IL DOLCE FAR NIENTE: The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

It is approaching that time of life again.
I can sense impending change. It lingers in the notes of spring blooms carried through the air, in budding green leaves pushing their way through winter’s heavy branches, in pale sunlight breaking through pearl white clouds.

Most of all, it lingers in me. Change coaxes a restlessness in my heart and a lightness in my bones, and I imagine that this is how a bird must feel the moment it bids farewell to gravity.

So I am readying myself for flight, and gradually learning to bid farewell to my own gravities.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine.

I’d sooner pull the sun from the horizon and push the moon from the sky than wait for dawn to break. Rather risk the lick of flames from standing too close to the hearth, than wait for the fire to warm the room. Rather pour my emotions uninhibitedly from my heart like spilled ink across a page than wait for a carefully constructed moment to confess them.

Alas, my body is here, in this city, this cafe, in this point of time.

Yet my mind is elsewhere. My mind lingers upon undiscovered horizons. My thoughts belong to friends I have yet to grow with, to lovers I have yet to embrace, to cities I have yet to become lost in, to experiences I have yet to be transformed by.

But there are facets of this place I will miss. Particularly, my local cafe.

As a writer, I have an inexplicable affection for cafes, a fondness for their eclectic nature; the gentle chatter of their guests, the grind of espresso beans, the whirl frothing milk. Inhaling the smooth aroma of coffee drifting loftily through the air, entangled with the sweetness of fresh pastries.

. . .

I have an even greater warmth toward New York City’s cafes, toward their solace within the bustle of the city. Sipping espresso, watching passerby fill the street like salmon swimming upstream, taxis speeding past, everyone doing something, going somewhere, walking with the utmost urgency and importance to toward even the most menial of tasks or destinations. The chill of the air and swollen gray rain clouds, the rhythmic patter of rainfall and the bouncing of umbrellas, up, down, up, down, with each stranger’s steps.
To sit by the window in a Manhattan cafe, blanketed by warmth and the aroma of espresso, to write into a notebook or read a book or share a conversation with a stranger while watching the passerby, is one of the life’s greatest pleasures. It is to nestle close to the city, to feel its racing pulse, without partaking in it.

. . .

The first time I traveled to Italy, I discovered the sweetness of doing nothing, or, as the Italians describe it, il dolce far niente.

I recall sitting at a cafe on a sleepy Saturday morning in Riomaggiore, perched high in the blackened coastal cliffs, overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean sea. Old men in beige suits sipped espresso by the train station below, smoking cigars and bickering jubilantly in Italian, while their wives hung laundry from clothes lines out the windows to dry. Church bells rang in the distance, resounding off the mountains. Fisherman docked brightly colored boats along the shoreline and hauled nets full of silver fish from the sea. A stray orange tabby cat brushed against my leg, and I coaxed it to lay beside me with an offering of biscotti.

Even now, the aroma of sea air floods my memory. I can taste the sweetness of the breeze as it danced upon my tongue and played through my hair.  I can feel the warmth of the Mediterranean sunlight tan my skin and hear the gentle lapping of waves against the pebbled shoreline. In my dreams, I still wander the cobblestone streets and lie in the terraced gardens and sail through the sapphire sea.

Sometimes, I dream I am in the boat again, sailing toward the village, sundress dampened by sea spray, cheeks flushed with sun, eyes sparkling, overwhelmed with life. Yet, no matter how much sea moves beneath us, how much distance our boat covers in its trek toward land, the shoreline grows father and father away. I reach toward it, extending a hand, trying to absorb all the details before they evaporate within the dream

This was the beauty of a place where time moved slowly, sometimes stopping entirely. The art of experiencing a lifetime in a moment, of the sweetness of doing nothing.


. . .

Today, I write in a cafe in my Los Angeles neighborhood, with my body here and my mind, elsewhere.
I bid farewell to my beloved cafe. Farewell to the stacks of well-worn books lining exposed brick walls. Farewell to the succulents stacked upon oak tables and lights bulbs in mason jars, hung from silver metal beams on the vaulted ceiling. Farewell to the street art painting the building and the row of fixies locked to bike racks on the cracked gray sidewalk. Farewell to the record shop on the corner I pursue on Sunday afternoons, to its lost relics from a simpler time.

The season of change draws closer. Another shoreline I am eager to reach. The indomitable desire to move onward, upward, forward.
I take a sip of my cappuccino, breathing in the sweet cafe air once more.

For a moment, my thoughts are no longer roaming the streets of Manhattan or sailing in the Mediterranean. They are no longer in packing my possessions into cardboard boxes, in fresh white walls I can paint and shiny hardwood floors. They are no longer in a new neighborhood, in becoming a regular at a new local cafe.

This fleeting chapter of life is coming to a close. I absorb every moment, committing its details to memory. A memory to be packed away, unpacked in future days when, once again, I find myself at the crossroads of change and nostalgia.

A reminder of il dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing.

. . .

Thanks for reading!

Natasha Overin


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