Pleasure in the cursed cities

Pleasure in the cursed cities

And instead you

Resting is a task that requires method, dedication and will. “I’m on vacation,” abandon your son. For him it is a seamless, unconditional, urgent right, an obligation that he exercises with discipline. While the school is closed, the only obligation is to stay away from any remotely useful activity. A single maxim applies during these months: Don’t do today what you can put off tomorrow.

The etymologies give the reason for the child’s obstinate loitering. The Latin word “holiday” has a common root with “empty”. “Laziness” belongs in the same family in which a hint of reproach, a suspicion of a lack of diligence, is hinted at. Business performance requires not succumbing to doing nothing. At a time when you are encouraged to fill every moment and work from home beyond hours, interrupting tasks in the name of rest is subversive. We feel guilty even when our pursuits don’t have the nagging pressure of haste: they teach us to prefer suffocation to emptiness.

Ancient sagas have a special predilection for curses and destruction. Significantly, the cities that have vanished from the face of the earth were never the most warlike and aggressive, but rather those that had a bad reputation for loving pleasures and the good life. Sodom and Gomorrah were wealthy capitals whose inhabitants sought to thrive in a convulsive period of invasion, war, and plunder. Both were destroyed by an earthquake accompanied by gas explosions. Genesis interpreted it as Yahweh’s punishment for their wealth, sloth, and sexual appetite. The only man saved from the disaster, Lot, escaped with his back to the land smoking like a furnace. His wife, after turning her head in nostalgia or sadness, was turned into a pillar of salt.

The famous Sybaris, which would give its name to all future food lovers, was founded by Greek emigrants in southern Italy. It was a metropolis of fabulous wealth and its citizens had uncomplicated tastes: they simply loved the best. In what is now Paestum, a colony of Sybaris, the paintings in the tomb of the swimmer still depict one of his merry banquets. It is said that even their horses learned to dance to the music. They hated getting up early after parties, so they fulfilled the contemporary fantasy of banning alarm clocks: no roosters were allowed inside the walls. Diodorus of Sicily attributed the strength of Sybaris to his habit of granting citizenship to immigrants and his ability to resist for two centuries without going to war with anyone. Living like a sybarite became the dream of the civilized world. Calamity was wrought when a demagogue seized power and sent them into battle. According to legend, his enemies, connoisseurs of musical training, went into battle with an orchestra. As the melody of the flutes sounded, the sybaritic horses began to dance. In a moralizing verdict, historians blamed his hedonism and horse dances for the defeat, rather than the demagogue who destroyed the peace. Again, the fault lies in pleasure.

The film The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino reflects the old desire to live the dolce vita. In his first pictures, a Japanese tourist suffers a heart attack while seeing Rome. The scene suggests that one can die from excessive beauty, a variant of Lot’s wife’s punishment for looking. The curse again. In an unexpected somersault, the film plunges us into a hilarious, excessive and hilarious party to the rhythm of Far l’amore by Raffaella Carrà. The protagonist Jep Gambardella, a contemporary gourmand, lives in a summer that seems endless, the atmosphere of dinners, hikes, meetings, fun and boredom that Petronio tells in his Satyricon. Between ruins and palaces, the filmmaker portrays the Eternal City as a series of ephemeral Romes. After centuries of reproach and rebuke, in the suffocation of heat waves, thirsting for rest, we feel like the horses of Sybaris who preferred to dance in battle: holidays were just that.

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