In Italy there is the concept of dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. The Italians claim to be masters at it. I enjoyed some of it on my own during rainy days in Matera in Southern Italy and other times in Sicily. I much prefer the Italian description rather than the American expression of “down time.” Because as I tasted and experienced the sweetness of doing nothing, there was a calm and peaceful tranquility to it that I could never find anywhere else.
I witnessed dolce far niente a number of times during the trip with Overseas Adventure Travel Sicily: Ancient Landscapes and Timeless Traditions. Once, at the Rome airport when I transited between Southern Italy and Sicily, I waited behind a woman who was waiting behind someone else for a long time, and I couldn’t figure what the holdup was. It was the sweetness of doing nothing! The woman at the counter was standing there, taking her time to sip her cappuccino slowly and deliberately. The other woman behind her had absolutely no problem waiting. Me? I had a plane to catch and just wanted some coffee while I waited. I moved over to a different line, and dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing -turned into an order for American coffee with hot milk to go.
I also enjoyed this sweetness during mealtimes. Sometimes the meals were deliberately for eating, and we ate, then moved on. But several times during the trip, it became the main event. On one long, rainy Thursday afternoon, we observed the American custom of Thanksgiving by each saying what we felt thankful for as we ate pasta with pumpkin sauce. We were supposed to go out for a hike after, but the pouring rain prevented anyone form wanting to do it. So what did we do? We poured more wine, ate more of what was on the table, asked for extra cannoli, took our time, and relaxed.
Eating with local families in their homes is a staple of any OAT trip. I often find the meals a bit staged, very much part of the tourist industry. But in Sicily it was completely different. The hostess felt like she could have been my friend. We ate entirely too much because I was the only one there who wasn’t Sicilian! So yes, this was a tourist activity, but they were 1000 percent authentic in how they explained to me how much they ate, how during Christmas lunch and dinner runs together, and how I couldn’t have just one helping but two of each course, because I wouldn’t get the full taste sensation otherwise. And oh yes, pasta comes next. And if I don’t finish the pasta, I must take it with me, so I must have some more. And next comes desert, which of course I must have. And then some limoncello but made with bay leaves. And on and on and on!! And after all that food and enjoying basically doing nothing, for some odd reason, dinner followed shortly thereafter.
OAT also provides on every trip a Day in the Life experience of locals and how they live. These too, can be touristy. But in the interior of Sicily, at a home near one owned by Mick Jaggar, it was the best I have ever gone to. It was in a rustic part of Sicily, with a persimmon tree near the bucolic wonder of the home set against ancient limestone and a running stream. The tree was in the exact shape of the Tree of Life. Four people, long- time friends, owned the place together and gather there in friendship. They live elsewhere with their families, but that home is a gathering place for eating, drinking, cooking, and celebrating friendship. And that’s exactly what we did that day. Eat, drink, cook, repeat. Nothing else. If I turned my head, the host filled my empty wine glass. With every bite of the food, I kept saying,” My heart sings!” I just loved the place. Nobody wanted to leave. This part of Sicily was not at all what I was expecting since so much of it is inland, with a strong emphasis on the many cultures that dominated the island at one time or another across the centuries. And If I had Mick Jaggar’s money, I’d buy a place there too and eat until I died of wonderful food and bask in the sweetness of doing nothing.
Taking time out of your day to bask in the enjoyment of something that brings pleasure or doing nothing at all may be a foreign concept to Americans. But it is certainly something to consider while traveling or at home.