After spending ten days with my siblings in Lucca, Italy, I planned to take the train back to Venice, have a bonus afternoon in my favorite city, then fly home the next day. That plan began to unravel  when I went to buy my train ticket and discovered a 24-hour strike was scheduled for exactly the time I wanted to travel.

I made numerous telephone calls to find an alternative option, but was assured that some trains would still  be running. What I wasn’t told was that I’d be making a five hour sidetrip to Bologna. That little surprise didn’t arrive until we’d all gotten off the train in Bologna. Many of my fellow travelers were visibly upset.

Realizing there was nothing I could do about the change in plans, I decided to look for the gift in this delay. I also suspected I was being naively optimistic. Nevertheless, I attached myself to the Del Prado family from the Philippines who were backpacking around Europe with their five delightful children.

Wing, the mother, was not coping with the delay very well so I invited her to have a cappuccino with me. When I answered her question about what I do, she said, “You’re talking about me!”

I spent the next several minutes learning about her business selling handmade children’s clothing. Then I chatted with the eldest son, Ramon, who had started a business as an animator and was about to have his first film shown on television.

While getting to know these entrepreneurial folks was great fun, the thing that everyone noticed about the Del Prados was how kind the children were to each other. That same kindness was extended to me and when we finally parted at the train station in Venice, we were all on the verge of tears.

We hugged each other and Mr. Del Prado said, “Thank you for making our trip so pleasant. We’ll always think of you as Auntie Barbara.”

As I walked off into the darkness toward my hotel, I immediately noticed the sidewalk was covered with water. Raised platforms had been brought in to make walking possible. When I got to the hotel, I asked about the flooding and was told there’d been such a storm all day in Venice that it looked like a hurricane was coming through.

Had I arrived at the time I wanted to, I’d have gotten drenched and had to spend the afternoon and evening in my hotel room.

Meeting the Del Prados was a lot more fun than that.

CB028317I make no secret of the fact that I’m in the midst of a love affair with Venice. It almost didn’t happen.

My first visit was decades ago when I participated in a whirlwind tour of Europe. We zipped through Venice, were escorted to a glass factory store specializing in selling over priced goods to tourists and whisked away.

I was not impressed.

It wasn’t until 1999, on a short stay with my daughter, that I began to uncover the charms of Venice. Suddenly I understood why artists, poets, writers and musicians kept returning for fresh inspiration.

In its’ heyday, it was a rich and powerful center of trade and business. Poised between East and West, Venice became a city of merchants, many of whom ran their empires from exquisite palazzos designed to serve as their business headquarters, as well as the family home.

A typical Venetian house had an elaborate facade facing the canal since visitors and clients usually arrived by boat. The house was tall and narrow, with the ground floor serving as an office and, perhaps, a warehouse.

The second floor was used to entertain visitors, while family quarters were kept on the third floor.

Many houses also had additions on the street side that were used as offices, but frequently evolved into personal libraries.

So, you see, the homebased business movement isn’t such a new idea after all. The Venetians, who did it more elegantly than anyone, were running international enterprises from their homes hundreds of years ago.

Ponder that on your next trip down the Grand Canal.

After years of  struggling with the Single Lifetime Occupation career path that everyone else seemed to accept with more ease than I could muster, I gradually came to realize that if I stopped looking for a job and, instead,  created my own, I could include many different activities. That revelation was my personal tipping point

What started out as a quest to relieve my boredom, became much more than an amusement. Building a portfolio of profit centers was not only interesting, it also gave me flexibility, numerous options and was as good for my imagination as it was for my pocketbook. 

The real reward of  this portfolio approach became clearer when I came across a quote from James Dickey. He said, “There are so many  selves in everybody and to explore and exploit just one is wrong, dead wrong, for the creative process.” 

How did we miss that one? It  wasn’t always so. During the glorious time known as the  Renaissance, there was a cultural expectation that the well-lived life was about exploring and exploiting these many selves. Places like Venice hummed with creative activity that found expression in business, music, fashion, linguistics and romance as individuals moved between projects in numerous areas.

Apparently, such thinking lingers in Venice. At any rate, it lingers in the life of Carlo Pescatori whom I met in 2006 when my siblings and I rented one of his apartments for a week. 

Carlo was originally a pharmacist, but when a 500-year-old building came into his family rather unexpectedly, he left his pharmacy to devote himself to turning the property into a business. The building  now has diverse uses, too. Carlo’s parents occupy an apartment on the ground floor while another space is rented to a group of architects. Carlo lives on the top floor while the other four apartments are vacation rentals. 

Carlo’s joyfully jobless life has continued to evolve since we first met three years ago. A recent e-mail from him gave me this update of what’s in his portfolio at the moment.

Venice apartments for rent  keep being my primary activity. Beautiful job but now and then, after 8 years of that, I admit I sometimes feel this as a job I’ll eventually leave. I don’t know when or how. Or why, just a feeling which keeps coming out once in a while.

Last year  I began offering Italian lessons via Skype at Parlo Con Carlo.  I’ll probably look for new students this year: I didn’t push that too much, just wanted to be sure I liked it, so I let it go by itself  for a while.

On a more creative side, I was asked by a musician friend to write lyrics to songs of his. It worked out fine and we finished/published online a couple of them. Tough step for me to take, like declaring that I am good enough at it. All tools are available in order to put a demo together, so there’s some Resistance that needs to be seen there.

New project being born soon, meanwhile: talking to the photographer I have my rolls (yes, still sticking to film!) developed by, he turned out to own a huge archive of negatives of celebrities visiting Venice from late forties to late eighties. No website to sell them online, so I’ve been studying hard how to build one and I’m finally going online with it this month. Its name is This is the kind of thing involving passion, art, some kind of expertise, luck and good feelings; so I don’t think it’ll fail. And it can eventually run by itself: even better!

Yes, multiple profit centers are an essential power tool for joyfully jobless success. Bella intelligenza!


If you’d like more ideas about Creating & Managing MPCs, order the audio of my recent teleclass on the same subject. 



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.