Q: You write, “I've loved and been in love with Italy my whole life.” What inspired you to write How to Be Italian?
A: Exactly that - my love for Italy. I was born in Australia to Italian parents and so I have grown up immersed in Italian culture and customs. Everything from food to music, language, and even the superstitions!
Living in Italy for the last decade has given me an even more layered understanding of the dynamism, the beauty, the contrasts and contradictions and the pure magic of Italy. It’s the book I’ve always wanted to write: about the things I’ve always known, the things I love, the things I’ve learnt.
Q: What would you say are some of the key attributes of “being Italian”?
A: An innate respect for family, tradition, excellence, and innovation. Being Italian is to be proud of your origins and to live like the Italians encapsulates so many things.
As an ideal, this lifestyle conjures many images: family and friends, the aperitivo and the passeggiata, style and elegance, food and wine. Distilled, it revolves around a few concepts and a whole lot of unwritten rules.
There’s the dolce far niente, which can only be described as the art of being idle. There’s la bella figura, all about comportment and making a good impression. Then there’s sprezzatura, a term coined in the 1500s. In its simplest form, it is the effortless way in which Italians carry themselves. And of course, la dolce vita – the sweet life.
Being Italian is all of these philosophies and so much more.
Q: You write that “not even a pandemic could break the Italian spirit.” What has been the effect of Covid on Italy?
A: Italy has been devastated by the pandemic with many lives and livelihoods lost and billions shaved off the economy. Human touch and demonstrative affection is embedded in the Italian DNA and so the foreign concept of social distancing [was difficult].
There is a strong desire to rebuild and just as it has throughout history, I know it will triumph.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: A deeper understanding of what makes the Italians tick and an appreciation of the beauty and the complexity of Italy. I hope that readers find small ways to bring a little Italian into their own lives.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a series of promotional events for the book in Melbourne across January and February and later in 2022 my first book, I Heart Rome (2017, Smith Street Books), will be relaunched.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb