October 29, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

Thank you Brody and Peggy-Mom for recommending I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's a compilation of stories from one woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia (says the cover). I'm only on page 70 (so busy lately!), but I absolutely love it. It's funny, it's thought-provoking, and it gives me a good feeling inside. It's been a while since I got past page 50 of a book and wanted to keep on reading (the last was David Sedaris, I believe).

So I like it enough that I wanted to share this part with you, about Americans and our pleasure, or lack thereof. From tale #24, in Italy (the pursuit of pleasure):

"Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. But as Luca Spaghetti [her Italian friend's name really is Luca Spaghetti] pointed out, we seem to like it. Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes. Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don't really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype – the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but cannot relax.

"I once asked Luca Spaghetti if Italians on vacation have that same problem. He laughed so hard he almost drove his motorbike into a fountain.

"'Oh, no!' he said. 'We are masters of il bel far niente.'

"This is a sweet expression. Il bel far niente means 'the beauty of doing nothing...'

"For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too – the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Buds for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You're Worth It! You've Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I am gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to 'You Deserve a Break Today' would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That's why I'm planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife.

"Which is probably why, when I told my Italian friends that I'd come to their country in order to experience four months of pure pleasure, they didn't have any hang-ups about it. Complimenti! Vai avanti! Congratulations, they would say. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Be our guest. Nobody once said, 'How completely irresponsible of you,' or 'What a self-indulgent luxury.'"


Whew, that was a longer excerpt than I originally intended. But it was so true that I had to keep going! (See? There I go apologizing for posting as much as I really wanted to! I do hope I'm not violating some copyright law though...).

So. Whaddya think? What do you do to enjoy life? And do you really enjoy it without feeling guilty? To my friends visiting other countries – does any of this ring true?

[Cover design and styling by Helen Yentus, Cover photography by John Saponara]


rewired said...

Thanks for the shout out! I loved that book, keep reading!!
Ah, yes, the good old puritan ethic! It has gotten in my way of pure pleasure before! If I let go and really feel, enjoy and embrace this pleasure won't there be hell to pay later??? You know, for every good thing that happens a bad one will follow?? What is that about?
Wouldn't it be grand to be like Elizabeth Gilbert and go for the pleasure with no guilt attached? I'm willing to try it, how about you?!

Zana Fauzi said...

Oh yes, I often feel guilty when I try to be on vacation even after months of working ! I'd feel, "Will my colleagues be all right working on my part ? Will my boss need me later ?" I wish there was a way we could feel like the Italians do. Il bel far niente, how sweet. I could use some vacations with no guilt attached now.

Robyn said...

oh man. i plead the fifth.

all i have to say is... mediterraneans definitely are something to get used to, and i've been told over and over again in the past few weeks, "you ARE portuguese!" (as i get handed another drink)...