I have spent much of this blog writing about beautiful things, beautiful features, emphasizing the role of the editorial eye in maintaining a sense of well-being. But the truth about Italy is that its most beautiful possessions are in the soul of the people.
These people are innately kind, for the most part. They care how each other feel. And there are words, commonly used, that transmit this concern for the emotional well being of others. The most beautiful to me, in its male and female form, is—
You hear this all the time from family members, from friends and even from Italians in passing who seem to understand that perhaps it’s not your best day, you’re having an “off” moment. A cashier who knows you need an extra second to count out the exact change she’s asked you for, will say it. “Tranquilla, signora.” Take your time. The person behind you waiting to board the old tram who realizes you’re having trouble navigating the steep stairs with your shopping bags or your children or a disobedient coattail.
Just that simple, poetic adjective, giving you permission to breathe deeply and take the time you need. I’ll repeat it for good measure, for you, so that you too can stop and take your time. Leave this for a moment. Get a coffee, or a tea. Breathe. Stare into space or between the lines.
Of course the beauty of this word to my ear is a trick of adaptation, for the literal translation in English is “tranquil,” a word rarely used outside literary contexts to describe the human state, but laden with poetic, almost spiritual significance. But in Italy, the notion of tranquility is wide-spread and very, very important so that this word, this very notion, is a part of the daily vernacular. It’s a sought-after way to feel. A common goal. Something that people wish for others, even strangers.
The full expression is the adjective preceded by the infinitive stare which means “to be” as in “to remain.” It’s the state of being expressed in these English constructions: “to be good,” “to stay still,” “to stay calm.” Stare tranquilli.
To a male friend, I would say, “Stai tranquillo.” Or just, “Tranquillo.” To a sister, “Stai tranquilla” shortened to “Tranquilla.” To an older woman, “Stia tranquilla. Tranquilla, signora.”
Just writing it makes my heart rate slow.
It’s a concept that’s shared in all moments of life. In the small rushed ones as well as in the momentous ones. It’s as well suited to the trivial stresses as it is to the plate-shifting upheavals—those wrenching chapter beginnings and endings—that mark life’s passage. It can be accompanied by a nod of understanding, a glance off to the side (as if staring directly at you would just contribute to your anxiety), or a warm hand placed lightly—humanely—on your arm.
There is time here. Time to breathe. Time to love. Time to feel what you need to feel. Time to shake it off. Time to get used to the first day of school or the first day of spring or the first day of life without a person you loved. There is always time. So you take it. And this is where you find your tranquility which you so deserve, just by nature of being alive.