Kate Langbroek’s joyous, brave book Ciao Bella! about taking her family of six to Italy for a year, offers the perfect start to 2022 because it’s an optimistic ‘can do’ tale of overcoming challenge – including ending up home schooling in a Bologna lockdown!
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and in Binge Reading today we’ve got something a little different – our first non-fiction book by popular demand! Kate and her husband Pete were looking for a “circuit breaker” in family life after years of facing some unusually tough challenges. Their story of a colorful, food-filled stay in Italy is more than a travel memoir. It offers an incorrigible message of hope.
We’ve got one paperback copy of Ciao Bella! to give away to one lucky reader. Enter the draw on The Joys of Binge Reading website or on our Facebook page. Offer closes February 10 so be in to win.
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- Why taking a ‘circuit breaker’ doesn’t need to be expensive
- How Kate never planned to write a book
- Finding the right city for her family’s needs
- Making new friends to deepen the experience
- The differences between Australia and Italy
- Home schooling in Italy in lockdown
Where to find Kate Langbroek:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
But now, here’s Kate.
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there, Kate and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Kate Langbroek: Thanks Jenny. I’m very happy to be here. I’m very happy to be on this side of promoting a book rather than writing a book.
Introducing broadcaster and author Kate Langbroek
Jenny Wheeler: That’s right. This is unusual for our show because you are the first person who’s been on with a non-fiction book. We have always done popular fiction up till now, but when I saw Ciao Bella! which is your personal memoir about taking your family to Italy for a year – just the look of it, you even, you communicated adventurousness, out there – I thought, this is what we need for the new year, someone who can inspire us to get out there and do new things after this rotten year we’ve all had in 2021.
I did poll my listeners on it and it was 100%. They wanted to hear about it. So that was really lovely.
Kate Langbroek: Oh. What if it was only 99%, Jenny? What would you have done?
Jenny Wheeler: I still would have done it because I wanted to do it. Before we get into the book, quite a few of our listeners won’t be aware of your work in Australia.
You’re a national star in your own land, in Melbourne, but for those who aren’t quite so familiar about your background and where you were placed when you started thinking about doing this adventure, tell us a bit about that.
A show biz background for new author Kate Langbroek
Kate Langbroek: I have worked broadly in showbiz for over 20 years. A little bit of television, a little bit of writing, columns for newspapers and panel shows or improv shows. Comedically based stuff mainly. But the main bulk of my work has been on the radio.
I did 12 years of Melbourne breakfast radio on Nova here in Melbourne, and then had a year off. I regrouped with my on-air partner Hughesy and then we went to do Drive which is in the afternoon, 4 till 6.
I was doing that show, which is a national show, it’s right around Australia, it was a great show and I very much enjoyed it and when I decided I was going to Italy, of course one of my first conversations was with Hughesy who I’ve been on air with for 18 years, to say, I’m going to do this thing. He was my first person I had to talk to, and it wasn’t happy, Jenny.
Because he’s also a workaholic, he’s like, What! Why would you? What! Of course, I wanted to stop working, but his idea then, and my boss’s, was that I do the show from Italy for the first six months we were there, which was unheard of in 2019. We didn’t even have Zoom then.
That’s what I ended up doing, and it ended up being brilliant. Obviously I so focused on what I was trying to do with my family, four children and my husband, six of us, that I didn’t really think about the impact it would have on the broader world and people we knew and listeners to my show and people who had followed my career.
Making the break from a fabulous fulltime job to go to Italy
That it would also be of interest to them had not occurred to me. I hadn’t had time to think about that because when I decided to stop working, I was like, I’m happy to turn my back on that. I have to be prepared to walk away. I said to Hughsey, I’m not going to prison. I’m not asking you to wait for me.
And yet it ended up being another avenue for communicating with our listeners. The adventure I got to share with them was the springboard for Ciao Bella: Six Take Italy the book – realizing when I was telling Hughsey and our listeners what was happening with me every day, how interesting that was on a broader scale beyond me.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. That was interesting because as somebody who’s been a journalist pretty well all my life, I was impressed by the detail you got in. Some of those meals, it was wonderful the meals you described, but you had to have been making notes in the restaurant at the time that you were eating the food, I thought.
I wondered if you’d known you were going to be doing a book right from the beginning, because it came across as if you’d been very conscientious about taking notes.
Kate Langbroek: My husband asked me about that the other day. I explained to him that it was actually the other way round. The stories I wrote in my book, I wrote because I had such vivid recall of them because they were so significant. It was more that I felt so connected to those stories.
