As I stroll through the beautiful streets of Sorrento, Italy I can’t help but notice all the happy, healthy locals sitting outside charming cafes enjoying an afternoon espresso or gelato in their perfectly pressed linen shirts. There’s a faint scent of lemon lingering in the air as the Sorrento sun shines down on my face. The sound of the elegant and exotic Italian language coupled with laughter warms my soul. There’s a distinct sense of harmony and life fully lived with a joy that radiates from each person I encounter. How is it that the Italians, who don’t enjoy all the accommodations and amenities that we have in the U.S., seem so happy and healthy? What is their secret and how can I attain it for myself? During my travels I discovered a number of qualities and lifestyle choices that are prevalent in the Italian culture.
Italians are hard-working people who have a strong willingness to dedicate long hours to their trade and they take great pride in their skill. At the marina in Sorrento our waiter, who has been working at the restaurant for 22 years, stated that he works 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. He makes most of his living during the summer months when tourists and locals flock to the beaches of Sorrento for holiday. During his time off he travels the globe working at other restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Miami as well as France and Spain. He did note that in the U.S. people are fixated on work. In his experience, even after working long shifts, Americans would speak mostly of work while out enjoying social time. He couldn’t comprehend this mentality. Italians believe strongly in work but they always take necessary time for relaxation and indulgence. This work-hard, play-hard attitude creates a true balance that aids in the physical and emotional health of Italians throughout the country. Balance is the key and Italians seem to have it mastered. While in Capri, I dined at the exclusive Villa Verde Ristorante. Just as I encountered on my last visit here, Nonna, aging like fine wine, was making pasta and snapping green beans in the back of the family restaurant into the wee hours of the night. It’s this strength and tenacity that keeps the old feeling young and living long happy lives.
Take a Holiday
In Italy many businesses close for the month of August and most Italians take this time off to enjoy a holiday or vacation as we call it. Those in the Naples area journey to the beaches of Campania and the Amalfi Coast where the weather is incredible and life is leisurely. Some Italians choose to visit other regions of Europe which are a relatively quick and easy flight away. Other daring Italians might opt to visit the steamy streets of New York or the beaches of Miami. Whichever location they decide vacations are definitely on the agenda. All that hard work throughout the year deserves a return and August is just the month to do it. While we might not all be able to take a month off we can certainly find some free time during the year to travel or enjoy a tranquil “staycation”.
Have Something to Believe In
Religion is everywhere in Italy. Having faith is very helpful and quite necessary throughout all stages of life. It’s important to have something higher and greater to believe in that brings you peace and hope. Vatican City in Rome is considered the holiest place on Earth but there are many other places around the country that religion is evident. During my travels, I came across countless symbols of Jesus, Mother Mary and many other Saints. My first sight was a crucifix in the offices of Rome Fiumicino Airport. Even in the most obscure places like on the mountainside leading up to Monte Solaro I found shrines dedicated to The Madonna and Saint Anthony. The images were strong reminders of the faith and beauty this country represents. A strong sense of faith truly elevates a person on a daily basis and carries them during times of need. In some instances throughout life we must “put it in God’s hands.” Removing the burden from oneself and depending on a higher being to carry you through can be a stress relief that allows one to thrive.
Enjoy Family Time & Show Love and Affection
Italians are very family-oriented people. It is not uncommon to see large groups consisting of many generations enjoying a meal together. Many businesses throughout Italy are still family-run and more often than not you will find that nonno and nonna are still very much in charge. Much respect is given to elders within the family as they are considered the foundation or the rock of la familia. While on my flight home I noticed a lovely woman, with short dark hair who reminded me of my grandma that kept peeking over at me with a smile. When I returned the gesture she quickly befriended me and so kindly introduced me to her travel partners. Francesca was traveling with her sister, daughter and two granddaughters. They visited the homeland to see her mother who was in her 95th year. I couldn’t help but think what a beautiful blessing to bring all these women of four generations together for a trip back home. When our flight landed Francesca gave her daughter a big hug and kiss….The apple and the tree. It’s this type of family bond that makes people strong and happy individuals. I know this because I come from Italian-American decent whose family values these traditions and I couldn’t be happier because of it.
