August 26, 2007
Pleasure-Seeking in Italy
One of the things that gives me so much pleasure about going back to Italy IS in fact sheer pleasure. And if I had to choose a second, it would be design and design in multiple ways, not design the way the traditional west thinks about it.
Italians understand pleasure in a way that other cultures only dream about or maybe that's the problem -- other cultures not only don't dream about pleasure but avoid it. You might be reading this and thinking, "hey, what about the yanks, that's a purely pleasure-seeking society," but no, its not, a purely entertainment-seeking society. Therein lies the difference.
And as for design, even at the smallest of levels, just take a look at a WalMart or CVS bag versus an Italian pharmacy bag, one which has a cursive written logo with flowers and fruit on the front. Luigi Barzini attempts to explain in The Italians why the artistic and the beautiful are so revered but also why both are so individualistic.
Says Barzini, "Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists, and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent 'opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors....'
Elizabeth Gilbert sums up his viewpoint in her latest novel. "In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then, can be a serious business -- not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away into.....rhetoric and plot."
Reading this and re-living every trip I've made to Italy over the years, it made me wonder, is this the root of Italians' obsession with beauty, design and culinary pleasure?
Whether it was my extended stay in Tuscany, my camping trip down the coast on a Swiss motorcycle, my train and bus rides that zigged and zagged across the country from north to south, my lazy days and nights sleeping on Italian beaches or people watching in cafes in Rome, the aura has inevitably revolved around pleasure.
Italy makes me think of pleasure exploration, mostly around food. After my Tuscany trip which also took me to the south of Italy, I found that I returned home with an addiction to pasta. You think I'm kidding, but the carb-rich perfectly cooked homemade pasta served with extra extra extra extra olive oil, garlic and basil which coated my dishes like silk, was forever on my mind for close to a month after my return.
I'd wake up in the morning and crave the taste, the texture and the experience of an Italian meal not long after I finished a shower. My boyfriend at the time had to cope with these cravings which sometimes resulted in bribing a restaurant chef in the Boston suburbs to prepare an early lunch so my breakfast craving could be met.
Meanwhile Bill would ask in awe, "what's wrong with cereal? You used to like toast? I'll make you eggs...." In other words, please become normal again. For a traditional Irish boy who grew up with classic anglo-breakfasts, pasta or anything resembling it before 6 pm was as far of an acceptable option for him as morning whiskey would be to The Pope.
I tried to explain that it was a craving, ya know, like pregnant women have with pickles and ice cream, "its my body hon....." Once I went cold turkey for a few days, I didn't get the shakes like a caffeine addict does, but I did find it hard to concentrate during the day and my mornings were tired. Then as quickly as it started, it disappeared, which everyone in my life was thankful for.......
It's not as if Bill or others in my life at the time had not been to Italy or other pleasure-seeking centers, such as Paris, Singapore (oh God, the food in Singapore), Penang (I actually extended my flight by a few days so I could feast at least a dozen more times) and New Orleans.
But how to explain that the addiction was not just to the carbs but to all the things that come along with the pleasures of Italy? The attention and relentless commitment to beauty, design, fashion, colors (go into a men's store and notice the umpteen choices of brightly colored cashmere sweaters), wine, cheese (don't cry for me Pecorino), gelato (I had a chestnut gelato recently that was to die for), and that primo piatto homemade pasta and pizza, a stark contrast to what tastes like stringy cooked Wonder Bread noodles at home. (exception: New York's Little Italy has laid some surprises on me)
This trip, thankfully I have Corsica, Paris and London between Sardinia and home and have already started to break the pasta addiction with French crepes. That leaves us with the decadent fromage cravings that are sometimes even harder to break, but that's another story.
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Il mio blog ha molti lettori Italiani, godasi.
Posted by: paul | Aug 27, 2007 5:37:43 PM
Very insightful and spot-on. When I think of Italy, I think not of world power (business, finance, military, etc.) but instead of people who know how to live life with elegance and passion. When I think of the USA, too many times I see nothing but the relentless pursuit of the dollar. America is a country with the virtually the fewest vacation days in the civilized world and people are proud that they don't take them. When operating at a fast pace, form becomes secondary to function and the idea of handbags with flowing cursive letters is unthinkable unless the profit margin is greater. Sadly, we need more beauty and art in everyday life to truely appreciate humanity.
Posted by: Mark | Aug 29, 2007 1:21:25 PM