Kate Langbroek had no book plan when she first began her adventure
I wasn’t going to do a book. I’d been approached about writing books in the past. If you’re in the public eye, you get approached about writing books and I’d never thought that I had a book in me. It wasn’t until near the end of our first year that I said to Peter, I want to keep a record of this for our family if nothing else.
I don’t keep a diary. No one keeps a travel journal in our house. But then the other asset for that was all the photos that we take on our phones now. When I would go back to a particular day, there it all was. It comes whooshing back at you, a thousand words and all that.
So, it wasn’t my intent to write a book, but when I was living what we were living, I went, this is actually really significant. I could feel it even when we were in the moment. Often you don’t recognize that you’ve lived through an amazing era until retrospect, but I could tell at the time.
Jenny Wheeler: This family you were taking away, there’s quite an age range, and particularly for the teenagers, I can imagine that they might not have been madly keen on the idea because they were embedded in their own little peer groups at school, etc. How did you break the news?
Kate Langbroek: You’re right. By the time we left on our Italian adventure, my youngest was 9 and my oldest was 15. Three boys and a girl, my daughter was about to turn 14.
Sometimes the children have other plans…
Anyway, we had flagged it with the children for two years that we wanted to do it, so we didn’t blindside anybody with it. Peter, my husband, and I did so much back and forthing about it. Probably for six or eight months we talked about it in bed every night.
Will we? Won’t we? What if we? What would happen? Where would we? Those conversations, trying to get our own heads around it. But we had said to the children, this is our intention and this is what we’re going to do.
By the time we actually left for our trip you’re right. The window was closing to how malleable a 15-year-old is, particularly when it comes to the concept of leaving his life that he’s just establishing, firm friendship groups and whatever.
But it was more that he had a secret girlfriend that “ruined his life”. We didn’t know, and I write about it in the book. I found a photo when I was in his room that he was sharing with Sunday, because when we arrived our apartment only had three bedrooms, for six of us.
I found a photo, and she’s a lovely girl. I did eventually meet her, but I was like, What! No wonder he’s like this really stubborn dog that I’m trying to drag for a walk.
Jenny Wheeler: You didn’t choose an obvious draw card place to stay, none of the ones that first come to mind. You decided to go to Bologna. That became a perfect fit for you as the book progresses but tell us how you decided on that.
Bologna was the perfect city for an Aussie family of four
Kate Langbroek: We knew we wanted to be in the north of the country. Bear in mind, Jenny, that we had only been in Italy twice before and on holidays. The first time we went was in 2015, maybe it was 2014, but it wasn’t a lifetime love affair with Italy. We didn’t know the country well.
We didn’t speak the language. We didn’t know anybody, we just loved what we’d seen on those holidays and who doesn’t love what they see on holidays.
In 2018 we went to have a recce. We knew we wanted to live in the north of the country. Down southeast, Sicily or Calabria or whatever, it’s a bit more gnarly, so we wanted to be up north. We knew we needed an international school for the kids so we were led by that.
We did go to Florence, but too touristy. Not at the moment, obviously. Now is the perfect time to go to Florence, by the way. I said to Peter, they’re sick of us and we haven’t even arrived, because they had this onslaught of visitors.
We crossed Florence off the list, then we went to Verona, which a BuzzFeed quiz told us was our perfect Italian city. BuzzFeed was wrong because at the international school they were was so breathtakingly rude. Astoundingly rude. Very un-Italian. To us.
But this is a thing peculiar to Italy compared to Australia. Every town, even though they are half an hour away from each other, has a really distinctive personality and food and characteristics. Quite feasible that Verona, 40 minutes away, had a totally different mindset.
A Beautiful elegant city with a welcoming international school
That left us with Bologna. A girlfriend had told us about Bologna. She went there to learn how to make bolognese and to do a cooking class. We went there, Peter and I. We left the kids at the villa we were renting with Peter’s mom and drove in and within 40 minutes we went, this is it.
It’s a small city, bigger than a town, but still operates like a village, and off the tourist trail so hardly anyone spoke English, which should not have been the draw card it was for us, given that we didn’t speak Italian.
It was a ridiculous thing. Everyone who came to visit us would say, it’s so Italian which seems ludicrous because it’s in Italy and it was Italian. But the beautiful terra cotta buildings and Bologna is famous for its portici, which are the porticoes, the arched walkways. You could walk from one end of the city to the other without the heat or without rain. They go all the way up the hill, 666 of them, which is a bizarre number given they lead to the church at the top of the hill.
