Doing things the Italian way

As we approach the end of our week in Gabiano, it seems appropriate to think about what we have experienced, and learnt. The great thing about staying in our own house, rather than a hotel is that we are really immersed into the local culture, and more importantly, we get to mix with the wonderful local people. Gabiano is a small place, where everyone seems to know everyone else, and we feel very lucky that we have been welcomed so warmly by everyone we meet.

We know very little about the history of our house, we believe its over 100 years old, and hadn’t been lived in for many years, before our project began. But unlike most ‘holiday homes’ this was not purpose built for tourism, its very much part of small rural community, and no doubt those that were here before us worked the land, and lived very simple lives.

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Our balcony view

Our next door neighbours are the most delightful couple you could ever wish to meet – Franco and Luciana; Franco is 94, and Luciana is some 10 years younger, they have lived here all their married lives, and before that, their house was Franco’s family home.  They don’t speak a word of English, and our Italian is barely more than a ‘bonjourno’ (although this morning, Luciana made it clear to me that Melanie’s Italian is far better than mine, “studia Italiano” she tells me!) – but we make ourselves understood most of the time.

They keep themselves busy, they grow their own fruit and veggies (which are really delizioso!), and potter around a great deal, but they also know how to sit and chat, to take things easy – and this is something the Italians are very good at.

Franco & Mario

If you’ve seen the Julia Roberts film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ or read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, you may remember the Italian phrase that features quite strongly in the ‘Eat’ part – ‘Dolce Far Niente’, which translated means ‘The Sweetness of Doing Nothing’ – and this is what I am really keen to learn from my new Italian friends.

A short clip from the film that explains what it really means can be found here:

Dolce Far Niente

In our busy lives, it can be quite rare that we get the chance to really ‘do nothing’ – for me, there always seems to be something buzzing around in my head, or something that needs doing – perhaps an iPhone to check, so that I don’t miss that critical email, or Facebook post :-). But when I watch Franco and his friends sitting at their daily gatherings, I don’t think they are worried about the kind of things that bother me, no-one is looking down at a phone, and yes it could be an age thing, but I think its more than that, it’s being able to truly switch off from the pressures of day to day life, and I find it hard to believe that that can only be achieved when you are 94.

But its not just stepping back from a busy lifestyle, even when we are taking things easy, we can still be thinking of things to do. Each day on our holiday we have thought about “what shall we do today?”, and this usually involves travelling somewhere, to do something – how often do we wake up and let the answer to that question be, “nothing, I’m going to spend some time today doing absolutely nothing”?

So I’ve started to think about what ‘Dolce far niente’ could mean for me, what does ‘doing nothing’ really look like?  There are many articles and blogs on the subject, so with the help of google, you don’t have to go far to get some inspiration.

I spoke in my last post about how I prefer comfort to speed, and it seems logical to me that ‘Dolce far niente’ is a further step down that comfort road, perhaps the ultimate form of comfort?


But even when doing nothing, unless we are in a trance, maybe we have to do something – perhaps sitting in a comfy chair reading a book, listening to some music, or enjoying a glass of wine? But this is very personal, so in that respect, ‘Dolce far niente’ can be different for everyone.

I think we should therefore take the time to learn from the Italians, and figure out what ‘Dolce far niente’ means for us, then make some time in our hectic schedules to experience it.

Some further reading on Dolce far niente:

Psychology Today

And my favourite article, as it’s written very much from a male perspective.


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