“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A New Life in Guardia Sanframondi, Italy

If you would have told me four years ago that I would own a house in Italy, I never would have believed you. Lucky for me, that is how my story has turned out. In a strange way, I was reminded of this because of a dress….

It was only four years ago when I first traveled to Italy with my mother to participate in an Opera festival on the gorgeous resort island of Ischia, just off the coast of Naples. I know it is a cliché, but I fell in love with Italy. I fell in love with the beauty, the people, the history, the lifestyle, the food; the simple things. Something as small as taking a walk to the daily market for some fresh tomatoes became something that I looked forward to everyday. I decided then that I would need to get back to Italy as often as I could, but I just needed to figure out a plan.

Soon after returning to NYC after a month in Ischia, I was not the same. I left a piece of myself there and started to see everything differently. I no longer felt at home and felt like a stranger in the city that I had known since I was born. It was a very odd feeling and I was not quite sure what to make off it. Every day, I thought about Ischia, I could not get it out of my mind. I could not get the beauty of the lifestyle out of my head. My routine in Ischia was so relaxing; wake up, have a cornetto and a frappe in town, go to the market, have my morning voice classes, a beautiful lunch of the balcony with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, beans, bread and nuts, take a brief nap, swim, shower, evening classes or performances, a big walk through the town or by the water, dinner (sometimes with friends), gelato, another walk and bed. It was a lifestyle I had never experienced. Coming from NYC, everything is so fast paced, you never have a minute to breath, it is always work work work, what can I do to make money, how can I do this but do it faster. There is never a moment of peace and I realized after experiencing such bliss, I no longer wanted the life I had in NYC and that included making a transition from opera to a passion I have had since I was little…cooking.

I had started studying voice privately when I was only 11 and had success at a very young age, when at 17 years old I was invited by the Metropolitan Operas leading tenor, Marcello Giordani to sing as a soloist at the inaugural concert for his new foundation. After years of vigorous study, I started to lose the love that I once had for singing and only want to sing for fun; maybe with some friends out to dinner or on a random evening in a big quiet piazza in Italy (I’ll get to that in another post). The routine of being a singer was no longer appealing to me and I felt it no longer was a fit for my personality. I also felt that it no longer allowed me to express my creativity in a way that felt natural for me.

Since that first trip to Italy in 2011, I traveled to Italy in the fall of 2012 and 2013 (the year that I studied cooking in Florence) and the year that truly was a game changer, 2014.

The year 2014 was a big year for me, I had fully made the transition to cooking full time. In 2012, I had started writing a cooking/lifestyle blog, La Cucina Della Prima Donna and from that I had been contacted to develop recipes and contribute to various cookbooks. But in 2014, I started Magic & Pasta Events. With Magic & Pasta Events the goal is for my clients to have a unique dining experience, either in the privacy of their own home or in a commercial kitchen/dining space. I host theme dinners; such as an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party or a Venetian Carnevale Dinner and provide services for corporate events and work with public relations and advertising agencies. I can be myself, plan my own schedule and what I love most is that no two days are the same. I am always planning new menus for different events, shopping for new function, testing new recipes, it is exciting and after the routine of opera, excitement is exactly what I had been craving. I had always loved cooking, in fact, more often than not, when I was at rehearsals or lessons, I was thinking about being home and baking. And when I would go home and bake, I would bring the food to my lessons for my teachers or to colleagues.

So, back to why 2014 was the year that changed it all. My mother and I had made plans to return to Italy for a few months so that I could do some work in Florence and start establishing myself there with the intention to eventually settle there full time. We had everything set. We had an apartment rented, I had work and interviews, it was all planed. But one day, my mother was watching House Hunters International. It was an episode that took place in a town I had never heard of, called Guardia Sanframondi.

It was beautiful, unique, off the beaten path and the prices for houses were completely in my budget. I had never thought about buying a house in Italy because I assumed I could never afford it. I figured I would rent a tiny apartment in Florence and that would be fine. But once my mother saw this, we had our hearts set on exploring this picturesque medieval town. We cut short a week in Florence so that we could travel to Guardia and start house hunting. We were only in Guardia for six days and left to go to Florence. We left without a house, but we left with much more than we imagined we would. We left realizing we had to go back and find a house there. We fell in love with Guardia. The people, the town, the mountains, the views, the air, the lifestyle, everything. This was a town where people said “buongiorno” to each other just walking on the streets. After meeting someone once, they would honk at you and wave and offer to give you a lift. Neighbors would leave fresh fruit and herbs at your door. This was a real community. Coming from NYC, this was something I had never experienced. Once we arrived in Florence after those beautiful six days in Guardia, it felt like culture shock. I love Florence, but after living in a real Italian community, I knew that that was what I wanted. Once again, we cut our time in Florence short and returned to Guardia for three weeks to continue our search. Then I found the one….

Funny story, on our last day in Guardia during that first week, we were supposed to see the house that I ended up buying, but due to some confusion with the language and not understanding what time and where, we never saw the house. This made me think that this house was meant for me.

So, at the beginning of my story I mentioned a dress. I first wore that dress in Ischia just four years ago and this morning, I put that dress on, stood on my balcony and then took my walk into town to market. It reminded me just how much can change. My hair is shorter, the dress is the same, but my love and passion for Italy has only grown.


I am now here in Guardia for the summer, getting my house ready and taking time to relax and appreciate everything. When I walk to my house I stop and look at the mountains. I look at a butterfly sitting on the flowers. I see the same beautiful old woman walking up the hills every day with her cane. I see two friends talking to each other from across the streets on their balconies. I see beauty and magic. I have had so many “pinch me” moments, that I cannot believe this is all real. I see what can happen if you set your heart on something. Life is short and we must make the most of it while we are here. If you are not happy with something, it is up to you to change it. Life can be a dream if you turn it into a reality and lucky for me, I have found that dream.

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