The Message from Rome: Slow the Hell Down

The Message from Rome: Slow the Hell Down November 17, 2013

I first walked into Ibiz leather shop in 1989 as a college student, and I walked out with the nicest belt I’d ever owned. I walked back in yesterday, took the belt off my waist, and handed it to the daughter of the man who’d sold it to me years before. Her parents opened the shop on an alley in the ancient city in 1972. They still work there, as does she, these many years later. She cleaned my belt, punched another hole in it (alas!), and we talked about the many and various items that I’ve bought from her over the years.

It’s a bit cliché to talk about the slower pace of life in the Mediterranean countries, especially in Italy, but it’s also accurate, and apt. All is not bright in this country — they’re on their 50-something government since WWII, the government is rife with corruption and in-fighting, and the weakness of the Italian economy may be the thing that brings down the Euro.

A lot has also been made about the recent report that Italy is losing population. It’s one of the few countries in the world that is getting smaller. It won’t be able to compete in the global economy, some fear, without a higher birthrate and more, more, more.

All this has got me thinking about my own place, my homeland in the Upper Midwest of the US. Predictably, I listen almost exclusively to NPR while in the car. And as much as I enjoy it, I’ve become completely sick of the business news. Marketplace Morning tells me whether the Dow Jones average is up or down in pre-market trading, and All Things Considered tells me every month whether new housing started are up .2% or down .6%. Apple is in trouble!, they nearly shout, because although the newest iPhone sold more than any other model on its first day, the company is not growing as fast as it was under Steve Jobs!!!

Did you catch that? It’s not that Apple is shrinking. It’s not that Apple is not growing. It’s that Apple is not growing as quickly as it once did.

Then there’s the constant reporting on holiday sales, when stores will open on Thanksgiving, and how bad it is for retailers that Advent starts on Thanksgiving weekend this year. Of course, they don’t use the word “Advent” in these reports.

I’m happy to report that here in Rome, Christmas decorations aren’t up in the stores yet. No one seems in a hurry to start the holiday shopping season.

In fact, no one is in much of a hurry to do anything.

For instance, Courtney has been bemused by the fact that, no matter how long we’ve been sitting at a bar or a restaurant, our waiter will not bring us the check until we ask. Last night, we were at a popular wine bar, and we slowly finished our bottle as a dozen people waited for seats on the small patio. Evenso, we had to flag down our waiter to get the bill. He was in no hurry to clear us out. And, as far as I could tell, those waiting for seats weren’t in any hurry either.

Among the most beneficial aspects of travel is experiencing how other peoples see the world and understand life. Surely there are those in Italy who are wringing their hands at the Italian economy and plotting its recovery. But the people we’re meeting seem pretty good with the status quo. They’re comfortable. They live life at a pace that is sensible, even enjoyable.

Finally, this: A lot of our churches, like Italy, aren’t growing. That is, they are not getting numerically larger. That’s a cause for some hand-wringing on our side of the ocean as well. But maybe, just maybe, we can learn a little something from the Italians about life at a slower pace and about accepting the hand we’ve been dealt.

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