I had the privilege of visiting Florence yesterday for the first time. I had heard so much about this beautiful city and I was really looking forward to the experience.
I hate to admit it but it was a bit of a letdown. Now don't get me wrong, it most certainly is a beautiful city; the architecture, sculptures, museums, arches, bridges - I could go on and on - are all breathtaking. But what took away from the experience was the crowds of people endeavouring to experience the city - from what felt like was an empty, devouring attitude. Maybe it was because I wasn't using my camera yesterday (left that to my very capable husband). I had space to be with the experience, the sights, the people, the art - in a way that I might have missed if I was frantic to "capture" the right picture, buy the right souvenirs, see every single museum, etc. Sometimes, trying to preserve the moment actually takes away from it, ironically!
For me, being in Italy and eating good, simple, fresh, delicious foods, go hand in hand with being aware and appreciative of all the nuances of life. It is being able to taste and enjoy the simpleness of things without needing a lot of fanfare. Last evening when we arrived back to our hotel in Prato, walking down the residential streets, smelling the sweet teasings of the flowering jasmine - this is to me, the dolce vita.
Our lives are meant to be enjoyed. Our food is meant to be enjoyed. But when we are caught in the throes of needing to devour - whether it be sights or foods - than the experience is lost. There is something to being able to welcome things into ourselves in an attitude of appreciation rather than desperate and empty consumption.
I am not sure that this makes sense to you. I just know that after having spent several hours with thousands of people in a big city, I came home feeling disconnected from myself. There was no space inside to sense the sweet subtlety of feeling connected to a magnificent spirit - the same magnificence that fuels each and every one of us. It took walking through our smaller town, along the cobbled walkways, beside the river, followed by a good sleep and a mindful morning of peace and quiet, to refuel - something that couldn't be done for me yesterday through all the busyness and bigness of a beautiful city lost by the crowds trying to consume it.
As I sat down for my breakfast this morning, I was mindful to ask my body what it really wanted. Yes, I enjoyed the beautiful chocolate croissant I had yesterday, washed down with a creamy cappuccino. That was a treat! But today I knew I needed to connect with the quiet rhythm that I and my faithful companion (my body) have established for myself. The gentle cups of green tea, the lemon water, the fresh yogurt and prunes (😉), followed by a lovely apple almond torte, all helped to re-ground me and remind me that it all starts here...in the small yet important ways that I honour and love myself and my body.
It's not to say that I won't go back out in the crowds, because I will. And I will enjoy the treats - the gelato, the pasta, the pizza, the wine - after all I am in Italy! But, I will remember to always come back to the rhythm of home and care for myself. There are very simple and easy ways to do this and I suspect, it differs from me to you.
And so I ask, in what ways do you care for yourself when you are away or out of your natural rhythms of home?
In a few days, I will be traveling to "the motherland" - Italy, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents. This is not my first trip; but every time I go, it feels like a first because there are so many different regions to explore and more importantly, so many different foods to taste and enjoy.
As a way of staying connected with the heart of Italy (and to get some great recipes) my husband and I love to watch a show on the BBC, entitled the Greedy Italians. Perhaps you have had the pleasure of watching it? Chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo are two older Italian men, who met in Britain as cooks and became good friends. Their show is a travel dialogue of their return to Italy after an absence of 30 years. They travel through different regions of the country, reconnecting with their culinary heritage, exploring past and current traditions and just generally having a lot of fun! The show depicts the passionate soul of Italian gastronomy, which is based on simple, fresh, real food prepared in love and intended for sharing with family and friends.
The Italians are passionate about what they eat and it shows in all of their practices around food, whether growing it, preparing it, talking about it and of course eating it. The ritual of preparing meals and eating them is an important part of the healing process for all of us. To be able to take the time to mindfully prepare our food in an attitude of appreciation, love and enjoyment – these are important ingredients for well-being.
The Mediterranean diet, as it has been coined by Ancel Keys, is a diet that I like to follow but there are many other diet choices to choose from. Depending on your heritage, your food preferences, and/or your food sensitivities, maybe you gravitate towards the Okinawa, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Raw Foods, or Atkins diet, to name just a few. My only recommendation is that you choose to eat in a way that reflects the best loving choice you can make for your body, which includes fresh, local ingredients, where at all possible. Combine that with meals shared in the company of good friends and family and you have an equation for health and well-being. The humorous, loving antics shared between Caluccio and Contaldo are a good reminder of this. Life is beautiful and meant to be enjoyed!