But... There is a lot to be learned from other cultures, as I did after living and traveling throughout France when I was a younger man. As complex as France was, I found Italy to be much more simple in many ways. The food is more simple--much easier to grasp the simple cooking methods than in French cuisine. The wine is both simple and good, whereas French wines, varieties and classifications are mind-boggling. The architecture is also simple in a timeless way... some villages have barely changed since the time of the Romans.
But mostly I want to explore the lifestyle. What are the elementary things that make the Italian way of life so loved and prized throughout the world --no less by the proud people of Italy itself? If you want to live the Italian life you need to go on a Voyage to both Italy and inside yourself. You need to ground yourself in the basic things that make Italians both complex and simple... that allow them to appreciate the mundane things around them, their families and the natural world around them--especially in the sense of where their food comes from.
So, here are some things you might try to live The Italian Life...
- Appreciate your family. Italians respect their elders much more than Americans. They also dote on their children and consider them as the most precious things in their lives.
- Slow Down and Stop Rushing. As I've written about before, Italians see time as a flowing river. Once it flows past, you can never catch up to it. You can only sit on the banks of the river and appreciate what flows past right now--in this moment.
- Take a long lunch. Most Americans barely take a lunch break, eating their sandwich as they work. Many eat lunch on the go as they walk or drive. In Italy Italians close up show and go home to eat lunch--from 12pm - 3:30 or 4pm! They consider lunch as the more important meal of the day.
- Eat a light dinner. I heard a saying years ago for eating a healthy, Mediterranean style diet: "Eat like a King in the morning, a prince for lunch, and a pauper at dinnertime. Italians have rich, sweet pastries for breakfast (colazione), eat a hearty meal at lunch, and eat lightly for dinner.
- Buy natural, fresh foods--preferably organic. Italians frequent local farmers' markets every week and buy breads at bakeries, fish and fish mongers and meat at butchers. Sure, they have supermarkets, too, but in general, food is purchased fresh for use the same day. Find a local butcher and buy your meat there instead of in the supermarket. Support local farmers' markets.
- Drink only with meals and friends. Believe it or not, Italians aren't really big boozers. Americans drink far more wine and hard liquor than Italians do, even though most Italians will have wine and occasional cocktails. The difference is they drink wine with meals for the taste--not to get a buzz on. They drink cocktails when meeting friends, usually in the early evening hours. Italians will also have a small aperitif before a meal. Drink for the taste and with meals to drink like an Italian.
- Embrace people. Italians hug and kiss. Old men walk arm in arm--women do, too. Even men embrace and kiss each other on the cheek. Now I'm not saying to do all of this, but there is something beneficial about physical contact. Americans are way too distant from each other. Hugging a friend to show how glad you are to see them is a great thing. But do it more than just on their birthday or Christmas. Don't let a day go by without touching another human being.
- Love where you live. Be proud if your home. Italians are different than Americans in that they really come from 20 different and distinct regions. They weren't one country until recently in their history. Each small town has something they are very proud of... the local food specialty, the local history, the Castle in their town, the mountain overlooking them, the sea nearby, the local bread or wine, etc. Look to your own community and develop a sense of place and history. Join an historic society or other community group. Promote local history and food.
- Try growing your own food. Many Italians grow their own vegetables. No matter how small a plot of land they have--often just a balcony or patio--they'll at least grow herbs and tomatoes. It's very gratifying to prepare food that you've grown from seed to plate.
- Cook more meals from scratch. Many Italians know how to cook, the nonnas (grandmothers) and the nonnos (grandfathers) alike. The old pass their recipes down to the young and teach the young children how to cook at an early age. The Italian cuisine is one of the simplest to cook... both the ingredients and the methods of preparing the food are pretty straight forward. Start making your own pizza and you might never call for take out again. Try making your own sauce, bread, stews and soups.
- Consider your bella figura. Italians are very self-aware. They are prideful about their personal appearance and cleanliness. They will dress up to go to church. They get dressed up to take a walk in the evening. They do use their bidets. They don't walk barefoot--even at home. They do laundry a lot--just look at all the clothes drying on the clotheslines. Looking your best gives your psyche a positive boost.
- Take an evening walk with your family. Each night in every town in Italy, Italians get out after dinner to walk in the piazza or the main viale (boulevard). They call it the passeggiata. It's a time to relax and digest... to meet up with neighbors, relatives and friends. It's also a time to shut off the TV and just be with your family.
- Eat meals together. Italians eat meals together. They go home at lunchtime to have a large meal with the family. Americans will eat in separate rooms, family members might eat different things during dinnertime, or they will eat at different times entirely. Dinner should be a time to sit, eat and share the day's events with the family.
- Learn to live with less. Smaller houses and apartments and smaller cars. That's what Italians live with. Small fridges let them buy more fresh foods. Small cars means less car to pay for... and they use less gas. Small cars take up less space... so you can fit cars just about anywhere. Smaller kitchens mean that although you can cook at home, you'll balance it out with eating out in a nice restaurant once in a while. Small or non-existent closets mean you won't hoard.
So, try these suggestions and live the Italian way... be a Buongustaio (person of good taste). Learn to live la dolce vita (the sweet life).
If you liked this post, please spread the word around about Grand Voyage Italy. Bring your friends. Ciao!