ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR THE STYLE LINE
It was a bartender who told me to go to Puglia. As a frequent solo diner back home in New York, I am in the habit of taking recommendations from them, actually. But this time, I was on #RemoteMonth in London, and with my new friend, I’d entered into an intriguing conversation about his hometown: a place he described as having no market for a swanky cocktail bar like the one I found myself in; a diverse region with beautiful beaches, olive groves, vineyards, and kind, genuine Italian people.
When the time came to book my month abroad the next year, I embarked on an internet search of Puglia. To my dismay, apart from an Instagram photo of Polignano a Mare by @goop (eye roll) and a handful of articles highlighting the ‘must-see’ towns: Lecce, the ‘Florence of the South,’ Alberobello, home to the trulli, and Bari, what my colon therapist calls the ‘Bronx of Italy,’ I couldn’t find much. Nonetheless, I booked my flight and first Airbnb and made my way to the stiletto of Italy’s boot.
After a week, I settled in a small town called Nardo, just off the western coast in the region of Salento. And I must admit, I was initially disappointed. Nardo is not a perfect town. It is rough around the edges, with its eclectic mix of Baroque architecture and neglected buildings. And its historic center is small, lacking the concentration of shops and restaurants I’d become accustomed to in my visits to Tuscany. I feared I’d made the wrong choice.
But it wasn’t long before I found great pleasure in this ‘unspoilt’ little place. There was little to no English spoken, anywhere; I was one of the only, if not the only, American tourists there; it was a short drive to an array of breathtaking beaches; and the little old ladies who perched just outside their homes, gossiping, gave me sneers I came to seek. I spent my days well balanced between a few hours of morning work, a few hours of afternoon sunning, and a couple hours of evening dining.
As I shared my days on Instagram Stories, the messages poured in.
“You’re literally living my dream.”
“I am LIVING for your Italian posts.”
“Oh, girl. Italy looks gooood on you.”
Why, I thought, were my days, as simple and repetitive as they were, so highly covetable? Like clockwork, I cut fresh fruit for breakfast, read a book in the sunshine, and had a glass of wine on the patio… and I did this nearly every day. For a month.
Less the sea, my Italian activities were no different from those I could do in the comfort of my studio apartment in America. There is a plethora of fruit available at my local bodega, a myriad of books at my neighborhood bookstore, and an obnoxious assortment of wine at my corner (natural/bio/organic!) shop.
I recorded this note in my phone: “why do we dream of simplicity, when it’s so attainable?”
And then, the 4th of July came and my lack of patriotism took me quickly back home where political turmoil pervades our everyday lives. (Oh right, that.) Where we live in a constant state of chaos, unrest, and uncertainty. Where we wake up unsure which human right will be taken, which race, community, or religion will be offended, which calamitous change to our future will take place.
We live in a time where perhaps routine is more sacred than ever. Where ritual is safety.
So as I leave this #RemoteMonth behind and return to my life in the city, I am taking with me a few ways in which I can translate the bliss of my routine Italian existence to my everyday reality, and maybe you can too:
1. Establish balance by creating boundaries around the things that bring you the most joy. For me, this meant prioritizing a lunchtime swim and an elongated dinner, scheduling 4 hours of uninterrupted work in the morning when I’m most productive, and calls with clients in the in-between.
2. Define a routine that involves people in the neighborhood—of diverse age and background—and builds community. For me, this meant visiting the same salumeria for my meat and cheese, the same café for aperitivo, and the same beach for a dip (and a caffè crema, yum)… every day.
3. Reduce, simplify, and get back to basic pleasures. To me, this equated to bringing a carry-on sized bag with few outfits, eating more or less the same uncomplicated foods, cancelling all streaming services, and limiting my exercising to scenic walks.
It is fitting that this morning I stumbled upon this quote: “The success of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” Here’s to hoping we may all find peace and promise in the comfort of our routine activities, at home or abroad.