Things To Do While Living In Italy – A Guest Post by Jenna Evans Welch

Hello! I’m so thrilled to be doing a guest post about my novel Love & Gelato, which was released in the U.K. earlier this summer. Love & Gelato is my first novel and very dear to my heart because it draws on my experiences (and adventures) as a teenager living in Florence, Italy. While I was living there I spent a lot of time writing letters and postcards to my friends back home and thought it would be fun to tell you about my book in letter form! So here goes…

Dear Readers,

Last night I braved my scary furnace room to dig through my boxes of keepsakes. There were all the usual things—ratty stuffed animals, my cap and grown from graduation, this creepy papier-mâché horse I made in first grade that looked like something that might eat you in your sleep. It took forever, but finally I found what I was looking for—the list.

In handwriting I barely recognized as mine it read:

Things To Do While Living in Italy

1. Learn Italian

2. Try gelato

3. Dance in a fountain

4. Drive a scooter

5. Learn how to flirt

6. Fall in love

I vividly remember making this list. I had just turned fifteen and I was about a week out from what would be one of my life’s greatest adventures. For reasons I still can’t comprehend, my parents had decided to transport me and my four rowdy younger siblings (plus our 300 duffel bags) halfway across the world to live in a small house on the outskirts of Florence, Italy. It was ridiculous and scary and one of the greatest things they ever did for me.

For two years I attended high school in an ancient villa-turned-schoolhouse where classes were held in old bedrooms and lockers were set up in the wine cellar. My family’s house had spotty hot water and a landlord who thought shouting could make up for our language gap. I made friends from all over the world and woke up every morning to the most gorgeous view Tuscany had to offer. And the list? Well, I probably hadn’t needed to make it.

#1 happened after many, many sessions with Italian For Dummies propped open on my face. #2 happened way more often than it should have. #3 happened on a hot day in Rome. #4 and #5 happened almost simultaneously, and if I recall correctly, #6 happened at least half a dozen times.

But there was one thing that should have been on the list that wasn’t:

7. Come up with the idea for your first book.

But maybe that was just a given. In fact, all you have to do is set foot in Italy for inspiration to come raining down on you. Florence in particular is the kind of place that makes painters paint and singers sing. It’s laidback and charming with this special magic floating through the streets that I’ve never found anywhere else. I’ve carried that city around in my back pocket like a good luck charm for years, and every once in a while I pull it out to get me through days that aren’t nearly as laidback or charming or magical as I wish they were.

While I was in Florence I met a girl named Ioiana Luncheon (sorry, not giving you any hints on pronunciation). She was beautiful and interesting and liked reading maybe even more than I did, which is to say, a lot. All of that would have been plenty for making me want to be her friend, but she also had this one other super interesting thing about her: she lived in a cemetery.

And not just some little cemetery either. It was a seventy-acre cemetery called The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. It was huge and sprawling with big green lawns and thousands of headstones, and she and her family lived in the caretaker’s house where her father worked to “keep the lawns green and the headstones white.”

Ioiana loved running, so in the morning before visitors got there she’d lace up her shoes and sprint up and down the rows of headstones, working up a sweat and officially making herself the coolest person ever. After my family moved back to the U.S., and over the years as I went about the business of becoming a Real Live Adult, Ioiana and I were in and out of touch. But for some reason, the day I decided I was finally going do it—I was finally going to write a novel—Ioiana’s runs through her Italian cemetery were the thing that kept swelling up in my mind.

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I wrote Love and Gelato because I love reading. I wrote it because I love Italy.  I wrote it because I had two characters talking to each other in my head and I knew it was time for them to get on paper and meet face to face. But most of all, I wrote it for you. I hope it’s the kind of book that you can tuck in your back pocket and pull out on days that aren’t nearly as laidback or charming or magical as you wish they were.

With love (and gelato),

Jenna

Love and Gelato is out now.

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