When much-loved and highly revered Australian radio and television star, Kate Langbroek, along with her husband, bar owner Peter Lewis, made the bold, optimistic and undeniably courageous decision to move themselves and their four children (son Lewis, fifteen, daughter Sunday Lil, thirteen, and sons Artie, eleven, and Jannie, nine) from their life in Melbourne to Italy for a year, there were certainly others, including extended family members, who doubted the merits of such a seemingly audacious and definitely titanic life-altering relocation.
It is to Kate, Peter and their children’s credit, that they not only managed to pull off the Herculean task of becoming Italian residents for what would end up becoming a two year sojourn in the dreamily heavenly and celebratory-nuanced locale that is Italy, but would positively blossom and thrive (inwardly and outwardly) in the process.
Kate’s first book, “Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy”, is Kate’s euphoric account of her and her family’s triumphs, travails and generally life-embracing experiences in Italy; the country that some sixty million mostly exuberant souls call home, and the country that multitudes more have arrived in expectantly curious over the centuries to indulge and bask in the plethora of scenery, buildings, monuments and food that this magnificently unique country has to offer. “Ciao Bella” means “Hello Beautiful” in Italian. Walking in Milan, in Italy, one morning, Kate passes two men, who call out cheekily to Kate, “Ciao,bella”. Kate shares with us, “It is ridiculous how much this thrills me”.
Kate and her clan arrived on the stupendously febrile shores of Italy on “a crisp January afternoon” in 2019. They had, after a dedicated ‘research’ trip prior to this highly anticipated arrival, decided to live in the steeped-in-history yet reverberatingly-happening town of Bologna. As Kate notes in the book, “The city is red and ancient. It is lovely. There is no tourist frenzy; just locals dressed for work, shopping or eating. We walk around marvelling at the beauty and ease of the place, it’s elegance”. The English language is barely spoken in the university town, a town which proves to be old-fashioned and enchanting for Kate and her family, whilst at times painstakingly frustrating. Nevertheless, any minorly downsides of the thriving metropolis that is modern-day Italy, are unequivocally compensated for by the wonderfully-realised fact that the Lewis clan find themselves in a multi-layered Utopia.
The children are swiftly and dutifully enrolled in an eclectic International School in Bologna, some of them being enrolled in basketball (basket) teams. The entire family unit find themselves moving into a cosy apartment that has life-giving views over Piazza Maggiore (the family are later in their stay to move to a palatial apartment that is so big, Kate has to rest after sweeping the living room). The first year in Italy is an ardent experience for the family, as they excitedly and meticulously “navigate a new language and city”. Breathtakingly, as Kate and family frequent a ‘hip’ bar in Bologna, Kate notes of her Italy experience “Everything is Hollywood-set, art-direction perfect”.
To add another challenging dimension to Kate and her family’s immersion in the resplendent and awe-inspiring Italian way of life, which encapsulates the joyful outlook of the Italians, the language, the scenery, the architecture, history and abundant and stunningly delicious produce and lovingly-cooked dishes, Kate has arranged to continue working with her radio ‘partner’ of eighteen years, Hughesy. This dynamic duo continue to be co-hosts of their hugely popular radio show by Kate broadcasting from a studio in Bologna (Kate decided against using a “local radio station in Bologna”, as “most…are technically decades behind what we are used to in Australia”). Kate gets up and travels in the darkness of early morning pre-dawn to do her radio show from her Bologna studio, and during the broadcast, Kate regales Hughesy and listeners in Australia with stories of her and her family’s “initiation into our new town”. Kate marvels at her new life, so full of promise and beauty, “It is unbelievable. And yet it is true. We are the Lewis Family of Bologna. It is simply miraculous”.
After a time, Kate ceases doing her radio show from Bologna, and her and Peter pursue Italian language classes at “the Academya Lingue” (a pursuit Kate has previously not found the time for whilst doing her radio show, in addition to cooking, cleaning, shopping and looking after the children). Hughesy is incredulous that Kate will stop work on the radio show, and bravely asks her “what are you going to do all day?”, to which Kate beautifully, yet poignantly, answers ” I don’t know, Hugh! I will just live”.
This insightful, perceptive and glittering book is not only about the external travels of the Lewis clan (they have serene yet indulgent holidays to such heavenly dream-like places as Tuscany and Sicily), it also illuminates Kate’s inner-journey while she is in Italy. For instance, Kate reflects “We….have become obsessed with happiness as an end unto itself. It is as though we are all hunting for a magic ticket that enables us to get off the despair bus so we can spend the rest of our days in some idyllic euphoria. Once we are there, we will probably spend all our time taking snapshots so others can see how happy we are”.
Kate’s all-encompassing wisdom permeates the pages of “Ciao Bella”. Heartbreakingly, Kate and Peter’s son Lewis was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2009 when he was six years old. Kate reflects “I thought I could not bear it, but I did”. After knowing such searing pain as parents (Lewis came close to the ruthless jaws of death), it is little wonder that Kate and Peter decided to grab life with both hands and embark on an adventure that would forever enrich them as a family and as individuals. Sadly, none-the-less undefeated, the family live through the unforgiving lockdowns in Italy in 2020 as the corona-virus infiltrates the world – they attempt to fly home before their due date of December 2020, but can’t get flights.
This time, however, is a time of family bonding for the Lewis clan, amid the turbulence of the raging pandemic, and Kate finds herself finding comfort in the ‘enforced’ time she is spending with her family in a companionable ‘bubble’. Kate tells us, “i am starting to enjoy isolation. I mean, really enjoy it”. The Lewis clan, sadly, yet joyfully and excitedly return to Australia for good in December 2020 – just prior to Christmas. Prior to their highly-planned departure, their character of a landlord, Ferdi, pays the family the ultimate compliment, “I thing, as you know….that Americans are amazing people, but you Australians are most like Italians”.
Kate Langbroek, in writing “Ciao Bella! Take Six Italy”, has written a positively glowing account of two years in the life of a quintessentially typically Australian, yet special, family where dreams are realised and battles victoriously won. I adored this book. It is a love story with a twist. It’s a story about a family’s eternal love affair with a country that sublimely transforms the lives of those who visit and live there.
I highly recommend this book, for all those wishing to be transported to a place that is of this world, and yet not of this world; a place where beauty and unflinching hospitality and generosity coincide, a place that is simply ‘Beautiful Italy’.