Tuesday, June 23, 2015


In Italy, once you set yourself at a table in a restaurant or on a piazza, you own the table until you decide to leave.  It's one of the things I'd forgotten about being in this wonderful country.  

Another is the way they make resting into an art form.  Every day from about 1p-3p, many of the shops close while their owners enjoy lunch, rest, etc.  Restaurants on the piazzas don't serve full menus from noon till 5p or later, instead offering drinks and lighter fare like pizza during that time - not much else.  They save the il primo (first course - pasta or soup) and il secondo (second course - meats and fish) menus for the evening guests, beginning around 6p, or even more fashionably Italian, closer to 8p.  This is when the 'less barbaric' eat dinner.

But either way, no matter when you sit or how much you order, you're there until you're ready to leave.

In fact, they don't bring your check (il conto) until you insist they bring it.  Super frustratingly for an impatient American, they walk right past you a thousand times serving other guests and leave you to yourself because that's how you rest and that's how you enjoy life in Italy.  Joelene and I have waited more than 45 minutes on a number of occasions just to get the check after a meal here.

I was thinking about what would happen if, in America, two people walked into, say, Olive Garden, and sat at one of their premier booths and when asked what they'd like to order just said, 'Coffee, please.'

'Just coffee?'

'Yes, just coffee.  That's all we're having.'  (That happens a lot here in Italy.)

And then proceeded to take full possession of the prime booth for the next 2-and-a-half hours.

What do you think would happen?

I have several theories.

But I digress.

Another of the Italian customs is something called la passeggiata.  This is basically the evening stroll - somewhere between 6p and 8p.  It happens in virtually every town, village and city in Italy, primarily down the main drag and square.  During the week it marks the end of the workday - something to be celebrated.  It offers a moment of sociability before dinner.  On weekends it becomes in many cities the social event of the day when entire families take to the streets.  It reinforces a sense of community belonging.

Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle
Today Joelene and I entered the Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, one of the most beautiful and spiritual places in all of Cortona.  It was founded in 1211 by St. Francis of Assisi and some of his followers.  As we entered the quiet chapel, there sitting in the second row, completely alone, was a Franciscan monk, his head bowed in prayer.  We remained quiet in the back, snapped a few pics, and whispered to one another.  Not once did he turn to see us or shush us.  He kept his head down and continued his private worship.

What we may have lost in America in this regard - and what I have lost personally that I'd like to regain -- is -- margin.  

We're in a pretty fast moving race, except few of us have noticed there's no finish line in sight.  There's little opportunity to stop - to rest - to celebrate - to enjoy - to bow - to renew - to be.

Life at its very best is built around rhythms.  We are biologically wired to move from periods of engagement to periods of withdrawal to periods of rest - and back again.  Unfortunately, not every country seems to come with built-in rest stops.

So my suggestion is -- what if we used this next season of life to stop the treadmill a bit -- take a slow passeggiata -- grab a booth and ask for nothing but coffee and sit there with a friend longer than is acceptable -- sit in a chapel and bow our heads for awhile -- because every day you're given by the Creator is a glorious gift.

What would happen?

My theory is that this kind of margin wouldn't make our lives worse - it would make them better.

But the only way to test my theory -- is to try it.

And be blessed.

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