Behind the scenes with Kathy McCabe

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Most travelogues aim to transport viewers (or readers in the case of travel books) to another location. But Dream of Italy: travel, transform and prosper, the special premiere on PBS this month, turns the conventional travelogue paradigm on its head.

Instead, this show focuses on what people gain by traveling and learning other cultures that can enliven and transform their lives when they return, wherever that may be.

“I know that just one trip to Italy can change my life completely because that’s what happened to me,” said host and executive producer Kathy McCabe. “A trip to Italy can change the way you live at home, see the world and even change the way you make a living.”

For most others, the changes are generally less dramatic: never drink cappuccino after breakfast, create a vegetable garden in the backyard, after made in Italy Labels on clothes or slowing down to enjoy small things.

Perfect post-pandemic tariff for italophiles

The timing of the Dream of italy Special couldn’t be more random after a challenging year around the globe. Many have suffered multiple losses and are still looking for ways to move forward. Even though the borders are opening, planning trips abroad remains complicated. So it’s especially inspiring to watch McCabe watch Italy transform lives from afar as people begin to adjust to the new normal.

In the special, McCabe explores 11 essential elements of the “Italian Way” that have shaped the lives of their celebrity and non-celebrity guests, who have all decided to live full-time or part-time in Italy.

This includes the strong link between culture and nature and land; his reverence for fresh, local, seasonal food that is simply prepared; his deep appreciation for family ties, including intergenerational ones; his unique ability to create beauty, revealed in the richness of Italian art, architecture and sculpture; his respect for a slower pace of life with enough time to pursue his passions; and finding reasons to connect with others and celebrate life all year round.

Forbes.com spoke to Kathy McCabe to learn more about how the show came about:

When was the show shot? How long did it take to put this special together?

Kathy McCabe: Most of the special was filmed in 2019 – before the pandemic broke out – with the exception of the interviews with Francis Ford Coppola and Under the Tuscan sun Author Frances Mayes, who were filmed even earlier.

I met with Sting and Trudie Styler in August and expats in October, financial writer David Bach, retiree Sally Carrocino, and interior designer Arlene Antoinette Gibbs.

After filming, it took many months and a skeleton crew to complete all production as the pandemic forced us to pause for a few months. I have never worked so hard in my life and I am someone who loves to work. It was a blessing in that it was a welcome distraction from COVID.

So yeah, the filming was done just before the pandemic, thank goodness. I’ve thought about it a lot – the timing. I’m glad we didn’t all have to film with masks etc. This is the Italy that we remember and that we can hopefully return to as soon as possible.

How did you choose your “cast”? It includes some high profile celebrities. How did her impressions of Italy compare to those of non-celebrities?

KM: I believe in chance and went with my gut feeling. Of course we have the interviews with Coppola, Mayes, Sting and Trudie Styler, but I wanted to show a mix of other full- and part-time expats who can show a diverse audience that the dream of Italy applies to them.

Obviously the more famous guests were used to being interviewed and spoke so eloquently and succinctly, but that applied to all guests. Everyone was fantastic and you almost don’t care who is famous (or “not yet famous”) because we were all just talking about our great passion – Italy. It’s a happy balance.

However, I was particularly happy to speak to Mr Coppola because we have a similar story. We both “discovered” our ancestral hometowns for the first time in our 20s, when, at the behest of our grandfathers, we went on a quest that changed our lives.

Actor Joe Mantegna, who co-hosts the PBS Pledge Breaks, which will help raise funds for public television, had just that experience. At the urging of his grandfather, he and his wife visited the hometown of his ancestors in Puglia at a young age. I think he said they would go for the day and ended up staying for about 10 days. This is Italian hospitality for you!

How did you feel while looking at the final product?

KM: I actually saw it live for the first time when it premiered on PBS12 in Colorado. I honestly had probably seen it a thousand times editing, rewriting, etc., but seeing it on a television rather than my computer or in the editing room was surreal.

I was choked to death unexpectedly at the beginning and really wished my parents were here to see it. They make a quick appearance (from an earlier episode of Dream of Italy, (the Castelvetere sul Calore Episode) in a section related to my family history. I must also say that it was one of the first times that I stopped and really said to myself, “Gosh, you actually interviewed Sting.”

If you had to give some advice to a first-time visitor before flying to Italy, what would you say?

KM: I usually have two important pieces of advice. First, don’t overload your days. In Italy you just have to leave time for chance. Magical things happen. You might meet an Italian who takes you home for lunch – it really happens. You just don’t know what you will discover along the way. Don’t worry about checking everything off the list.

That means I also want to give everyone permission to do the tourist things too. You have dreamed of this all your life: taking a ride in a gondola or throwing up your arm for a silly photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa is a beautiful and amazing city, by the way).

It’s also fun to see the familiar pages in a new way. For example, while filming in Rome, expat Arlene and I did a Vespa sidecar tour with LivTours. I’ve never seen the Eternal City from this perspective.


Note: This conversation has been edited and shortened slightly for the sake of clarity.


How to See Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Prosper

Here you can look up the sending times of PBS based on your postcode. International viewers can see the show in 2022.

The special is distributed by American Public Television and is signed by DeCecco, Monteverdi Tuscany, VIETRI, ItalyAncestry.com and Seed From Italy. It is repeated on PBS stations for four years.

The nationwide prime time premiere on public broadcaster Create TV Link Network will be on Saturday, June 26 at 10 p.m. ET, and another nationwide prime time will be broadcast on Sunday, July 11 at 10 p.m. ET.


Watch the trailer on You Tube



About Kathy McCabe

Italy travel and lifestyle expert Kathy McCabes The first trip to Italy 26 years ago served to rediscover the homeland of their ancestors. The 2002 visit inspired Dream of Italy, an award-winning travel magazine and website, one of “13 Podcasts for Wandering Souls”. McCabe is also the author of a new companion book, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, which was released in June 2021.




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