La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z

Carla Gambescia (Author)


La Dolce Vita University (LDVU) is the perfect sampler for anyone curious about (or already in amore with) Italy and its remarkably rich cultural gifts, both past and present. True to its lighthearted name, La Dolce Vita "U" is all about pleasurable learning, or what we prefer to call "edu-tainment." Its dozens of entertaining yet authoritative mini-essays on a wide assortment of intriguing topics encourage random dipping at the reader's pleasure. Even the most erudite Italophile will discover fun new facts and fascinating new insights in the pages of La Dolce Vita U.

Mini-essays treat specific topics in one or more of the following subject areas: the Italian character; the visual arts (art, artists, architects); the performing arts (music, theater, cinema); history and antiquity; language and literature; cuisine and agriculture; wine and spirits; traditions and festivals; style and applied arts; unique places. In a wink and nod to the book's "academic" identity, the 165 mini-essays are arranged alphabetically and accompanied by charming illustrations throughout. A special traveler's topic index is provided at the end of the book.

Product Details

$19.99  $18.39
Travelers' Tales Guides
Publish Date
March 13, 2018
6.0 X 1.1 X 8.9 inches | 1.05 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

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 and writer 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-led 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 that 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 Unconventional 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.


Praise for La Dolce Vita University

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, which each virtue reinforcing the other. Dulce blended with utile, as the great ancient Roman poet Horace recommended. This book sustains that combination masterfully. It's 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. La Dolce Vita University also seasons lots of popular myths with just the right number of grains of salt. 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 story-tellers, 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.
--Robert N. Watson, PhD

That's Amore by Phil Hall on WagMag Giuseppe Verdi once proclaimed, "You may have the universe if I may have Italy." Carla Gambescia seconds that emotion in her new book "La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z" (Travelers' Tales, Solas House Inc., $19.99, 320 pages). For Gambescia, her first foray into book authorship caps a lifetime's cultural and emotional odyssey. "I grew up in a very Italian household in South Philadelphia," she recalls. "My parents, on the outside, were very American. Privately, they were fervently proud of their roots. My father would tell me stories from Italian history, such as Galileo dropping the ball from Tower of Pisa, and I had Italian lessons." Into her adult life, Gambescia embraced her heritage through entrepreneurial and literary pursuits. She founded and ran the restaurant Via Vanti! from 2008 to 2016 at the Mount Kisco Metro-North station and was co-creator of Giro del Gelato, a bicycling tour of Italy that took travelers along routes in search of the country's celebrated snack. She also wrote an Italian-focused column for a Mount Kisco news service from 2012 to 2013. But when it came to gathering her love and knowledge of Italy into a book, Gambescia realized she had a hurdle to overcome. "As a writer, I cannot really sustain a narrative," she acknowledges. "And I wanted this to be reader-friendly. People like to pick up and put down things and not wonder where they left off." Thus, Gambescia opted to create a skein of mini essays that highlighted the glory, eccentricities and spirit of all things Italian. As a result, "La Dolce Vita University" spans 165 entries that immerse the reader in a kaleidoscope from the greatness of ancient Rome to the ebb and flow of Italian society today. The book's subtitle of an "unconventional guide" is certainly apt, with Gambescia highlighting many uncommon and unexpected aspects of the Italian experience that are missing from most tour books. This includes a celebration of the Italian love of jazz, a consideration of the surplus number of centenarians in Sardinia, praise for the odd-looking cookie brutti ma buoni (translated ugly but good) and a tribute to Rocco, the patron saint of dogs. Italy's influence on the world is also detailed, from an overview of the numerous Shakespeare plays set across the country to beloved pop culture exports, including the tune "Volare" and the classic film "Divorce Italian Style." Given the book's title, there is, of course, also a nod to the great Federico Fellini and the concept of being Felliniesque. Even for the most obvious points of historic interest, Gambescia successfully culls the most wonderfully esoteric aspects of each story. She explains the theory of a Kabbalah influence on Michelangelo's depiction of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, why Italians are famous for using dramatic hand gestures while conversing and offers some long overdue praise for the comically maligned Italian navy. (A Henny Youngman putdown on the fleet -- "Why does the new Italian navy have glass bottom boats? To see the Old Italian Navy" -- is cited as example of the navy's mythic unseaworthiness.) Gambescia happily noted that she had a wealth of material to choose from. "A country could feel really good if it had one golden age," she says. "Italy has had three golden ages -- ancient Rome, the Renaissance and the third golden age that is happening right now. Italians, more than any other people, know how to be in the moment and live. Italy keeps being able to reinvent itself." One thing that is missing from Gambescia's book are photographs of her subjects. Artist Lanie Hart has laced the book with generous helpings of delicate illustrations and the author stated that she preferred this approach, because putting a photographic component to the text was problematic. "It was originally conceived as an eye candy/brain candy thing," she says. "But it is expensive to have full color throughout. And I did not want this to be a coffee table book because no one reads coffee table books." Hopefully, enough people will be reading "La Dolce Vita" to encourage Gambescia's publisher to commission a sequel. And her optimism is strong enough to fuel the groundwork for another book. "I have committed myself to write at least one essay each week," she says. For more, visit