It’s the little (Italian) things in life to love: thoughts from abroad

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By Miriam Hammer

I stepped out the front door of my apartment on Via Della Mattonaia barely able to contain my excitement. It was my first day abroad in Florence, Italy and I could not wait to explore the city that I was to call home for the next 10 weeks. As I left my apartment and turned off the main road onto the tiny street that heads towards the city-center, I suddenly had to change my pace. Surrounded by Italians on the cobble-stoned road, I simply could not walk at my normal speed.

I have been told before that I am a quick walker, but it felt like these people were walking at a snail’s pace. It was as if none of them had anywhere to be. The majority of the people were leisurely strolling along, stopping at times to talk to a vendor or even an acquaintance they had run into on the street. I found myself weaving in and out of them at my normal walking pace, eager to reach one of my many planned destinations for the day.

I did not think much of this observation until that night at dinner. It was my first time eating out in Italy and I was enthused, to say the least. The waiter immediately brought over our drinks, but he didn’t come back for another 20 minutes to take our dinner orders. Then, after we finished our meals, we waited another 30 minutes for him to bring over our check.  All in all, dinner took us over two hours. I shrugged it off as bad service and a busy night, yet, as my days continued in Italy, I noticed the same thing happening wherever we would go. It finally dawned on me that it wasn’t that these restaurants were understaffed or that people on the street were fatigued, it was that Italians simply go through life at a different pace.

After living here for only a month, I realize that Americans are always in a mad dash for the finish line. I am used to running out the door in the morning without a minute to lose, for fear of being late to my destination. I am used to immediately leaving the table after finishing a meal, often even eating it on the go. I am constantly thinking a step ahead about my next obligation or a future destination.

I look around me here and nobody is in a rush. Italians saunter unhurriedly down the street. They sit and let their food digest after eating, sipping wine and enjoying the company of the people around them. They live in the moment, buying fresh food at the market and then prepare it for dinner only hours later. I’m trying hard to break the fast-paced habits that have been ingrained into me for my entire life. I often have to remind myself to slow down. To look around me when I walk through the street, instead of only thinking about where I need to be. To actually taste the bread when I put it in my mouth, instead of mindlessly eating it because it’s the first thing on the table. As I walk down the street at night and see Italians loosely socializing in the middle of the road, perched on the tiny stoop of the curb enjoying a drink or casually smoking a cigarette on the steps of a piazza, I am reminded of a quote by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, who once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” I realize, of course, that I am going to remember the day I spent in Venice or the afternoon I climbed the steps of the Duomo, but that, in reality, it is the small moments in Florence that I am truly going to miss the most. I realize how important it is to slow down and cherish the little things in life to love.

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