The Italians I met while in Florence have one thing in common: they are content with their lives and feel lucky to be living them. Most of them have spent time in America – usually more than a year – and they perceive the American way as being quite difficult and angsty. They feel we are obsessed with having the best of everything and in achieving notoriety. My new friend, Daniel, said, “Americans have to find the best coffee, the best place to eat – here, we can just sit in a piazza that’s really nothing special and drink coffee without worrying if it’s the best or if we’re seen having the best. We just enjoy sitting and living in the beauty of that one moment.” He mentioned that in America, he felt he couldn’t take a break just to live – it had to be consumed with work or striving or getting more.
Another man runs a beautiful leather shop around the corner from my apartment. At the end of our shopping trip, enamored by his knowledge and customer service skills, one of us said, “Paolo, you’re going to be famous!” He smiled and shook his head like we had offered him a shot glass full of rat poison. “Oh, no. I don’t want fame. I only want to love what I do. Fame is not good for people.” He expounded a little, and I don’t remember all that he said, but his implication was clear: Americans love fame, Italians understand that fame is too much work.
I want to agree with them, while adding a personal disclaimer for my own lifestyle. Yeah, that’s how Americans are, but not me. Poor, poor Americans. However, I can’t deny it’s a part of me as I wander the streets looking for the best restaurants and the best shops and the best things to bring home – and in the way I feel I’ve wasted a moment if I haven’t captured it in photos or words on a page. I see it in myself as I enjoy the most beautiful wine country landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on, while fighting a driving impatience to get to the next vineyard and see if it’s better. I miss entire moments of my life – wide swaths of time and experience, in fact – because I’m so busy processing whether or not that experience does or does not live up to my expectations.
And this is what I want to bring home – not from Italy, but from Italians. I want their deep love of family and hospitality, yes, but more than that – their deep love of living in exactly the moment they’re in with exactly the things that they have. I want to live a life that is able to sink deep roots into the rich soil of the right-here, right-now beauty I’ve been given. I want to refuse the endless, aching longing for attention, admiration and just “more and better” that swallows the wonder of a million little ordinary blessings whole. It will be hard because I’ve been this way a long time; but contentment + gratitude = peace; and that is the goal I’m bringing home.
With hope and great gratitude to the people in Florence who have shared their lives with me,