Stefania Della Tomasa and Kimberli WaackThink of Italy and one of the first things that comes to mind is rich tradition and culture. There’s more art than one can see in a lifetime. There’s food and family, and there is the midday rest. Walk down the streets in any city between the hours of one and four and visitors will find little open except a coffee bar or two. People conduct business during the morning and late afternoon. In between, they go home to cook; and if they happen to live in the Salento region of Puglia they watch in famiglia, a uniquely 21st century means for promoting regional traditions.

In famiglia follows a traditional daytime talk show format. Each weekday Stefania Della Tomasa, the good natured and sisterly host of in famiglia, puts together a live three hour show that is virtually unscripted. She has a band that changes each weekday, pretty young dancers and a rotating roster of regular guests, ranging from artists, poets, and chefs to the local astrologer. However, the bulk of air time is given to local people, who happen to have an interesting story or are part of an area event

I first met Stefania the day after I arrived in Lecce. I was sitting in the car with my host, Mario Calcagnile, and he suddenly asked me if I am shy. My response was, “Yes.” He replied, “Well then I should tell you that we are on going to be on television and you are going to paint. I do it every Tuesday and I think you might have fun.”

Until that Tuesday, I hadn’t painted anything in ten years and the thought of trying to sound coherent in Italian, and on television, terrified me. Let’s not even go into the anxiety of remembering how to mix colors on live television. I may admit to being shy but never to being nervous. My knees were wobbly when we arrived at the television station, but the atmosphere in the studio was so relaxed and friendly that I soon felt at ease. Mario introduced me to Stefania and told her a bit about me. She took a few notes and tried the English she has been studying for the last two years out on me.

Dancing produce on in famiglia by Kimberli WaackWhen the moment came and she called us out on the set, she spoke to me in Italian and also in English. I learned she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable practicing. It helped to put me at ease and in the weeks since I have had the privilege to return on Tuesdays to talk a bit about my adventures here and watch her handle more interesting problems than linguistics with grace and charm. During the show for the Carnevale festival, she kept over 40 guests ranging from five years olds in costume, to a troupe of dancers dressed as food and the sizzling man who currently holds the title, Most Beautiful in Italy, in a frenetic balance usually only accomplished by ringmasters.

As I sat down to write this article and gather a few facts, I Googled Stefania and found nothing! I was stunned. How could the reigning queen of one of southern Italy’s most popular shows not have her own site? The answer is simple, she doesn’t need one. Her fans know her, love her, and most of them don’t use the internet much. Yet she was happy to do an interview for ITKT readers. After one of her shows, Mario and I interviewed Stefania for her Internet debut. The following is a translation of a conversation that was mostly in Italian, my thanks to Mario for translating.

Stefania Della Tomasa and the Most Beautifula Man in Italy by Kimberli WaackKim: Your show creates a family atmosphere on television. Do you have favorite traditions in your own family and life that you would like to share?
Stefania: My family is of modest origins, there are five children in my family and we share everything. When I was young, my father went to work in Switzerland for 12 years but we stayed here. When he came back he began to care of his own lands.

I am from a very small town where the traditions are very strong. Everybody in the town says hello to each other because everybody knows each other. It’s like what I do here on the program. When I say good morning on the program I feel like I am saying good morning [to each audience member] one by one – like we do in my little town. Now when I am about, everybody – even if I don’t know them – gives me a kiss or hello. It gives me a lot of pleasure because it reminds me of my town and the expressiveness of my neighbors.

What do you like most about hosting the show?
I like everything. I like when I’m able to get emotions of all kinds [from my guests]: happiness, sadness, fun whatever each guest on the show can bring with them. I like to think that people watching must feel the same in some way… anything that can give emotion to the audience.

What do you find the most challenging?
Receiving so many people and I have a program with a lot of things. [To make] three hours live direct everyday having some aspect of fun and culture all together. To make it rich, it’s sometimes difficult to balance. This program helps Salento come nearer to the television…it helps to form identity. In past years inviting people as guests [was difficult, because they] were not interested to come. They considered TV to be superficial. Also being on television demands a lot of a person. Many people give up after working in TV for just one day. The show is becoming more important and respected by everybody. Attitudes are changing people give the program much more value than before.

What places would you recommend for people visiting Salento to visit? Is there a particular food that you think they should try?
It’s not a good thing to say to go in one place instead of another here in Salento because even now when I go around and work for Salento del Mare, I see some places more beautiful than I could have even imagined existing before. Maybe I was once looking for places like these places far from here like in Mexico. I was in a beautiful aquatic park there once diving. Then I went diving in Porto Cesario and saw that our water here is beautiful and also like the color of the sea in Mexico. So Salento is all beautiful for me and everything is good to eat. This a place you must visit more than once, because there are too many things to see and do and eat. Try all of the traditional dishes.

This article is going to be published in a web magazine about culture and travel. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
I travel, but not enough for how much would be necessary to discover the whole world. I have been in Ecuador, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, the regions of Italy, the United States. The world needs to be explored in a different way not necessarily in a big fancy hotel or with an organized tour, but on a holiday where you go in one place and live with the people in the place. I was able to do this in Ecuador. I was one month living with a family there. I don’t like the trips for tourists. I like the trips where I can really breathe the air of the place.

Written by Kimberli Waack

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