There I was standing at a bar, with cafe noir whirling through my veins thinking about the last 15 odd days in Paris, Sicily and Rome.
Coffee is a quick experience here, but of course, the average Roman has about 5 shots a day. The last is usually only had after dessert, followed by a long lingering walk through the criss-crossing cobbled streets, lit only by the yellow glow of lanterns.
Piazza Del Quirinale – Rome
Despite the often frantic pace of this hot blooded city, there is a calmness in the raising energy that breathes life back into Rome once the heat of day has passed – stores decide to re-open and the street cafes began to fill; all ready for the first aperitif.
Whether in Paris, Sicily or Rome, day in and day out following our siesta we’d find ourselves lingering in our own dolce vita. Sure, we were on vacation, but the locals were not – this was how they lived.
Realizing my tiny, white, ceramic cup was empty I asked the bar man for another.
“Prego” (with pleasure) was the response accompanied by a gentle nod.
Train Station Cafe – Rome
Moments later the aroma of the perfectly balanced dark liquid, still too hot to drink, tickled my senses. I noticed the bar man had slipped outside. Perched on a step, a conversation seemed to follow with a local store owner as they both smoked hand rolled cigarettes and drank coffee.
Then, ever so slightly, my heartbeat picked up. Surely it was not the espresso?
I scanned the cafe, bottles of fernet, limoncello, averna, Campari, grappa and aperol lined the shelf nestled beside a coffee machine that looked like the engine of a fine Italian race car.
Through instinct I touch the side of my pant pocket where my phone was zipped away. “Should I edit photos or check email?” I thought to myself.. “no” began an internal dialogue. “Don’t do it – just be”. As the dialogue ensued, I couldn’t help but imagine how much better it would sound in Italian.
In fact just last week in Sicily, I found myself sitting there just listening to the spirited conversation my AirBnB hosts were having in an adjacent room. It was like music…better yet, a dance with a tempo that flowed with high and low notes that seemed to roll off the tongue.
My attention returned to the cafe. Charming. Mostly black and white. A gentle hum from a gelato machine and a few locals now sitting at a nearby table.
The server had not yet returned.
In Italy the servers do not check in on you. It’s not a lack of service, quite the opposite actually. Once you have your order, they leave you to enjoy your conversation, your food, the atmosphere. They…let you be.
Ah, yes, the pang of fear I’d felt just moments ago was not caffeine but an anxiousness to fill the void of just being.
I thought back to Paris where I’m sure they’ve heard of the iPhone, but not once for breakfast, lunch or dinner did I see people on their phones, whether they were alone or with company.
There are few moments where you can just be…as a kid building legos or playing in a forest creek are the few that come to mind. As an adult maybe playing sports, watching suspenseful TV, that blissful moment after sex… and I’m only half joking.
With our hunger for productivity, our ability to be present seems to diminish with each new app. And most certainly the more we communicate and share through technology the less important face to face seems to be. Hot spots are popping up more and more …parks, city streets, and although I completely understand the pain of roaming charges and the need to map your destination and find that great restaurant, it also promotes an excuse to check the feed or post again.
The wifi signs hanging in cafe windows often say “stay connected”… but who or what are we truly staying connected to?
San Lorenzo – Roma
Taking a little time for ourselves to just be seems to have some mixed reviews in North America, where productivity and “being in the know” might as well be tattooed to our very bodies. Lifehacks, and blending all our activities into one are normal course for many. We worship the busiest, like iconic entrepreneur Gary Vee who put it, “you need to work harder. And faster. I’m exhausted every day, but I’m making all sorts of things happen in my eighteen hours. Not only am I working eighteen hours, I’m working fast as hell in this eighteen hours.”
Of course not everyone would agree with those lifestyle choices. Jake Gyllenhaal said about our need to always be on our phones and on social media…”No one is looking up. I take that seriously, I think it’s saying something really important and a little scary.”
Needless to say…at least this time I resisted the temptation to unholster my phone and just sipped my coffee.
I’m not saying Italian or Parisians are better than Canadians or Americans. Nor am I making the claim that they don’t look at their phones – that’s not for me to say.
The more simple question is what if we took away the 2go coffee cup (figuratively, not literally) and what if we actually ate long enough to enjoy our lunches? What if we weren’t always in a rush to finish our food and wine at dinner? Oh and what if evening strolls with the family were actually pretty cool… and not just for fitness! As Iris Murdoch said in The Sea, The Sea, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better.”
My trip here was only a few a weeks…just a small taste of the lifestyle. A taste, I assume will linger and nourish my soul for a long time to come.
Alas, the server had returned. A small amount of sweat shimmer on his forehead. He pulled a white cloth from his belt and wiped down a small seemingly arbitrary section of the counter. Then looked over in my direction. Half using his hands half muttering as if the answer was a foregone conclusion.