Bel far niente

The beauty of doing nothing.

The Europeans are much better at this than (I’ll venture to be general) Americans. We must always go, we must always do. And when we don’t, we feel guilty, we fidget.

I attempt this many a weekend morning. I wake up early, Steve sleeps in or otherwise chills in the back bedroom. I make coffee and sit at our bar. I’ll read, I’ll write, I’ll make breakfast, then I’ll read, then I’ll write. Reading and writing are doing something, to be sure, but for me they are more akin to blissfully doing nothing than laboring away at work. Occasionally, I’ll just be sitting there, staring slightly off into space, enjoying the quiet hum of the refrigerator, and I’ll feel compelled to pick up my silly phone and do…something–check email, get on Instagram. In fact, often as I click on email or Instagram, I know I don’t care what is going on. It’s not even a real fear of missing out because I know I won’t miss anything important. It’s an interruption to la bel far niente, plain and simple.

As I struggled with this dilemma yet again this Sunday morning, a shadow of these words came to me, except I couldn’t quite remember them, but I knew there was some phrase about the joy of doing nothing. I was casually reading Bonjour Tristesse when I couldn’t shake it. What were those words exactly?

I made my way to my non-fiction bookshelf, feeling it was Frances Mayes who uttered them. I flipped through the first couple of chapters of Under the Tuscan Sun. No. Not her. I saw Peter Mayle next to her. I knew it wasn’t him (I knew the words were Italian, not French), but remembered fondly his books about France. Ultimately it was Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love who introduced me to the concept.

The idea still remained–Europeans do a better job of living. I want to do a better job of living. I want to strip away the layers of excess and get to the most elemental and basic of living. I want to get rid of the extras, the duplicates, the slight alterations, and have one perfect thing that will more than make do.

I’m on a very tight budget right now. I’m attempting to get my business going, but I must draw a salary to pay for my necessary things, plus a little cushion so that I don’t use my dreaded credit card. I am trying to get my credit card paid completely off so I can cut it up and never use the damn thing again. I rue the day I let my mom convince me that it was a good idea to get one.

I digress.

I remember years ago, I was a nanny during the summer to three spoiled children. Their parents felt guilty about working full-time jobs, so they bought the children countless toys. They’d never clean up. Toys strewn carelessly, thoughtlessly about the play room and the rest of the house. The housekeeper made the comment that if the children had fewer toys, they’d appreciate the toys they did have more.

I let the notion slide into the back recesses of my mind until just now really.

If I had fewer toys, I’d appreciate them more.

If I had fewer clothes, fewer shoes, fewer bags…

If I had fewer kitchen gadgets, less food in the cabinets…

Maybe then I could relax, feel less restless, experience la bel far niente…

One thought on “Bel far niente

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the American mindset (work mentality?) lately, and especially about how screwed up it is. The Europeans have it right, in my opinion, and maybe that’s because their cultures have existed for so, so much longer than ours. Perhaps we’re still “young and eager,” so we’ve been convinced that we’ve got to do ALL THE THINGS, not realizing that this ends up allowing us to do nothing that really matters. I will never understand why people believe that it is “virtuous” to work 50-60+ hours per week for minimal pay, spending little time with their families, doing little personal growth, no traveling, etc. Where’s the humanity in this? Of course, so much of this is due to our corporate oligarchy… we’re just worker bees to the few who actually do get to live that “good life,” because of all of us.


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