Barbara Conelli is a woman on a mission — a mission to bring, as she puts it on her website, “Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women’s lives.”
A prolific writer, with one book already published (Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, a journey through Italy), another coming out in May, and other writing credits galore, Barb “invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their own Dolce Vita no matter where they are in the world.”
While many of you will be familiar with her writing and blog, others will know Barb from her popular Chique Show at Blog Talk Radio, where she interviews authors and talks about life in and her passion for Italy.
Today, though, it’s Barb’s turn to be interviewed.
Thank you, Barb, for agreeing to be interviewed! Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you were born, where you grew up, where you studied?
I was born in London to an Austrian mother and an Italian father. My background was incredibly multicultural and the fact that I had relatives in different countries who spoke different languages encouraged me to start learning the languages they spoke, and when I did, I realized some of the relatives were much nicer when I didn’t understand them. But it was too late; at that time I was already speaking eight languages and traveling around the globe, a passion that turned out to be totally incurable. I tried hard to be a homebody but it never worked.
A chronic gatherer of knowledge, I studied at several universities in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the US, and when I got my second PhD I realized the academic career was totally killing my creativity and my soul. (As you can see, realizing important stuff too late was a pattern in my 20s.)
Although I’ve had many homes away from home, Italy has always been my real home. Grandma Lily, my paternal grandmother, made sure I grew up to be a real Italian – food-loving, high-spirited, untameable, capricious and addicted to shoes. I frequently visited my cousins in Italy already when I was a kid, and when I got my heart-broken by an Italian at the age of sixteen, I knew there was no turning back. I was an Italian. Until today I’m not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse. (Thanks, Grandma Lily!)
You split your time between New York and Milan, correct? When did you move to Milan, and why there in particular?
That’s right! Grandma Lily was born in Milan. She left the city and the country with her parents when she was a little girl and she never went back. However, the city stayed in her heart. I visited Milan many, many times, but I decided to actually get a place there and make it my home when I started to think about writing a book about the city. I wanted to really live it, breathe it, be it. I couldn’t live in Tuscany and write about Milan. That would have made me a tourist, not a Milanese. And I wanted to be one with the city and become familiar with its many faces.
Your first book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, was published last year, and your second, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, is due to be published in May. Can you tell us a little about your new book?
Yes, I’d love to! I’m so excited because my editor has just sent me the final version of the manuscript, and I’m totally in love with the book! In Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, I share my unexpected encounters with the capricious, unpredictable and extravagant city of Milan, its glamorous feminine secrets, the everyday magic of its dreamy streets, the passionate romance of its elegant hideaways, and the sweet Italian art of delightfully falling in love with your life wherever you go. This book is very informative and contains lots of factual information about the city, but at the same time it’s very poetic, lyrical and romantic. It shows that Milan is the perfect city to have a love affair with.
And what happens after Dolce Amore? Another book? Can you give us any hints?
There are several exciting projects I’m working on. Later this year, I’m planning to publish a collection of selected articles and essays I’ve written about Milan and published in magazines and on my blog. I’m also putting together a travel anthology that’s going to be released in the fall, with travel essays and short stories written by sixteen amazing, wonderful authors.
As far as my Chique Book series is concerned, with Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore I’m leaving Milan and venturing into Rome. The next book is titled Chique Secrets of Dolce Far Niente, and in this book I’m going to reveal the hidden face of Rome and share with my readers the Roman art of pleasant, carefree idleness.
My books always have a deeper message and I love using the city I write about as “the stage of life”, a creative space where we can learn, grow and get to know ourselves. Milan is about loving your life and finding beauty in simple, everyday things. Rome is about being fully present in your life instead of exhaustingly focusing on doing, doing, doing.
Something that comes across loud and clear in the reviews of Dolce Vita is your talent for writing descriptive prose and storytelling. What made you decide to write non-fiction rather than a novel?
