We can all Improve our Lives with a little Dolce Vita
Bella Italia! How I adore your country, your people and most definitely your cuisine. It is the simple things in life which make us truly content, and so it can be no coincidence that the Italians are among the very happiest of people – no matter where they are now living – in the world…
I have had the great fortune of getting to know Italy intimately over the past decade and a bit, with regular travels to Bologna (in particular), Modena, Milan, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Pompeii, Sicily, Sardinia – I could go on… and whilst I cannot deny the striking differences between the people, customs, architecture, landscapes and food in all of these totally diverse destinations, there are so many common threads to rejoice about.
But first you will have to forgive me! For as an outsider it is virtually impossible not to stereotype. And rest assured that any of that goings on in the following paragraphs is simply in pursuit of celebration, spreading the word about your wonderful country, its citizens and delectable dishes. In short, thanking the Universe for all Italy has given to the rest of planet Earth!
So without further ado… here are my personal 6 Ways The Italians Are Happy:
1: Everyday Opera
I don’t mean that Italians get to physically go to the opera on a daily basis (although some perhaps do), but that the everyday is bursting with drama and operatics; courtesy of the most wonderful body language anywhere in the world. And the very way they speak; certo. Life becomes a song. And a dance. Quite literally. If hands are otherwise occupied, an Italian’s shoulders will do the talking instead. Conversations are animated, unique, passionate, beautiful. And okay, sometimes ugly.
But even then they still sound like honey. Just maybe honey with a touch too much limoncello. The most mundane of words are transported from as dull as dishwater to a glorious seranade of melodious consonants and vowels. Tavola da stiro (ironing board), davanzale (window sill), pagnotta di pane (loaf of bread). See what I mean? It’s enough to make you want to reach for those Linguaphone CDs.
Look, I did warn you this would be a cliched list… But Italy, being the birthplace of ice cream, well, how could I not include it? On the surface, this is quite the simplest of inventions, but oh, how it can put a smile on the dourest of faces. The promise of the humble gelato to uplift the day is something else. Now, don’t get me wrong, it has to be the real deal. We’re not talking Mr Whippy or Sainsbury’s Finest. Heck, not even one of Heston’s creations for Waitrose comes anywhere close. Oh no. Proper Italian gelato is a very precise and fine art, as demonstrated here:
And thanks to the sheer love the Italians have for their artisan gelato, we can enjoy proper ice cream, devoid of air and bubbles; smooth and divinely creamy, in cities all over the world – not just on holiday in Tuscany.
Can you imagine a morning without it? In many countries, we love our coffee, yes. No two ways about it. But it is a means to an end. We take it for granted. We drink it on the go or in ten minutes at the breakfast table. We bring it back from Starbucks – cringe! – in a paper cup – double cringe! – and sup at it as we tackle the spreadsheet/email from hell/expenses. But in Italy coffee is life itself. And in the same way that Italians wouldn’t dream of eating a meal on the go, they give their coffee equal importance.
Not only is time taken out to savour and appreciate their caffè but the very act of drinking it is central to intimacy, discussion and debate; friendships and family. And so, for Italians, coffee isn’t merely a stimulant in the form of a beverage to wake them up in the morning, kick start their day or shrug off the 3pm afternoon slump. Coffee is conviviality. Coffee is culture. Coffee is community. Because these are the things which truly matter. How much smilier would the rest of the world be if we loosened up and made a date with the same daily ritual? Forget your Nespresso. George Clooney may reign supreme over Lake Como, but there’s no substitute for true impeccable taste…
You knew it was coming, surely? Hey, I haven’t gone as far as adding Pizza, so give me a break! But to not mention pasta, well, that’s gnocchi gonna happen. And all joking to one side, what a gift pasta is to the world. It is one of the quickest ways I know of to quell the fears of a fussy eater at meal time, transforming frowns super fast, and it is the ultimate comfort food ever created. The absolute multitude of dishes that can be created from its base of just eggs, flour and water is enough to make even the most pessimistic among us mind-boggled – and very content.
From Agnolotti to Zitoni, and with shapes in the form of sheets, strips, long strands and cylinders… plus the utterly unique such as Strangolapreti (translating as Priest-chokers… OK then!), Vermicelloni (thick little worms), Stortini (little crooked ones), Occhi di lupo (eyes of the wolf) and Linguine (little tongues), the wonderful world of pasta is so much fun, so diverse, so fascinating, that eating it daily – as most Italians do, is a guaranteed way to get a daily dose of happiness. Coupled with an amazing sauce and , these 400 plus types of little vehicles, morph into the sublime.
*Spoiler alert*… I did warn you this would turn into one of those lists. But it’s with good reason that shades have made it to number 5. Let’s face it: there is no nationality out there who wear them as stylishly and effortlessly as the Italians. They can (believe me, I have seen it) get away with sunglasses in the rain, sleet, hail or snow… still looking every inch The Business. Young or old. Curvy or stick thin. Ugly or beautiful. Shades sported pretty much constantly are the golden ticket to euphoria, offering up a permanent filter on the negativity of the world, allowing us to see things as we want to instead. Like the absence of spots, stray facial hair or badly applied make up as we stroll past the city’s shop windows. Not just in Milan. London, New York, and Skegness too.
A designer pair are an affordable everyday luxury. Particularly if they are Prada, jazzing up the most mundane of outfits and transforming clothing disasters into fashion runway success. Not only that, but they’re ingenious for covering sprouting grey hair on the crown of your head and temples… the trick is to keep them propped up like that… all day. Definitely don’t wear an extra pair over the eyes. That is not the epitome of dressing la dolce vita style! I myself (though sadly not Italian) am an all year round shade proper upper and proud of it. And if you want a rose-tinted view of the world, it really is the best way to be.
It may, prior to 2006, have included crushed cochineal insects to provide its luminous orange marmalade lure, but don’t let that deter you from supping one slowly – and that is imperative, this is not a drink to ‘down like a Brit abroad’ – in Bologna’s (or any town, city or village’s) Piazza Maggiore. The experience is a MUST. Take your Campari with blood orange – divine – or soda water, and let the magic of this somewhat medicinal tasting tipple, dating back to 1860, do its very special thing! Truly, you will feel like a different person. In a very, very good way.
Campari screams retro cool. Many are those who are deterred by its glow, but like trying anything for a first time, once you give it a go and find your perfect accompanying mixer, you’ll quickly understand why Camapri is regarded ‘a symbol of Italian lifestyle and bon vivre all over the world.’ Really, when you taste its magnificence, preferably diluted a little as a cocktail such as a Campari Splash or a Campari Orange Passion, you’ll get it! Many nations have that distinct alcoholic drink which puts them on the alcoholic map, but there is nothing to my mind that could ever rival Campari for the ultimate in happiness and okay, maybe not every day, but certainly every weekend indulgence.
So there you have it. I am sure there will be subjective moans and groans that this is not what being an Italian is all about! And of course, this lineup by no means defines an Italian person or indeed the Italian nation, But you have to agree that these ARE 6 Bloody Fantastic Ways The Italians Are Happy!