It’s a stunningly beautiful, elegant, peaceful city and we found an apartment right in the middle. It’s only got I think 400,000 living inside Bologna in the old medieval part of it, and on the outskirts, it’s probably a million in total.
It’s the people, the people, the people, says Kate Langbroek
Jenny Wheeler: I think the thing that drew me to the book once I started getting into it was number one, the wonderful way in which you describe the food and the wine, which is so inherently part of being in Italy.
But the other is the relationships, the very genuine and real relationships you made with both other internationals and the local people. Those are the two things that stand out for a reader. Now that you’ve been home a wee while, what are your takeaways from the whole thing.
Kate Langbroek: It’s very interesting, isn’t it? People, I think are everything. People are probably more important than place. I think back to one of my favorite jobs ever, the first job I had, which was working in the deli at Coles. Do you have Coles in New Zealand? (Ed note: Coles is an Australian supermarket.)
Jenny Wheeler: We don’t, but I’m very familiar with them.
Kate Langbroek: I’m like, why would that be a great job? It was because of the people I worked with. I worked with this great bunch of girls. And so it is I think when you’re anywhere. Aside from the fact that Italy is a breathtakingly beautiful country.
They have elevated beauty to a higher form, it’s not a shallow conceit. It’s not like the Kardashians pursue beauty. It’s from the heart. You see it in every corner, in every meal, in every interaction, people have made their immediate surrounds beautiful. Even if they’re by a highway, they’ll put a pot of geraniums out there.
People helped the family become ‘more than tourists’
But the people we met opened up to us a different kind of Italy, obviously not a holiday Italy, but a living, a life. We spent two years and in two years you forge proper friendships with people. Also, a lot of our contact with what we call real Italians, i.e., not from the international school, was through basketball because my two youngest boys play what the Italians called basket.
We traveled all around the country. We went to tournaments and we went to barbecues and parties and it was a brilliant way to be introduced into a foreign culture with what was familiar. The little boys led the way. They didn’t speak any Italian when we arrived, but now they both speak fluently. They had to learn because if they couldn’t say to their teammates, give me the ball, no one was going to give them the ball.
It was quite remarkable. The people we met and like you said, some of the internationals from the international school as well, it was fascinating to me to be surrounded by so many cultures and races and to see the difference between them. I don’t know what the climate is like in New Zealand, but people in Australia are very reticent to talk about cultural or racial differences. It’s like you’ve got to pretend everyone’s the same.
In Europe, they are very much aware that people are not all the same. Try telling a French man who’s separated from a German by an imaginary line or a river that they are the same. That’s just ludicrous. It was very enriching to be surrounded by so many cultures and that’s how we realized how Australian we were.
Cultural differences that helped Kate realize ‘how Australian we were’
Jenny Wheeler: You had a very interesting observation about that with Peter. Your husband was a very keen cyclist and at one stage he did quite a big cycle tour with some other men he’d made friends with. A couple of them were older than the average you might expect for cycling.
It really struck me the difference in attitude between age in Australia and Italy. New Zealand has a very similar attitude to age as what you described in Australia. I was particularly struck by that as well.
Kate Langbroek: For starters, the Italians themselves call Italy a country of old people. They have the oldest population in Europe and they have the lowest birth rate. The birth rate is only 0.8, so they are not even replacing themselves. You need 2.2 to replace. Consequently, they have a very old population.
But because they have a different view of aging and towards their aged people, the old people are much more a part of your life in Italy than they are in Australia.
In Australia I would say there’s very much age segregation. We put our old people in homes. There’s out of sight out of mind, whereas we would always go out with our friends in Italy and there would be someone’s mother there, their father there.
If you went to their house, there’s the room downstairs where their mother lives. They are very much integrated into their lives.
A memorable cycling trip to Sicily
If you go into a little shop, of which there are a lot in Italy – hopefully they will survive after all the lockdowns – there will be a man working in a tiny little sports shop that sells runners or basketballs and there’s an old man sitting in the corner. It’s his dad and his dad goes to work with him every afternoon.
We went on this cycling trip with our mate Giovanni who had become a friend. He started off as my girlfriend Sasha’s summer romance. In fact, it was a winter romance.
She met him when she set up my studio in Bologna. He was an avid cyclist as well. When Sash found him on Tinder, we both had a laugh and we went, well, if you don’t like him, my husband will like him.
He organized a trip to Sicily and we went just before we came back to Australia when we were out of a lockdown. There were 10 guys and me. We stayed with our friend’s friends at a bed and breakfast run by Sicilian Giovanni’s parents.
