04 July 2006

La dolce vita

An excellent little article in the Guardian online today.

According to scientists at Leicester university, people in Italy stay healthy for longer than those in other European countries.

Guido Santavecchi explains:

The Germans - or i panzer, as we usually refer to them - lag behind us, in terms of both life expectancy and the number of years of healthy life one can expect. And so do the French, our cugini transalpini (cousins over the Alps). And as for the United Kingdom (sorry, we used to call you perfida) ... apparently Italian men can expect to stay healthy a whole decade after British men. Italian women, meanwhile, can expect to avoid the first ageing illnesses (we call them acciacchi) for a full 14 years longer than British women.

Under the circumstances, I wonder if you Brits would mind taking some advice from an Italian. After all, with Italy and its politicians and its economy forever in dire straits, perhaps we deserve the chance to feel a little full of ourselves, and full of a little good advice too.

First of all, at lunchtime, stop that crappy junk food, be it sandwiches or pots of salad that you are so eager to buy after queueing for ages in the street or at Tesco. And stay well away from your company canteen with its frustrated cooks.

Instead, go home for your lunch. It's what the Italians do, and it serves us well. OK, your boss may object, but really your boss should be going home at lunchtime too.

Second, remember not to cycle home - the correct thing to do is drive. We Italians are very proud of our very unhealthy habit of driving fast and noisy cars in our traffic-jammed towns. Somehow, it works for us.

When at home, have a decent ration of pasta with a glass of red (one, no more - doctor's orders).

And take note of this: there are two ways to cook pasta properly, ie al dente. The first one is the most difficult but it is not impossible: you put five litres of water in a pot with some salt, wait until it comes to boiling point and then you put your pasta in. You must have occhio (a ready eye) and keep trying the pasta before it's ready. It's a learning curve, but pasta is part of Italian culture, for men and women alike, and it should be part of your culture too.

Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to have someone waiting for you at home, you can call before you set off from the office with the popular old refrain: "Amore butta la pasta che sto arrivando," which means, roughly: "Darling, put the pasta water on, I'll be there very soon."

So that's lunch. The next bit involves rest, something the British are bad at. There are still quite a few Italian people indulging in a nice pennichella (a little rest) after lunch. Why not try it too? After all, whatever the scientists say, however much evidence they come up with, one will probably never really be sure what adds up to that extra decade of good health - the only safe thing to do is to ape us in everything.

And on that note, stop going jogging like a horse at noon, when you should be heading home for your leisurely lunch. What is the point of being slim and fit if it means sacrificing a decade of good health?

This more Italian, more leisurely approach to your day should be carried through to the workplace. When you are back at your desk, some time in the afternoon, after a nice stroll, spend at least half your remaining working time drinking coffee with mates or spreading gossip about your boss. Sure, the scientists don't talk about this stuff - but it's all part of the Italian way.

Yesterday, in the British papers, one scientist was saying that the weather may also play a part in the differences in good health between European countries. Of course, I have no way of helping you here. You know, Italy, not the UK, is o' paese do' sole

But why don't you stop keeping records of every single millimetre of rain? Why don't you stop complaining because, you know, it's the first week of Wimbledon and it's rain as usual, as it was in 1949, 1950, 1953, 1954 etc etc. And now it's the second week of Wimbledon, and it's as bad a heatwave as it was in 1961, 1962, 1964 etc etc. You see what I'm getting at here. Just take what God sends to you, as we say.

Guido Santavecchi is a London based correspondent for Corriere della Sera. And the above contains some excellent advice.

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