At Home Abroad

Jacqueline Gilbertson, in Venice for the Carnival.

Picture yourself in Venice during the Carnival. You’re on the guest list for several masked balls, and you don’t want to show up in just any old 18th-century gown. So you head over for a fitting at one of the most prestigious costume collections in the city, where the actors for Dangerous Liaisons and Eyes Wide Shut were outfitted. Later during your stay you’ll take cooking lessons with a countess, rub shoulders with a gentleman wearing a live python at a private party off San Marco, talk to local artisans about their work, and listen to a string quartet in a sumptuous palazzo.
    This is hardly the experience of the typical tourist, acknowledges Jacqueline Gilbertson WG’83, founder of Culture Capsules, a company based in Beverly Hills, which arranges behind-the-scenes “journeys” to destinations like Venice, Paris, and Provence. “I really make the distinction between being a traveler and being a tourist,” says Gilbertson, quoting Marcel Proust: “‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ I really think that’s what it’s all about.” Ideally, she explains, one returns from a journey with changed perceptions, not just a checked-off list of landmarks.
    For Gilbertson, the business is a natural outgrowth of her artistic temperament, cultural interests, and the extensive traveling she did in her former career in the international marketing of cosmetics. While working in Paris for one company, she says, “I had the opportunity to meet fascinating creative people, including architects, art historians, and master chefs.” Thanks to such contacts, guests on Gilbertson’s journeys can count on having interesting dining companions and invitations to local artists’ studios. 
    The trips, which include luxury-hotel accommodations, may be expensive—in the case of one recent Venice excursion, the cost was $8,750 per-person for a week, not counting air-fare—but Gilbertson says one really can’t put a price-tag on the programs, which depend on personal relationships that took her years to cultivate. She credits her Wharton experience for many of these friendships.
   One of her French classmates from a Wharton exchange program in France went on to become a director at the famous luggage maker, Luis Vuitton, providing Gilbertson and her fellow travelers with an entrée to the private Luis Vuitton Travel Museum. A friend from Wharton who married a Frenchman put her in contact with a perfumer and a master chef in Burgundy.
    “Each participant [in Culture Capsules] is like a personal guest in the country, and they have the opportunity to establish relationships with the local people. We’re so high-tech these days. I think there’s a very human need to connect with people and have a personal experience.” 
    Gilbertson envisions hosting journeys closer to home in Los Angeles, where seldom viewed private mansions and art collections abound, and as far away as India, where she’s made friends through other Wharton classmates. If the growth of her company means spending even more time abroad, she doesn’t mind. “I never tire of travel, because it’s so personal,” she says. “I’m going back to see friends, so it almost feels like a home away from home.”

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