Dolce far niente: an Italian concept that has never been so apt. In current times, where our homes have become by necessity ever more our havens, hours spent fiddling our thumbs are all too often and our own good company increasingly in demand, adopting the notion of sweet doing nothing is most definitely a good way to go. True, that this romantic sentiment of carefree idleness is typically tied to images of blissful Italian summers, lounging under the cypress shade with a cocktail, or two, in hand. How, you may ask, can our present-day state of mid-winter, confined to our sofas, in the midst of a global pandemic, make the cut for such an affair? The answer is as ‘sweet’ as the phrase itself; dolce far niente can be practiced anytime and anywhere. It’s an art that once mastered can turn the most mundane moments into ones of simple pleasure and joy. Yes, our freedom may be limited and travel (excuse the pun) is up in the air, but with a bit of dolce far niente trickery up your sleeve and some Italian goodies to boot, here’s how to enjoy Italy, away from Italy, from your very own home, one lockdown day at a time.
Rise and shine, it’s coffee time! If this early morning motto sounds right up your alley, then you’re in luck. Italy wouldn’t be Italy without it’s dark-roasted brew and by taking on Italian home living, it’s got to be first on your list. Even better, you can skip getting dressed, washed and presentable for the day and go from duvet to kitchen to coffee in minutes. As for the device to choose, Bialetti Moka is a classic that won’t dissapoint. You can forget eggs, bacon or beans for breakfast, in Italy mornings are all about sweetness. Italian households are heaving with bags of biscotti and fette biscottate that when topped with jam or Nutella become the ultimate treat. Although dieticians may be screaming out for all that “Sugar!” Italy topped the healthiest nations list last year. So, we say, what better way to start your sweet-living day?
Moving on from coffee-dunking delights, let’s get ready. Wait, who are we kidding? You will be happy to hear that the dolce far niente attire of choice is the one and only, the loungewear of kings: the pyjama suit. The Italian Pigiameria, Schostal, has stood at the heart of Rome for 150 years. Even if you are restrained like most of us by regulations or unwilling to exert yourself to make your way to Via Fontanella di Borghese, you can let your imagination waltz its way through Schostal’s portals into a room from the nineteenth century whose walls are nothing but shelves and drawers of hosiery, shirts and the most exquisite classic pyjamas.
Now the work of the day begins: how will you savour those leisurely hours of sweet doing nothing? Donning your slippers, the Venetian kind of course, glide across the room as if in a Gondola, to venture to the imaginary book shelves as your mind explores the rich maze of Italian literature. ‘What harbour can receive you more securely than a great library,’ wrote Italo Calvino. And what more secure place to drift into than the mind of the great Italian writer. Tour Italy with his 1956 Fiabe Italiane (Italian Folktales), where he presents some 200 stories, myths and legends from every calle, alley and back path in the Italian peninsula. And what could be a more perfect preparation for lockdown than Elsa Morante’s L’isola di Arturo (Arturo’s Island) published in 1957. For the narrator, a young boy growing up isolated on the small island of Procida in Southern Italy, his library is everything, allowing him to invent the world which he cannot access.
If you tire of the written word there is always the screen to enjoy in those moments of sweet idleness. Take off to Salina in the beautiful and moving Il Postino (The Postman, 1994), or splash late at night with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni in the blue lagoon that is the Trevi Fountain and don’t forget you are living La Dolce Vita (1960). You could rebel and make your own world with L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose (Rose Island, 2020), which recalls Giorgio Rosa going to the Court in Strasbourg in 1968 to establish his own state six miles offshore Italy. For your daily dose of eccentricity, opt for Amarcord (1973) a Fellini nostalgic telling of the daily life in his birth-town, Rimini. Or for a little Ossessione (Obsession) there is Visconti’s 1943 film of that name, where a tramp chances into a bar and becomes obsessed by Giovanna, which brings us neatly up to drinks time and the time honoured Italian Aperitivo!
Aperitivo, deriving from the Latin word aprire (to open), and thus to whet your appetite, has become for all Italians a way to unwind and to enjoy with friends an alcoholic drink, accompanied by a few delicious snacks. You may not be able to conjure up a friend but a glass of Prosecco or a vibrant orange Aperol Spritz and a bowl of patatine and olive verdi can be enjoyed with Andrea Bocelli singing Vivere (Dare to Live) or for a lighter note chant along to Adriano Celentano and Mina’s duet, Acqua e Sale (Water and Salt). Speaking of, let’s put these two ingredients in the pot to boil as with a hard day’s work of sweet-nothingness behind us, it’s most definitely time to indulge in Italy’s most celebrated of all simple pleasures; pasta al pomodoro.
Your stomach well-fed and your mind idle-full, dolce far niente says it’s high time to doze. Drift off to the blue grottoes of Ponza, roll down the Tuscan hills or wallow away to the natural springs of Vulcano. Sogni d’oro (sweet golden dreams) to you.