I have been knocked out with a fever for a few days. The good news is I happened to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love" just before I went down and read the whole thing between my bed and the couch as I dozed off and on.
About ten people had told me, "you must read this book" which usually puts me off immediately, especially when it has a section on Italy -- there is only so much gaggling over plunging necklines and pizza one can take. But this book is different.
Her first destination for a year of "one woman's search for everything" was Rome, where she arrived with no agenda other than spending four months discovering "pleasure" (while remaining celibate). So, what is left? Food, beauty and learning to roll a beautiful new language off your tongue. To her credit, she appreciates pleasure in all three, calling on her new Italian friends to help her understand that, "the beauty of doing nothing is the goal for all your hard work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement."
In Italy she was able to give herself permission to fully explore the question, "How do I define pleasure?" To discover what she likes to do, what gives her soul-satisfying pleasure. At the end of her stay, while traveling in Sicily, she discoveres that "the same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine -- namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one's humanity." Creating and enjoying beauty can be serious business, a way to hold onto reality in the midst of physical and moral decay and chaos.
A wonderful way to describe Italy's gift to the world -- permission to explore the fundamental role beauty and pleasure play in our lives, without shame and guilt, because they define what makes us both human and divine.