Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Summer: time to perfect the art of idling

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TRAIL, B.C. -- Running on the treadmill is rarely my first choice, but when faced with either scorching heat or torrential rain, the treadmill in the basement beckons.

In the last month, I've found myself running indoors on several occasions because of both conditions. I try to make the most of running on the treadmill, using it as an opportunity whenever possible to multi-task. A recent treadmill workout reminded me that the drive to be constantly productive isn't always the best strategy for nurturing one's inner self.

On that particular day, I was watching David Rocco's Dolce Vita. Not only would the episode relieve the boredom of the treadmill as I crossed exercise off the to-do list, I hoped it would motivate me to work on my Italian and provide some inspiration for supper. Within minutes, I was laughing aloud.

The episode that day revolved around a professor who was throwing a party. The professor's appearance immediately cracks me up. He is sporting a classic Speedo swimsuit under an open bathrobe and he looks ridiculous. Equally amusing to me, he is relaxing beside a pool that is almost empty. He has been filling his pool with a garden hose for three weeks now and he is perfectly content watching the water trickle from the hose into the pool. The professor is enjoying being idle, although it is clear from his beautiful villa, formerly owned by Gore Vidal and overlooking the Amalfi coastline, he knows a thing or two about the benefits of hard work.

As the episode progresses, he shares some advice for enjoying life. He enlists the help of an old Italian saying, "Never do today what someone else can do tomorrow," to justify his idleness. On the surface, he seems to be praising laziness. And while this is the sort of attitude that typically gets under my skin, today it makes me laugh. It reminds me of our visit to Italy.

Last summer, we spent a few days with my relatives who live in the area around Venice. While we were productive in that touristy sense of visiting historical sites, it was the moments of doing nothing that made the visit memorable and meaningful. In typical Italian fashion, my relatives outdid one another in their generous hospitality toward us, which translated into long, leisurely meals celebrating family and savouring the fruits of the garden as we sipped Prosecco and drank espresso.

Recalling that experience, the professor's brand of carpe diem philosophy took on new meaning. The professor wasn't advocating idleness. He was promoting a form of leisure encapsulated in another Italian saying, il bel far niente, or "the beauty of doing nothing."

Many of us fail to see any kind of value in doing nothing. We are on the proverbial treadmill, inclined towards productivity. While we excel at doing many things, we are often poor at doing nothing, or we wait for a vacation to provide us with both the permission and the opportunity to seek out leisure.

This episode of Dolce Vita and the memories it evoked of my visit to Italy were reminders it is possible to punctuate life with leisurely moments. We don't need to wait for a vacation to experience il bel far niente. The simplest things can create the sensation. Water trickling from a hose into a pool, or an impromptu pizza party, such as the one we enjoyed on my aunt's portico the night before we left Italy, can create moments of rest and celebration in an otherwise ordinary day.

At the heart of il bel far niente lies a deep appreciation for life and an attitude of profound thanksgiving. It reflects a spiritual intuition; doing nothing enriches our spirit, nurtures our relationships and heightens our awareness of life's many blessings. There is nothing flaky about doing nothing.

I hopped off the treadmill. I felt energized and filled with enthusiasm. I had an idea for a column, a new recipe to try and I had learned a few more words of Italian. Plus, I had a plan to punctuate the day with an exclamation mark, with my take on il bel far niente. I'd make pasta al limone and invite the kids over for an impromptu dinner party. I could taste the sweetness of doing nothing.


Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is

-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 A13

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