Integration of generations one of Italy’s delights
On the trip, two of the men who rode like everybody else and fit and clear eyed and beautiful skin and whatever – one of them was nearly 80 and one of them was mid-70s.
Now in Australia, I can’t even fathom that ever happening because not only was it the cycling every day. We had dinner with them. We had breakfast with them.
We went and had aperitivo up at Taormina, the beautiful town, in a fancy hotel with them. They were part of a social group. I’ve never had that experience. In Australia I know my girlfriend’s mums or whatever, but there’s not that integration of young and old together.
It was really nourishing. In fact, earlier this year, when we had just come back to Australia, Peter said to me, I miss old people. How funny. I said, well, luckily we’ve got some in our family.
Friendships across the oceans remain as a reminder
Jenny Wheeler: What do your kids think of their trip now that they look back on it?
Kate Langbroek: It’s funny, isn’t it, because by the time we came back, everyone was so keen to come back, particularly the children. Peter and I would have probably happily stayed in Italy.
We would have worn out the welcome mat. The kids were really keen to get back. Now I think it’s consolidating for them with that bit of time, what they had there that was so lovely.
My eldest son who’s now 18 has got a group of friends who are really into the Grand Prix. He tried to get them into AFL football, but they were not interested in Australian footy.
They just looked at the TV like we’re all crazy. But he’s got into Formula One with them and they were going to come out here to go to the Grand Prix at our park because we live near Albert Park in Melbourne. He’s planning to go back next year in July to see them.
My daughter’s girlfriend, Bear who has left Bologna here is now at boarding school in England wants Sunday to come over and see her there and then they go back to Italy together to stay with Bear’s parents. We now have these tentacles that have wrapped around their hearts.
Even Lewis who was so resistant. He’s always careful to say to me, because I’m like straight away like a mum, yes, I told you that would happen. He doesn’t want to give me that satisfaction. But we all miss aspects of Italy.
Taking a break helps clarify what you really want in life
Jenny Wheeler: For families who want to try and do something similar, you talk in the book about feeling you needed a circuit breaker from the things that had happened. A lot of families, after this last couple of years of COVID, would feel like they needed a circuit breaker too.
If they didn’t have the money to go to Europe like that, what other ways? Do you get that question? What could I do? It’s alright for you, you could afford to do that, but I’m stuck here, that kind of thing. What do you say to them?
Kate Langbroek: This has come up a lot in conversation. You’re so right. We have been forged in the fire now and we’ve lost the impurities of our wants and desires. We now can see clearly how we want our lives to be, or what’s missing from our lives, or ways in which we haven’t served our own lives as well as we would have liked to. Or we just want a break.
We worked towards Italy for two years, saving and really focusing on that. We live in the same house we’ve lived in for 16 years and I drive a 12-year-old car. We are not house flippers or car people. We’d always wanted to travel and because for so many years we couldn’t, when my son was sick, that was the manifestation for us of our dreams coming true.
Time is the greatest gift you can give yourself – Kate Langbroek
After COVID traveling is again the manifestation of so many people’s dreams, I think because the actual act of traveling and being away from what’s familiar unlocks in you your essential self and divests you of the albatross around your neck that is everyday life and responsibility. Have I done the shopping?
I’ve got to make lunches and blah, blah, or whatever it is. It really doesn’t matter where you go. What matters is what you take of yourself on that trip.
You know how joyous it is when you come out of lockdowns and you’re allowed to drive 25 kilometers before we then get back into the rut of complaining about the traffic. There’s that sweet spot. If you can try and keep that central sense of adventure.
Even little things I recognized about myself. Very often if I was at home in Australia, in my normal life, I’m not talking to strangers on the street, but in Italy I spoke to strangers on the street.
Whatever you can afford, whatever time you can take and you can make and you can steal, time is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Jenny Wheeler: Are you ready to do another book now?
Kate Langbroek: Have you been sent by my publisher? You’re a terrible person to even suggest that. I don’t know, because I never thought I would write one book so I can’t think about another book, even though I was saying to you that I wrote about the stories that are in this book and the experiences we had because they were so vivid for me.
Some of Kate Langbroek’s favourite books she’s reading now
When I realized how much I had written I stopped writing, and there are still quite a few stories I didn’t get around to writing. But I don’t know that would be something I would do. I now want to enjoy not writing. I have so much respect for writers. I can’t believe what they do, especially fiction writers. They create these entire worlds. No. No other book on the cards at this point.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a great place to segue into talking about, do you read much? Do you like to read and would you like to make any recommendations about books or TV shows or even audible books?
