”Dull and insignificant moments in life must be made decorous and agreeable with suitable decorations and rituals. Ugly things must be hidden, unpleasant and tragic facts swept under the carpet wherever possible. Everything must be made to sparkle..!” (Luigi Barzini, The Italians)
One of the many delights of this fair country is the fabulous Italian pursuit and appreciation of pleasure. Coming from a nation which insists on constantly pushing the boundaries of personal fulfillment through ever-increasing work hours, and increasingly reckless abuse of alcohol and narcotics, seeing my adopted fellow countrymen take pleasure in the smallest and most simple of things has really opened my eyes and forced in me a new appreciation of a variety of things....'
Italians are wonderful at 'l'arte d'arrangiarsi', that is to say 'the art of making something out of nothing'. Of course this is not something that was necessarily born of a pleasurable situation but instead often from necessity. For example, many of the simple Italian dishes that we take pleasure in exactly for their simplicity were born from a need to 'make do' with whatever ingredients were available during times of hardship and poverty. The fact that they are now revered, and considered pleasurable, exactly because they are simple, and despite their origin, is a testament to the solid, earthy, unaffected Italian mentality. Another definite plus on the topic of consuming for pleasure – which lies in stark contrast to the approach of many other nations - is the view that alcoholic beverages are something that can be enjoyed simply for their taste and not just as a vehicle to get drunk! Imagine! And its not just wine and beer! Look at hot chocolate...practically an art form here! In the UK having a cup of tea is as standard as drinking a glass of water. Here, instead, the very art of taking tea...in a cute little cafe, with a beautiful teapot and a dinky little cake or biscuit on the side, puts us to shame!
Of course nowhere do Italians take more pleasure than in their aesthetic appreciation. Art galleries here are actually visited, modern architecture is for the most part tasteful and of course the majority of people make a real effort to look good. As a bona fide scruff, I find it wonderful how people here place so much emphasis on presentation. Of course this could be viewed from another angle as being shallow, but in my mind, the way that both men and women take time to look good in order to give themselves and the people who look at them pleasure, is a great thing. And the pleasure that looking nice, on the part of the women, can give others is very evident in the constant dropping of 'bella' into conversation. Again, while some might take offense to this, I personally find it fantastic to be referred to as beautiful by a person I don't even know, in the middle of any given day! If they find pleasure in my simply existing, by God, I'm not going to stop them!
And finally, and in my eyes magnificently, we have the Italian art form of the 'bel far niente'. Whereas typically in Anglo-Saxon, and also in North American, culture, we worry about whether we have actually earned the right to relax, Italians take it as a given. While we work frantically for 50 weeks of the year in order to spend 2 flying somewhere hot and trying to relax during the summer months, here-even in the city- the most important thing is to 'stai bene' and if this means the entire city shutting down for a month then so be it! It is no coincidence that more and more people from northern European countries are moving south to Mediterranean countries such as Italy precisely in order to do....well, nothing...or at least less! When it comes to pleasure-seeking, Italians have it down to a fine art and its a lesson that others could learn...bravo Italia!
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