce amore?
My Dad was an incurable optimist and bon vivant. My Mum is an incurable pessimist and closet dreamer. They had a very happy marriage and a daughter who got the best and the worst of both worlds, pondered them respectfully, and then decided to bow out of the drama and do it her way. My parents raised me to love faraway journeys, gave me an open mind to discover new worlds, and taught me to respect the people who create these worlds. They also gave me the freedom to create my own adventure, courageously and fearlessly, and that’s what I do. I’m grateful for all the challenges, obstacles, tears and pains I have experienced in my life, because thanks to them I’m wiser and stronger. I believe that life is magical and unlimited, and you can truly do, be and have everything you desire: that’s why you were born. Every morning I wake up and give thanks for the gift of yet another day, yet another breath, yet another ray of light, yet another chance to love, laugh, see, explore, learn and understand. I am stubbornly happy and I refuse to change that (and yes, it does get on other people’s nerves). I insist on making my dreams come true, all of them, every single day. It’s a very Italian way of life that’s quite easy to adopt once you understand that happiness is a choice that’s made every morning when you open your eyes and then every minute of your day. To me, life is not about the things you accumulate; it’s about the experiences you collect and the adventures you savor. It’s art. It’s a delicious dance. And it’s happening right now.
What is your idea of a perfect day? Where and how would you spend it?
To me, every day is perfect; it’s just that some days are more perfect than others. My perfect day actually starts with a good night’s sleep and plenty of time on my hands in the morning. I wake up early, do my morning yoga and meditation, and enjoy a long, sunlit walk with my beagle. We stop at my favorite café for a cup of cappuccino and a crispy croissant, and then we go home so that Mr. Brinkley can sleep and I can write. I have a peaceful lunch in my garden, take a nap, and then write some more, although I may also play a few rounds of golf instead. In the evening, I have dinner at my favorite restaurant with my closest friends, walk home enjoying the night vibe of the city, and read a good book before I fall asleep. This can happen in any of the cities that I love. Give me sunshine, beauty, good food and amazing people, and I’m a happy camper.
I’m writing my next Chique travel book about Rome, and I have also returned to my novel with the intention of finishing it—cross my heart! It’s been sitting on my desk for too long. I love travel writing because it allows me to observe and share real life, but I dabble in fiction and writing this novel is a dream whose time has come. As I’m answering your questions, I’m looking at my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote on my desk. She said: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” That’s what I live by. You have one life. Live it well. It’s worth it.
Find out more about Barb and her books: http://www.barbaraconelli.com
Visit Barb’s blog: http://barbaraconelliblog.com
Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore: http://tinyurl.com/
Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita: http://tinyurl.com/