When I was studying abroad in Torino, my class was full of a bunch of underage American guys who would party all night and then snooze in class. My lovely cleavage bearing teacher would pound her fist on the table and demand, “Fuc-us! You must fuc-us!” That perked the guys right up.
The other thing I remember about my teacher was her notion of time. She’d give us a 10 minute break and we’d all order a cappuccino from the surprisingly good cafeteria. The barista would make cute designs in our cappuccinos. The clerk would always try her darndest to remember all of our names and would butter us up with mi dispiace cara in her honey voice when she forgot. Our teacher would join us and we’d all sit around the table chatting. Ten minutes would go by…then 15…and then 20….before our teacher realized it was time to go back to class. We all had time to enjoy our coffee, the break, and each other. Would we really have learned that much more in 10 minutes if we had gone back to class on time? Probably not. But we came back refreshed and ready to learn and with wonderful memories.
This lax approach to time suited me like snow is white. That’s who I am: flowing through time and not rushing against it. This is one aspect of Italian culture that felt more like “me” than my own. In fact, when I returned to America I couldn’t keep up with the speed of things and still can’t. I have Italy in my veins.
That’s why tonight when I found myself barely taking a breath as I plowed through my dinner, I started to really question what all this rushing is about. You’d think I was competing with a bear for my food and had to gulp it down before he could. I thought I had made a partial victory of mindfulness by turning off the TV to enjoy the flavors of my food, but I couldn’t slow down even though I had the time (though not really, I’ve got to do dishes, vacuum, pack my bags, take a shower and dry my hair all in the span of two hours, and girls, we all know all that two hours really means three). Rushing. That’s how I do everything because I don’t know how I’d do it all if I didn’t. I gulp my breakfast and I gulp my lunch like one of those giant mouthed fish who eat everything in one gulp. I don’t like it one bit, but it’s how I’ve learned to function in this American go-go-go society.
I’m not saying that Italy is like a magical time machine and you’ve suddenly got loads more time to do everything and enjoy it. However, I have lived in both France and Italy and the attitude toward time is markedly different there. Whenever I was running late and I had to call the my school where I was teaching in France, the principal would soothe me with “don’t worry, this is Southern France!”
Is it a Catch-22 to be mindful and take your time AND be productive? The U.S. certainly thinks the two are oil and water. The question is, can I bend the cultural norm and make time on my side, or will I always have to live at warp speed just to keep up? This is certainly something I am seeking to change in my life. I want to take the time to enjoy everything I do, not just merely do it fast.
That being said, I really enjoyed my dinner tonight even though I wolfed it down out of habit. I’m going out of town tomorrow and I was trying to clear out the fridge, so it turned out a bit random but wonderful. I threw together arugula, cilantro, cooked sweet potato (or was it a yam? I don’t really know the difference!) and a soft boiled egg. I wish the egg had been runnier because that would have made a nice creamy sauce, but it was delicious nonetheless. I really love the harmony of the slightly bitter arugula with the sweet potato, the cilantro gives it freshness and the egg gives a little protein to make it hearty enough to call a meal. I love this salad so very much as random as it is. I hope I can learn to chew every bite.1