La Dolce Vita

The Sweet Life

In the eyes of many, the sweet life, or, “la dolce vita”, is a term synonymous with life in Italy. While this idea is widespread, how did Italy gain this reputation? Did it come from the film in the 60s by Federico Fellini? Or from tourism companies ready to sell you your next vacation? More importantly, is the life in Italy truly sweeter and more full than that of the United States or any other country for that matter?

To say that life in Italy is superiorly sweet above anywhere else would be misleading at best and, at worst, an offense to those who face the same challenges and struggles here as elsewhere. Despite the beautiful church façades, quaint Trattorias, cobblestone streets, and flower-covered balconies, there is still homelessness, illness, injustice, bureaucracy, racism, oppression, corruption, and everything other evil common to our shattered world. Rather than looking at Italy through the rose-colored glasses of “la dolce vita”, let us be realistic about this particular culture in all its beauty and its flaws.

A Sweet Life? Or a Slow Life?

Strolling the Sunday Vintage Market at Piazza Santo Spirito

Despite everything just said about normalcy, mundanity, and struggles (pretty uplifting blog post, huh?), there can be a unique sweetness to life in Italy. Here, there is an appreciation for the small things in life and experiencing life to the full. But why is this “quality of life” captured so well in Italy?

In my best observation, I attribute it to the pace at which Italian life is lived. Known to be a culture of slowness and one that does not revolve around the clock, the perception of time in Italy is very different from many other western countries. When someone says they will meet you at 9:00, it is not uncommon for this to mean in reality 9:30 or 10:00. Most small shops and stores close from 12:00-3:00 pm for a “lunch break”. Running simple errands, such as going to the post office or grocery store, are never a simple in-and-out but can take an hour or more out of your day. While all of these nuances of Italian life can be a frustrating cultural adjustment as an American, it truly changes the way one thinks about time, and the day as a whole.

To some, it may seem crazy to correlate a life of sweetness to a life of slowness. Everything I just described sounds terribly annoying and not enjoyable in the least. Yet, I will try to communicate it in the best way I know how.

Curtesy of Local Artist Tevka Lackmann @drawinchick

One of the greatest elements of living in America is efficiency. You can accomplish twenty bullet points on your to-do list, schedule appointment after appointment, work after hours, and fit in all your errands at the end of the day. This style of living truly has its advantages but simply cannot be executed in Italy in the same way. While less efficient, a forced lifestyle of slowness brings constant reminders to pause, rest, enjoy what makes life, life. Whether that be delicious food, a beautiful view, a simple espresso, or anything else that makes our mundane days beautiful.

A Well-Lived Day

I am going to go a bit cheesy on you for a moment but bear with me. Have you seen the film About Time? In a classic mid-2000s romance movie, Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson star in a story about a man who discovers his ability to travel back in time and change his life experiences. After a whirlwind of romance, family, friends, tragedies, and everything else that faces us in life, the protagonist Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) talks to his father, who also has the same ability.

As his father trains him in how to use this ability, Tim says this:

“And so he told me his secret formula for happiness. Part one of the two-part plan was that I should just get on with ordinary life, living it day by day, like anyone else. But then came part two of Dad’s plan. He told me to live every day again almost exactly the same. The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us from noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing…And in the end, I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did. The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day. I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

Ignoring the unrealistic and clichéd element of time travel, I often find myself thinking of this line after moving here to Italy. So much of the beauty in life is in the ordinary, the mundane, the things we are often to rushed to stop and open our eyes to. Without knowing it, I often evaluate myself and my day based on how much I accomplish within it. But what would happen if we saw our days differently? If we slowed, stopped just enough to see the ordinary parts of our day as beautiful? Perhaps, just then, would we start to live la dolce vita.

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