My little book on the Italian language had taken a beating.

The couple who brought the tattered, battered copy of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language to the Italian Cultural and Community Center in Houston explained what had happened: They had trekked with it to every city, site, church, museum and restaurant mentioned in the book. They are planning to do the same with my new book, LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World—but that’s not all. They are moving to Italy next year. “Your books changed our lives,” they told me.

I was deeply touched, but I also recognized the underlying force that had possessed them: la passione italiana. For years I’ve felt the same insatiable hunger to explore, discover, create, pursue beauty, love and live with every fiber of one’s being. The most gratifying aspect of my recent book tour has been discovering how this passion has touched and even transformed other lives.

At the Eagle Eye Bookshop in Atlanta, a woman shared a journal she kept during her travel in Italy. It literally overflowed with photos, postcards, ticket stubs, hand-written notes, dozens of other reminders of special times in special places. I could feel the passion captured in its pages.

At the American Italian Cultural Center in New Orleans, several Italian-Americans described how my books have rekindled their pride in and passion for their ethnic roots.  Some have taken Italian courses and  become fluent in Italian; a few have applied for dual citizenship.  Two proud parents were bringing LA PASSIONE to their daughter, an opera singer in Milan.

“Let yourself be inspired,” I encouraged everyone who came to our events. Rita Richardson, an Italian-American from Nashville, offered personal testimony as she recounted the back story of her passion to save an abandoned Baroque chapel in the Tuscan town of Castiglion Fiorentino. At each stop in our tour, when Rita showed images of the chapel, audiences gasped to see the beautiful frescoes, statues and coffered ceiling hidden inside the little church and applauded the ongoing efforts of the Friends of San Filippino to preserve this architectural and spiritual jewel.

The “Passion for Joy” tour continues next month in Italy. The town of Castiglion Fiorentino has organized a special celebration on Sunday, June 9. In addition to my presentation and and Rita’s update on progress being made on the chapel project, children of the local middle school will be displaying artworks to sell to raise funds for the restoration.  Others are translating my account of the “Save San Filippino” campaign in LA PASSIONE into Italian to read aloud. And, of course, there will be music and food and great fun. Please come if you’re in the area.

Rita and I will also be presenting in Florence at the  IBS Bookstore on Tuesday, June 11, at 6:00 p.m. and at the British Institute on Wednesday, June 12, at 6:00 p.m. I look forward to meeting you and to learning about your Italian passions.  Come celebrate the power of la passione!

I’d also like to extend heartfelt thanks to the Italian Cultural and Community Center of Houston, the American Italian Cultural Center of New Orleans, Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Octavia Books in New Orleans and Eagle Eye Bookshop in Atlanta, three of the independent book sellers who are the heroes of authors everywhere. Grazie!

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting LanguageMONA LISA: A Life Discovered and  LA PASSIONE: How Italy  Seduced the World. For more information on her and her upcoming events, visit diannehales.com.