Dolce far Niente

Sweet to do nothing. There’s nothing like summer at its finest. High summer, ‘solleone’, or ‘Big Sun’ as the Italians so beautifully describe it.

Take childhood, for example. Were our lazy, old fashioned, disconnected, and make up your own fun summers of our youth really that terrific? Turns out they actually were. Back then, and you figure out which decade I’m talking about — the ’70s or ’80s — there were no expectations of a fun summer. It was just something that happened naturally, from out on our neighbourhood streets where we played football, ran through sprinklers, made dens, rode our bikes from one kid’s house to the next, and created our own games from nothing, with nothing, and with little parental supervision. We had imaginations and time.

Lots and lots of time, as in long days and weeks without having to be somewhere or do something. Seems crazy now, when summer is just a short period, and the seasons become less distinct, and it’s just another event in the rat race that adult over-achievement has become, that children, addicted to their phones and tablets, to actually be bored, be still, be in their own mind. Where’s all the fun gone?

We kids then had only experiences given not by our parents, but one’s created by us. Plenty of play — simple, active, outdoor play. Maybe an occasional day trip here and there, and if we were really lucky, a two week family holiday. That’s when my mom simply said, Figure it out.” And you know what? I actually did.

Days went by with nowhere to be, nothing on a schedule, and nothing to do. Lovely. We slowly unwound, downshifted so to speak, loving to be un-busy. It wasn’t painful; I read books, sold wild flowers and washed cars (plus my paper rounds) for extra cash. I swam when I wanted, rode by bike everywhere, took walks and played ball.

And now, I’m all grown up. Allegedly, anyway. And I still treasure the idea of revisiting the indolence and joy of those lazy days, and the smells the ‘blue dust of time’ as Francis Mayes writes in “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Except my tastes now are somewhat more sophisticated, and my idea of the ideal summer afternoon, with swifts sweeping and screeching in the air, would revolve around a slow, easy and pleasant meal with good company and conversation. About anything, or nothing at all. Bliss.

To eat, I’d want all sorts of things that I’ve loved in my life. A fritto misto with whitebait or anchovies, langoustines,oysters, prosciutto, an exquisite array of cheeses. Copious amounts of cold, sweating rose and dry white wine. Pimms, good cider. Downy peaches that soak your clothes from the first bite; lemons and oranges as big as your fist.

For the main, I’d love one of those lamb or veal casseroles, one that’s been cooking for hours and makes people feel faint with desire. Or Spaghetti alla Vongole. And for dessert, I’d want a whole row of sorbets: Campari grapefruit; passion fruit; tequila lime – stop it Shaun, you’re drooling on the carpet…

It would be a relaxed and informal affair. Reflecting my younger tastes musically, Alex O’Neal, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac (yeah, you guessed – ‘Albatross’…), Gloria Estefan, Will Smith. More contemporary inclusions would be Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Jamie Cullum.

And as the balmy afternoon snoozes on, the word torpor comes to mind. A move into the shade with its cool, flickering shards of light falling through the leaves. A siesta. Ovid once wrote a poem about siesta, describing it as ‘the half-light shy girls need…to hide their hesitation.’

And just as in my childhood, where I’d be halfway up a tree enjoying the same shade, the heat breaks with a light, clear-smelling rain that soaks the ground and then vanishes, poof! Time to turn for home where, instead of my parents, God rest their souls, now waits a cat. Probably comatose of a windowsill somewhere.

And so another day has passed, and I am content. As I was before, all those years ago.



I welcome your views, whatever they are. Feel free to comment!

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