Kate Langbroek: I have always loved reading, but while I was writing the book I did not read very much at all. Although, when we were in lockdown – we went into our lockdown in Italy at the start of 2020, the first country after China to go into this lockdown, how amazingly in the region that we were living in in Italy – then I read quite a lot.
Because we didn’t have a lot of books and we couldn’t get English books, I would share with my American neighbor, Denise, who was not herself an avid reader but also had four kids, and her two teenage girls were big readers. I ended up reading an unusual library selection as curated by two American teenage girls living in Italy.
I read a fantastic book that I really loved called The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I loved it. Very transporting. What else did I read in lockdown? My husband was always reading, historical books about Italy. I read quite a few books myself, a book called Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb.
Apples Never Fall by another top Australian author, Liane Moriarty
I want to remember the book that I really loved to tell you, but I can’t remember the name of it. It was about the groupie.
Jenny Wheeler: The Stevie Nicks one.
Kate Langbroek: It’s a fiction one. Was it based on Stevie Nicks?
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, I think it was.
Ed note: I’m guessing this might have been Daisy Jones And the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Kate Langbroek: It was an easy read. Anyway, my reading has been quite remiss. Now I’m reading Liane Moriarty’s new book, Apples Never Fall. I’m about four fifths of the way through it.
That’s the first book I’ve read since I finished writing my book and it’s taking me a really long time to read it. I think it’s because now I read every sentence and go, wow, someone wrote that. It’s not a casual thing for me anymore to read a book.
Jenny Wheeler: What does 2022 hold for you? You have swung back into Australia and already had a job ready to go, didn’t you? What are you doing now?
Kate Langbroek: I’m doing radio again, but on a much lower scale, so not a full-time breakfast or Drive. I’m doing three afternoons a week with a girlfriend of mine for one hour. It’s a show called the 3:00PM Pick-Up. It’s designed for people who are doing school pickups basically. I’m loving that so much.
I’m re-calibrating myself because now I’ve finished writing I have time again, or I’m hoping I will have time. Getting back into the groove of family life and hoping to get to travel a little bit more and go to some book festivals. Remember them?
Settling in to life back home in Melbourne
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. You have been having a dreadful time in Melbourne until very recently. I guess the promotion of this book has been disturbed or did that happen after you came out of lockdown?
Kate Langbroek: We came out of lockdown but people still didn’t have procedures in place and there were still a lot of restrictions, so I’ve been doing most of my publicity via Zoom or call in to radio shows, which has been great.
It means that you can get through more in a day when you don’t have to physically drive around, but also you do miss what I can only imagine because I’ve never lived it before – the experience of walking in and sharing with people your book and that experience.
It has been really great, and like I said, it’s been so breathtakingly well-received. I think, like you said earlier, we were ready for a book like this because it’s about traveling and it’s about joy and it’s about someone who was in lockdown with their family and came out loving them.
Jenny Wheeler: One final question, Kate. Do you interact with people online about the book and if so, where? I know you’ve got such a busy life that you may not be able to do that, but how do people reach you if they want to?
Where to find Kate Langbroek online
Kate Langbroek: Probably on my Instagram because I’m not on Facebook. I know my publishers wanted to set something up. I don’t even know what all the avenues are for sharing communications with listeners, but I know they wanted to set something up. They’re in Sydney, I’m in Melbourne and I haven’t been able to see them yet. We haven’t physically been able to sort something out.
Jenny Wheeler: They will find you on Instagram so that’s good.
Kate Langbroek: Yes. Contact me. I’d love to. I’ve been a bit remiss the last week or so, but I do like to reply to the messages and I love to receive the messages. It’s been incredible.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. Thank you. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s so real buzz to read it.
Kate Langbroek: Thank you, Jenny, I appreciate that. I’ll just give you the proper spelling of my name so people can find me by way of Insta or on Twitter. It’s just my name. It’s @katelangbroek The tricky Dutch.
Jenny Wheeler: The tricky Dutch in Australia. That’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Kate..
Kate Langbroek: Thank you, Jenny. A pleasure.
Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading:
Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading
Jayne Ann Krentz, a master of historical romantic and paranormal mysteries with 35 million copies of her books sold internationally – so she’s a perfect author to feature for in the month of St Valentine.
Jayne will be talking about the latest books in her three current series – the Fogg Lake contemporary paranormals, Burning Cove historicals and futuristic Guild Boss series.
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