A good question! I’ll be honest with you: I am working on a novel (okay, looks like I’ve just come out of the closet and admitted I’m a shadow novelist). However, I find writing fiction much less appealing. I love exploring the real world, I love talking to people, I enjoy discovering their stories, understanding what makes them tick. I’m incredibly curious and inquisitive, and I always look deeper, beyond the obvious, the visible. My readers often say that when they read my book, they feel they’re actually there with me, experiencing the same things, tasting the food, submerging themselves in the atmosphere. My books are like a magic carpet that takes you to beautiful places enabling you to live a beautiful adventure sitting in an armchair and wearing your jammies. I truly believe that being able to give this to the reader through the pages of my book is a miracle, and it makes me endlessly happy.
What audience did you have in mind for Dolce Vita when you first wrote it, and did you end up attracting those sorts of readers?
It’s an interesting question. I write primarily for women and I wanted my book to appeal to experienced, avid travelers as well as to those who dream of Italy and desire to explore this beautiful country. I definitely succeeded in connecting with my audience and I’m very grateful for my fabulous readers and fans from all around the world who give me lots of love, support, encouragement and wonderful feedback. However, I was very surprised to see that my book attracted also many male readers who totally enjoyed my writing. I just love that.
To which aspects of your writing have readers responded the most?
When you read the reviews, there seems to be one strong common denominator: “I felt I was really there with the author.” I’ve been so touched by this, and I feel very blessed because it means I’ve been able to get my message across and bring Italian beauty, charm and grace into the lives of many women. This is my definition of success – doing what you love and touching other people’s hearts by sharing your passion with them.
Have you written anything else?
I have two previously published books on relationships and self-love, based on my coaching career. I have also written screenplays for TV shows and scripts for TV talk shows. And I’m a movie translator – I have translated and subtitled over 800 feature films, shows and documentaries for major movie studios, TV channels and distribution companies. I have also translated several fiction and poetry books. Yes, I’m a typical “slasher” – a multi-talented person with many careers. But if you ask me who I truly am, my answer is I’m a writer and traveler. That’s my soul’s calling.
I first heard you — and heard of you! — on your blog talk radio show, the Chique Show. How long has the Chique Show been running?
Chique Show has been broadcasting for about a year. It has gained incredible momentum and today, just 12 months later, we have over 5,500 listeners, recently adding more than one hundred new listeners every week.
Is a radio talk show something you have always wanted to do?
When it all started, it really wasn’t my goal or dream to be a radio hostess, although I had always found this medium fascinating. Chique Show was meant to be just another platform to promote my new book but I immediately fell in love with it, and today it’s much bigger than I ever imagined. Chique Show is a great connector, a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, and my way of giving back and bringing authors closer to their readers.
How would you like to see it evolve?
I would love Chique Show to become a featured, branded show that would broadcast every day on a variety of topics. You know, one of my mottos is the words of Donald Trump: “If you’re going to think anyway, think big.” And Eleanor Roosevelt’s: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I’m a visionary, and there’s not just a branded radio show on my vision board, but also a magazine and TV channel. I love challenging myself and pushing my own boundaries. My mum says I decided I was going to be a success story already as a toddler. I’ve always been stubbornly creative and free-spirited.
You’ve had a lot of guests on the show. Have there been any particularly memorable moments?
You know, I really love those moments when my guest and I totally click. When we find a topic we’re both fascinated about, we chat, we laugh. There’s a fantastic vibe and irresistible energy that totally fill the radio waves, and our listeners can feel it. We are just wonderfully connected.
I’ve also had deeply moving moments on the show when my guests opened up and talked about their life experiences, their struggles, their pain, and how they managed to overcome adversity and follow their dreams.
One of my favorite shows is the interview with author Lyn Fuchs that you featured here on Displaced Nation a couple of months ago. I love smart, talented, open-minded and humble people who are not afraid to do their thing and stand out from the crowd. Lyn is one of those people and having him on the show has been a real pleasure.
Is there anyone you would *love* to interview on your show — a “fantasy” interviewee, as it were, be they alive or dead?
Leonardo da Vinci: the most fantastic “slasher” in history. I wrote about his years in Milan in Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, and I find him fascinating. I believe his genius is still undervalued. Madeleine Albright, a lady who epitomizes feminine power and wisdom. And Grandma Lily — the sage of my family.
