When I am in Italy I notice how the tran tran of daily life conveys a certain grace in its simplicity. Mountains are first turned into molehills before they are forgotten completely, usually in time for the next meal. In the land of Popes and sinners life is definitely NOT about slinking by, but about grasping the full sweetness of every experience, even the ones that pain as much as they pleasure. Italian daily life is neither momentous nor remarkable on the surface; yet plunging into its deeper layers is a culture that celebrates the ordinary by raising it up to the extraordinary. Italians approach marinara sauce as passionately as they do romantic interludes. Their archival memory of battle, political ruthlessness, economic hardship, domination and destruction, have shaped a society that bounces back from defeat with an even deeper understanding of how important it is to sing, paint, cook and fare l’amore while you can—and that means right up to one’s last breath.
I once asked a number of my Italian friends: “What do you most want out of life?” This, in a country where a national poll reported that the most beautiful words to Italians are amore, mamma, pace and liberta’: love, mom, peace, and liberty—in that order. Initially, they were puzzled I should even ask such a question—after all, isn’t life itself its own premio? To summarize some very long–winded responses (after all, this is Italy, no?), they confided that what really made life worth living was being able to savor the simple pleasures they’ve always enjoyed —una sfogliatella; a playful flirtation; the laughter of un bambino.
Living a “dolce vita” existence is like the difference between a cellophane-wrapped slice of American versus a richly textured wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is the difference between caramel-colored cola, and ruby red Vino Nobile. It is the difference between a succession of harried business meetings, and pulling the plug on Time by disobeying the clock.
Pierluigi, a normally reserved university professor, once morphed into Peter Pan at the sight of a rainbow. He left his running car stopped in the middle of road–the urgency of the matter left him no time to pull over, thus creating a major ingorgo, traffic jam–in order to jump out and hoist himself up a nearby pole to get a better view of the celestial arc of color. Still, you got the impression that the ensuing chaos—-clacson, horn-beeping, gesticulations (some obscene), and raised voices— were more an expected ritual than a sentiment of true ire. As if there existed an unspoken agreement among Italians everywhere that a rainbow sighting certamente takes precedence over a smooth commute to work. Behind the ability to stop and notice God’s treasures is a general belief that everything works out in the end (e.g., that traffic will eventually get back to running smoothly) whether you stop to smell the roses (or notice a rainbow) or not. How would you rather live your days?
(Adapted from an article I wrote for The Italian Tribune). If you love this article as much as I loved writing it, please share it with everyone you know , using one of the share buttons below. I am grateful to all of my readers. Mille grazie e a presto!