Fans of Eat, Pray, Love recall that when Elizabeth Gilbert wanted to regain her capacity to feel pleasure, she headed to the place where it’s celebrated—Italy. For centuries, Italians have also found pleasure in entrepreneurial pursuits.
One of my favorite modern stories of Italian business comes from John Berendt’s book The City of Fallen Angels where we are introduced to Massimo Donadon, the Rat Man of Treviso, who entertains guests at a dinner party with the story of his rise to success as a manufacturer of rat poison that’s sold throughout the world.
Since Italy’s been calling to me recently, I wanted to showcase the joyfully jobless spirit Italian style. Let’s start in Rome with the Institute of Design & Culture founded by American expats, art historian Dr. Laura Flusche and Susan Sanders. Visit their site and check out their gorgeous blog, Eternally Cool and you’re in for a visual feast. You’ll also see that these women understand the concept of multiple profit centers.
If you’d like to have a daily dose of modern Italian culture, sign up for the delightful Italian Notebook. Every day brings another glimpse into this culture. Last week, for example, there was a story about Alfonso Bialetti, inventor of the ubiquitous stovetop coffeemaker which has sold a whooping 270,000,000 units since its invention. The previous installment introduced us to Camogli, a town whose plain buildings have been transformed through the artistry of trompe-l’oeil.
Rick Steves has always been passionate about Italy and about small, family-owned and operated businesses. His 14-day Best of Village Italy provides wonderful opportunities to meet winemakers, cooks, artisans and other village entrepreneurs.
If you’re a reader of my Joyfully Jobless News ezine, you may recall my recent article about Carlo Pescatori, a Venetian entrepreneur I met two years ago when my siblings and I rented an apartment from him. Carlo has added another profit center to his portfolio and offers conversational Italian tutoring via Skype. If you want to spruce up your language skills, check out Parlo con Carlo.
Speaking of Venice, the NY Times has a long, but fascinating, piece on Frugal Venice that is worth reading whether you’re planning to visit or not.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of armchair travel involving Italy, I have a couple of favorites to recommend. Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus is one of the most extraordinary novels set in an extraordinary time when Florence was under siege by the religious fanatic Savonarola.
Modern Florence is the setting for The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, a book I couldn’t put down. Here’s how Amazon describes it: When author Douglas Preston moved his family to Florence he never expected he would soon become obsessed and entwined in a horrific crime story whose true-life details rivaled the plots of his own bestselling thrillers. While researching his next book, Preston met Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist who told him about the Monster of Florence, Italy’s answer to Jack the Ripper, a terror who stalked lovers’ lanes in the Italian countryside.
Another treasure is Sprezzatura by Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish. Sprezzatura is the art of effortless mastery and this book introduces us to 50 Italians whose mastery impacted the world.
Finally, there’s Alan Epstein’s As the Romans Do: An American Family’s Italian Odyssey, in which you’ll meet another expat entrepreneur.