Posted by: Katy | February 13, 2008

Eat, Drink, and be Merry

And on the flip side of the coin, at least concerning the last post. . .

Has anyone else fallen into the whole “I see it on Oprah, I have to read it” thing?  As someone who spends an inordinate amount of her time with academics, I occasionally am embarrassed to admit that I do, indeed, read things I hear about on Oprah.  Yet, why be embarrassed?  Oprah has good taste.  I suppose part of it is that it has gotten cliche—“I saw it on Oprah.”  Boyfriends roll their eyes and sigh.  Professor friends look at you as if you’ve gone over to the dark side.  The older I get, the more I don’t care.  Especially when I enjoy the books.  In case you’re the last person on earth who hasn’t read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, here’s an excerpt:

“No town can live peacefully, whatever its laws,” Plato wrote, “when its citizens. . .do nothing but feast and drink and tire themselves out in the cares of love.”  [INSERT MY OWN THOUGHT:  Hmmm. . .familar. . .remind me of any place I know and love?]

But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while?  Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?  Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than that it pleases your ear to heart it?  Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite fountain?  And then to do it again the next day?

 Of course, one can’t live like this forever.  Real life and wars and traumas and mortality will interfere eventually.  Here in Sicily with its dreadful poverty, real life is never far from anyone’s mind.  The Mafia has been the only successful business in Sicily for centuries. . .In such an environment, is it maybe a little shallow to be thinking only about your next wonderful meal?  Or is it perhaps the best you can do, given the harder realities?  [Luigi Barzini]. . .tried to answer the question of why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power.  Why are they the planet’s masters of verbal diplomacy, but still so inept at home government?  Why are they so individually valiant, yet so collectively unsuccessful as an army?  How can they be such shrewd merchants on the personal level, yet such inefficient capitalists as a nation?

His answers. . .have much to do with a sad Italian history of corruption by local leaders and exploitation by foreign dominators, all of which has generally led Italians to draw the seemingly accurate conclusion that nobody and nothing in this world can be trusted.  Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one’s own senses, and this makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe.  This is why. . .Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, actors, cooks, and tailors.  In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.  Only artistic excellence is incorruptible.  Pleasure cannot be bargained down.  And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.

This is so poignantly reminiscent of a place and a people in my own geography, dear to my heart.  What do I plan to do this evening, you might ask?  Eat a good meal in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the United States and hear a philharmonic orchestra play beautiful music in an historic cathedral.  Some days, you work hard trying to change the world.  Other days, you get so jaded, you just need to eat, drink, and be merry.  We’re only human after all.  And all that other stuff.

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