It is no wonder Italians love to spend the majority of their day eating, drinking and living the motto “il dolce far niente”, or the sweetness of doing nothing. The upper class of the ancient Roman society lived this way. They woke up with the rising of the sun, ready to face a day full of recreation, entertainment and food. They ate similar portions that most Italians eat today: a small piece of bread and cheese for breakfast, a small bite of bread with other fixings such as fruit, cheese or vegetables and then a five course meal for dinner that lasted all afternoon and went well into the evening. The only real noticeable difference between the food of the ancient Romans and that of Italians today is the incorporation of the morning cappuccino and the afternoon espresso. Wine is still drunk in a similar fashion as it was back then, served at lunch and dinner and even sometimes today mixed with water. I remember clearly sharing a meal once with an Italian family in Florence in which they mixed water and wine at the dinner table. I couldn’t figure it out if they simply wanted to make the bottle of wine last longer or if they thought doing otherwise made you a drunk. Regardless, it is amazing that this tradition has lasted for thousands of years and it seems to me that Italians today and the ancient people of Rome have a much stronger link than many of us might think.
But back to the question of…”did the ancient Romans work?”. Well…it seems that the majority of them did in some way or another. The wealthy didn’t seem to do much besides invest in land and hire slaves to cultivate it for them. Depending upon how low on the social ladder you were, you might work all day from dusk til dawn within a specific trade. Still, when researching this question I found that the more interesting question was, “What did the Romans do when they weren’t working?”. They bathed. They had museums that held various forms of Greek art. They shopped in the town center for food, clothes and imported wines. They played games. The city center probably didn’t look all that different from the way most Italian streets look today: filled with salumerias, pasticcerias, enotecas and other negozi (deli’s, bakery’s, wine shops and other stores).
I am 10 days into The Italy Project, with 16 days left to learn as much as I can on Italy’s past. I know I want to learn more about the Italian Renaissance and the history of Florence. Still…if anyone’s out there listening to me…anyone at all….what part of history do YOU think I should learn about? Leave me your thoughts..