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Bringing Italy home

February 28th, 2008

Somewhere along the line, after moving constantly in search of the perfect large American city to live in, I realized that it didn’t matter where I lived. What mattered was the environment and lifestyle I created wherever I was. So, although I would love to live in Europe someday, specifically Italy, I know I can embrace much of the Italian lifestyle wherever I live.

I recently re-read Frances Mayes Bringing Tuscany Home and here are some inspiring passages I copied. (I have a journal I use to record words, sentences, pages, of inspiration from what I read. I’ve read that Sophia Loren does the same).

 Here’s Mayes:

“From the beginning, we began to bring Tuscany home. Pillows. Parmigiano … Wine. Duvet covers . . . Then we began to bring home something more lasting — a mind-set, a way of being in the world.”

“We have a tribe of Italian friends … who show us by example, the pleasure of living everyday life in this bellissimo landscape. The first revelation from these friends — and the most influential — center on home and friends and the table, the focus of celebration.

“Tuscans passionately love whatever plot of terra they live on and cultivate every inch with flowers and vegetables. They thrive on their local markets … Food, in Italy, is not cult but culture.

 “In all my years in Italy, I’ve never once heard food connected to guilt. The pleasure of eating and drinking are never tortured into pyschological struggles.”

 “We have always been astonished at how easily friends in Italy seem to produce a dinner for 10. Partly that’s because Italian food is simple. Few ingredients comprise each dish and the ingredients are top quality.”

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What is it about those Italian women? You know the ones I’m talking about: beautiful, sexy, dressed to the nines just to take the kids to the park. They have a certain something that is indefinable. It is in the way they dress, the way they prepare their meals, the way they spend their leisure time.

It is because they know the importance of la bella figura. Roughly translated from Italian, it means putting you best foot forward in everything you do. It means cutting a beautiful figura. The opposite of la bella figura is la brutta figura, which is what someone might say about the falling down drunken guy at the party or the super tackily dressed woman at church. It means ugly figure.

La bella figura is much more than your appearance. It goes much deeper than that. It is about how you act. It is about how you treat others. It is about how you care for yourself, your home and your family. Living a life in line with la bella figura doesn’t take money. In fact, it is more about how to have class without a lot of money.

Someone who exudes la bella figura will have clean, pressed clothes and be well groomed. They will not be rude or sloppy. Their fingernails will be impeccably groomed. Their hair shiny and clean and their shoes will be polished. They will not have stray threads hanging from their suit hems. They will not be driving a car in need of the car wash.

La bella figura means driving that 15 year old car and meticulously cleaning it and caring for it. It means keeping your belongings in good repair. It means taking time to clean your house and not cluttering it up with meaningless objects.

When you focus all your spare energy, time and money on the things that bring you the most amount of pleasure, then you are truly living a life in line with la bella figura. The best part about it is that you don’t have to be Italian to do so. You just have to think like an Italian.

Italian children are raised to present la bella figura in whatever they do. From the time they are small and are groomed perfectly to attend church or school, they know that appearances count. They count because it is the first thing people judge about you. That first impression does matter. Appearances are also important because when you take the time to look nice, you are showing that you care about yourself. When you care enough to look good, it shows you have good healthy self esteem. Nothing is more attractive than self confidence.

In addition, dressing nice also shows respect for others. If you invite people over for dinner and greet them in flip flops, baggy sweats and a stained shirt, it is really disrespectful to them. The same if you dress sloppy to go to church or even to the market. By dressing nicely and being well groomed, you show respect for everyone in your world.

Having la bella figura means presenting yourself in the best light possible in all your interactions.