There’s a sincere confidence that embodies the Italian spirit. Locals of all ages can be found whipping around winding streets and narrow alleys on scooters and in tiny Fiats through the streets of Sorrento. I’ve witnessed elderly men and women as well as a young mother with a child seated in front and back of her zipping around on Vespas. Buses, cars and scooters power up the mountains of Capri, passing just inches from one another, on curvy roads with minimal guardrails. The natives are not afraid. They take pride in their work and how their infrastructure and vehicles are made. I do believe that it is their faith in God that gives them the courage to endure the trickiest situations on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to see toddlers swim like fish, on their own, in the deep blue Mediterranean Sea with parents out of sight. Italians are brave and poised. They are truly comfortable in their own skin. During my time at the beach it became evident that Italians are remarkably self-assured. I spotted women of all ages and shapes sporting tiny bikinis with a casual strut that screamed “I am woman hear me roar.” It’s quite refreshing to see people with so much inner security and charisma.
In Italy there is no “super size”. When you order a gelato a typical serving is a 1/2 cup rather than the usual 3 large scoops of ice cream you’d enjoy at home. The gelato is made simply from fresh cream, natural sugar and cocoa, hazelnut or pistachio depending on which flavor you choose. Small portions are the key whether it is gelato, pasta, bread or wine. Italians live life to the fullest and they know how to indulge…in moderation. While walking on the beach I witnessed a young girl twirling pasta around on a plate. It was a simple dish of spaghetti with Roma tomatoes and she sat there happily with her feet in the sand enjoying her delicious lunch. The complimentary table bread in Italy is not something you reject at a restaurant. While it is not often served warm, it is the tastiest bread you will ever encounter. So grab a piece of light and crusty bread with its fluffy center, dip it in a little EVOO and mangia. Italy is the second largest wine producer in the world. The wine selection throughout the country is massive and it is customary to indulge in one or more glasses per day of this local staple. Many variations are sulfite-free and velvety smooth. At a cost of 25 Euros for a superb bottle at fine restaurants it’s an excellent way to wind down for the evening and celebrate the day’s blessings. So salute and mangia…in moderation!
You’ll notice much of Italian fashion includes flat-bottomed, comfortable and stylish footwear. While some daring women opt for stilettos, most appreciate flats or wedges allowing them to walk freely along the old cobblestone streets to work and for dinner. Many pathways are quite old and often steep yet natives travel them daily as a normal part of their routine trekking sometimes miles to work and back home. Being outside, one with nature and using your legs regularly to get you from place to place is a way of life here. It’s proven that regular cardiovascular activity can add years to your life and life to your years. For better health and peace of mind, make like an Italian and keep it moving.
Soak up the Sun…with SPF of Course
During my teenage years my cousin and I contemplated getting matching tattoos. It was my first boss who, with a few strong words, encouraged me not to go through with it. He spoke of his vacations to Italy where all the beautiful Italian women boast rich dark hair and perfectly bronzed bodies. There wasn’t an imperfection on them. Their skin was smooth and sun-kissed. He described them as the most gorgeous women in the world. The image became so stunning and vivid within my mind that I opted to take his advice. I’m extremely happy that I did and after visiting the beautiful country I can confirm his eyewitness accounts. Many Italians develop deep tans during the summer months especially those in the southern region. While overexposure to sun can be harmful, spending some time outdoors each day has many health benefits, including the production of vitamin D. In a day and age where most people spend their waking hours at a desk in the office it’s important to get outside, allowing yourself some fresh air and sunshine, the way that nature intended you to live.
Dress to Impress
Italians take great pride in their appearance. Milan is the fashion capital of the world and a multitude of famous designers, such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Gucci, Prada and Bvlgari, originated in Italy. Fashion is essential to the Italians. No matter age or gender I observed Italians draped in fine clothing perfectly matched and put together. They wear custom, handmade shoes and tailored jackets. Men appreciate the quality and style of Italian silk ties while women opt for neat blouses and trousers with designer footwear. Chic Italian fashion is everywhere and makes for fascinating people-watching. Be sure to leave plenty of room in your suitcase on trips to Italy as you can find beautiful quality, handmade leather goods throughout the country such as belts, shoes and purses. When your look is well put together so too will be your day. Italians are not ruled by fashion but they live by this rule.
So if your wish is to live la bella vita, do what the Italians do. And most importantly please remember…
When life gives you lemons, make limoncello! Ciao!