WED. JUNE 17: Day 9
Tonight, Sarah, Ally, and I each ordered a pizza from the Godsend that is Gusta Pizza, and ate every last bite while sitting alongside Ponte Santa Trinita, watching the sun set, and cultivating il dolce far niente.
Il dolce far niente: an Italian saying meaning the sweetness of doing nothing.
Sheer indulgent relaxation. Blissful laziness. Being deliciously idle. Quiet enjoyment.
North Americans have acquired a bad reputation around the world for working too hard and having no life. Of course it’s not fair to judge an entire population, so I must apologize in advance for the generalizations I’m about to make here.
We tend to pencil in small doses of fun and pleasure into our chaotic schedules. Consider a typical week: we divide our time into the work week vs. the weekend; our social plans tend to be concentrated on 2 days of a 7-day week. There is no room in our days for spontaneity.
Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. As an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one, we spend billions of dollars to keep ourselves amused: porn, theme parks, wars… just to name a few.
Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating ice cream straight out of the carton, and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yet not exactly the same thing as pleasure).
American’s don’t really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype–the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but cannot relax.
Italians have always been hard workers, but even against the backdrop of hard work, il dolce far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with talent for happiness can do this; you don’t need a bank account full of cash.
For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure is my ingrained sense of guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is the American in me–the insecurity about whether or not I have earned my happiness. I can’t never let myself relax without feeling guilty.
There’s a wonderful passage in the book Eat, Pray, Love that says something like this: Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince us that we have actually warranted a special treat. Bud Light, for example: You Deserve a Break Today! The insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I am going to buy a six-pack! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge followed by the remorse.
Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in life. The reply in Italy to “You Deserve a Break Today!” would probably be, Yeah, no duh.
Which is probably why, when I thought about coming to a country where I’ll learn the art of pleasure, I felt completely irresponsible, as if this trip was a self-indulging luxury. When I realized that the only question at hand was, “How do I define pleasure?” and that I was truly in a country where people would permit me to explore that question freely, everything changed.
Everything became delicious. All I have to do is ask myself every day, for the first time in my life, “What would you enjoy doing today, Laurie?” With nobody else’s agenda to consider, the question has finally become self-specific and self-supportive.
I’ve found that all I really want to do is eat beautiful food and speak as much beautiful Italian as possible.
We have to let go of the guilt for not planning, producing and consuming. I think people around the world experience the pressure to measure the success of their day by what they’ve accomplished.
Instead of measuring the number of errands I’ve crossed off my to-do list, I’m measuring my success by the number of times I’ve smiled about nothing, watched the sun set, or by how long it took me to linger over dinner.
I don’t think I necessarily needed a trip across the pond to find my dolce far niente, but it has been much easier. I just hope I can keep this practice up when I return to The States.
To eat pizza is to live.