With March being Fashion Month, many of our recent posts have been fashion- and style-related. Now, if you’ve actually read any of those posts, you’ll have realized that three of us anyway are the last people on earth who should be advising on fashion. I poke fun at haute couture, Anthony’s fashion advice begins and ends with chinos and a shirt, and Tony’s staple apparel is shorts and T-shirts. As someone who has made her home in two of the world’s fashion capitals, can you give us any tips about where a couture-challenged person can start?
Okay, my fantasy’s running wild here. Chinos make me think of Indiana Jones (a.k.a. Harrison Ford at his best). And shorts and a t-shirt? Matthew McConaughey. Hot, sexy, juicy! (May I join your team like right now?)
I love fashion because to me it’s yet another expression of creativity and art. It’s also one of the easiest ways to say who you are. You can use fashion to make a statement and I’m totally non-judgmental when it comes to people’s choices.
The best piece of advice is, be yourself. You don’t need to choose one style or color palette and stick with it forever. Fashion is a game and it’s meant to be played and enjoyed. Fashion is not created by designers, it’s created by you, every single morning.
In my closet, you’d find little black dresses and faded jeans, pantsuits and colorful skirts, white shirts and t-shirts with wild patterns. Lots of scarves and hats and other accessories. My wardrobe has as many faces as I do because I may be different every day but I always insist on being myself.
To sum it up, stop flipping through fashion magazines and show the world how beautifully unique you are!
OK, so we’re following your advice and doing a bit of retail therapy in two continents. Where would you suggest as first stop for shopping in Milan?
I suggest you leave your Lonely Planet Guidebook in your bag and start exploring. I love Milanese vintage stores, visiting them is a real adventure. I can recommend “Cavalli e Nastri” in Via Brera, or Oplà in Via Vigevano. For original jewelry, Vigano in Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle. And a Borsalino hat is a must!
And then we take a transatlantic flight and go shopping in New York…where’s our first stop there?
Tiffany & Co., of course! Okay, just kidding. The Tiffany store in both Milan and New York plays a very important role in the last chapter of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore where it turns into a spicy matchmaker. Plus, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
I almost never shop for clothes in New York but I love New York bookstores. I live on Broadway and I’m addicted to the Strand Book Store at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street.
And on Saturdays, I love going to the Greenmarket at Union Square, the most wonderful outdoor market in New York whose atmosphere reminds me of Italy.
Splitting your time between two countries as you do, do you find it difficult to settle into the ways of one country after a length of time in the other?
Actually, it’s funny because when I come to Milan, my friends usually tell me: “Stop being so American!” It takes me a few days to slow down and return to the spirit of la dolce vita. It always reminds me how fast we actually live in the States, and how we allow life to just pass us by.
When I return to New York, it takes me about a week or two to get used to the bustle of the city. I love New York, it’s an incredibly vibrant city, but it can truly wear you down. You need to manage your energy really well and set your boundaries. Although New York is said to be the city that never sleeps, a New Yorker needs to get some sleep at least every now and then.
What aspect of Italy would you like to transplant to New York life — and why?
The art of taking the time to actually live. Experiencing life with gratitude and a sense of awe. The sweetness of human experience. Achieving great things is wonderful, but your life needs to be balanced, and that’s what New York sometimes misses. We need to stop and smell the roses more often.
What about vice versa? Any aspect of New York life you would like to transplant to Italy?
The glitz, the flashiness and the flamboyance. New York is a self-confident brat and it would be fun to see more of that in the easy-going, laid-back Italian way of life.
You’ve traveled extensively — have you discovered any other places where you’d like to live for a while?
After living in Middle East, Africa, in the Australian outback, in stunning European cities and wonderful metropolises of this world, I would like to create one more home-away-from home in French Polynesia. Sleep, eat, dance, swim in the ocean and write books. My idea of writer’s heaven.
Your suggestion about joining the TDN team? Yes — on condition we can all descend upon your new home in French Polynesia… Heaven indeed. Thanks, Barb, for talking so honestly to us!
We will hear more about Barbara Conelli in a few weeks, when we review her new book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, and subscribers to the Displaced Dispatch can look forward to another exciting giveaway!
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Image: Barbara Conelli