Upon reflecting on my first year at university, I realized that I had spent the eight months of school completely anxious, and along the road, I had developed certain beliefs about how to interact with this anxiety. It seemed as though I was immersed in an unapologetic cycle: the concept that the body could not function if not ruled by stress.
It was early June when I was given the opportunity to travel back to my home for 30 days and explore two of Italy’s most beautiful cities. The prospect of leaving everything behind for a month intrigued me. I wanted to feel like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love and accept the enthusiastic call to finally do what my heart desired.
Even though I was, of course, aware that my trip would not be the challenging, romantic, life-altering adventure Julia Roberts had endured, I was ready to unplug from my chaotic life and embark on this journey.
A week later, at precisely 11:40 am, I landed at my first destination.
Rome: the eternal city, with its ghastly levels of pollution. A fourth-world public transport service and road piracy that results in it being considered one of the most dangerous European cities for pedestrians. Yet, underneath the layer of quotidian horrors, there remains an inexpressible splendour that enables the city to be the most ambiguous object of tourist desires.
There is a sense of security that comes with losing oneself in Rome’s varied history. The city bears no resemblance to anywhere else on the planet. It is a place that offers an eccentric cultural buffet submerged within the eras of the city’s past glory.
Sigmund Freud once wrote that Rome is “a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past, an entity… in which nothing has once come into existence will have passed away and on the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.”
You can visit the Ancient Forum to stroll back in time to the Rome of Julius Caesar. Admire the masterfully created mosaics on the pavement of the Pantheon to caress the medieval ages. Rest your gaze upon Michelangelo`s Sistine Chapel to fully immerse yourself in the Renaissance. To complete your visit, throw three coins in the Trevi Fountain to be splashed back into the Baroque era.
The eternal city is one of the most unique places on the planet. Rome is a melting pot of Italian culture and the birthplace of the idea of the dolce far niente.
I lived in Italy for eleven years. I am a native.
I was born in a small town by the metropolis that is Milan.
I speak Italian fluently.
And I believe every type of cuisine other than my own is inferior.
Yet I can’t say I am a master of the philosophy of the dolce far niente.
The idea behind the “sweetness of doing nothing” goes beyond the simple translation of spending time doing absolutely nothing.
A distinctive feature of Rome, indeed, is that it pulses with life every second of your stay, as it bestows upon you the innocent feelings of enthusiasm, curiosity, and spontenaity.
Rome is a hectic city. Chaos and disorder prevail. However, if visited with the correct mindset, the city allows your senses to be the guide, making you feel like the first visitor in over two thousand years to truly understand her creations and charms.
The dolce far niente encapsulates Italy`s mindset that moments of slow and pure pleasure are the base of a good life. The dolce far niente is about gutless joy, and such philosophy continued to be elongated in my second destination.
Florence: the fulcrum of Italy’s intellectual, artistic, and cultural heritage. The Tuscan capital drips with art, architectural charm, and locals who are as fiery as they are friendly.
The picturesque sight of Florence is further refined by the delicate folds of the Tuscan hills which the city lies within, the arrays of cypresses that frame its perimeter, and the mighty Arno river that slashes through the town.
By day, many troupes of tourists flock the piazzas to admire the awe-inspiring works of the world’s greatest artistic masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and Raffaello.
Crowds of people gawp at the treasures of the various jewellery stores of the Ponte Vecchio and others hasten to Piazza della Signoria to take a picture of the ‘other’ David. As the sun falls underneath the horizon, calmness prevails.
As the last beam of sunlight illuminates the city’s picturesque homes and monuments, laden with the colours of peaches, tangerines, and lemons, Florence’s idyllic night life begins. With aperitivo glasses clinking against each other, the various piazzas become crowded and musicians play soothing lullabies. Unlike Romans, Florentines seem to never be in a state of hectic confusion. Time pressure is a concept not known in Florence, and neither is stress.
A month later, far from the busy streets of Toronto, I am sitting by the Arno dangling my legs over the calm water, caressing the endless blooms of the fragrant herbs around me.
As these weeks have passed, I have found myself sliding away from my responsibilities and anxieties, while at the same time happily adjusting to the relaxed rhythm of this country.
Although I spent but a few weeks traveling through Italy, I was able to learn a lot from its people and bring back the greatest teaching of all: in order to fully enjoy life, we need to savour a few moments a day of gutless joy.
That is what the dolce far niente encompasses.
It is not the stereotypical slogan that portrays Italians as lazy, but rather a psychological philosophy that we should all embrace to lead happier and better lives.
Whether it is disconnecting from social media, enjoying a dinner with your loved ones, or taking a day of rest, doing nothing and enjoying the present is perhaps the greatest appreciation for the blessings we have.