The Word of the Day ~ Time
“Mark, you’re late.”
“Mark, you are LATE!”
That’s all I could think about as I drove toward my cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill, Stillwater, MN. As a stage manager in professional theatre, time management is my job. As a cooking instructor, time management is crucial—especially if I need to get to a class early enough to prep food for it.
However, since “time” was getting the better of me, as I hurdled myself through acres and acres of Wisconsin farm country trying to bend the laws of time and space, hoping not to get a ticket, I started to think about the Italian sense of time. Their culture has been around a long time (un tanto tempo), while ours is relatively new ~ we are the new kids on the block. I do know that the Italian language considers time differently than ours does.
In English, the one word “time” can mean several different things. In Italian, each kind of “time” uses a different word:
In English: In Italiano~
“One time we went….” “Una volta siamo andati….”
“Time will tell.” “Il Tempo ci dirà.”
“What time is it?” “Che ora è?”
Using different words when thinking about time must imply that the Italian notion of “time” is relevant to the situation. It seems for us Americans that the slogan “Time is Money” is our overall theory behind the clock and what we do as the Earth spins on its axis around the sun. I’m not sure if Italians have that kind of mindset. They have been spinning around a lot longer than we have and maybe we could take a lesson from them.
Pondering this, a small cemetery, off to the side of the road tucked between two cornfields, caught my eye. Out in the middle of farm country was a little testament to time. With my interest piqued, I decided to be Italian and stop, turn around, and take five minutes to satisfy my curiosity. I mean, if I am already going to be late, what’s another five minutes? Right?
I heard my inner Italian voice answer, “Sì, è vero!”
There were about 50 grave markers—some simple pieces of squared-marble resting on the ground, some were fancier with engraved images bearing testament to the heroics of battle, while others dating back to the late 1860s bore the testament of the ravages of time—worn away inscriptions, faded words proclaiming a final thought or memory not to be forgotten. Images of angels or sheep now became textured grooves and bumps that only the connect-the-dot, sightless sense of touch could reveal.
How had these souls experienced time—without satellite TV, cell phones, the internet or, going back further, before the car, the telephone or even the light bulb? How long was a day? Was a month the unending sameness of chores and hard work? How much did a life witness as it was lived through time’s hourglass in a year?
When I think of my life in theatre and also now as an author/cook adventurer, I realize that I have been across this country many, many times. I have traveled to Europe many, many times. How far flung is my life compared to the life represented by this cross and toppled over stone grave marker in front of me? What have I missed in the hustle-and-bustle of my “modern” life that may not have slipped away from a person in the 1800s?
Italians have this great sense of domani ~ tomorrow. There are things that must be done today, but there are also things that can wait fino a domani. After all, in the end, you can’t take it with you, so why pass by or rush through a moment in time ~ un momento nel tempo.
I sat down next the marker and considered this person’s life—this person’s time—now remembered by an undecipherable, toppled over stone with a view of a cornfield and some Memorial Day flags decorating the neighbors who rested alongside.
I arrived in Stillwater a little later than I would have liked, but with plenty of time to prep for the class. Had I arrived five minutes earlier would anything have been better? Hmm—nope. In fact, I think maybe worse, because I would not have had my roadside moment tucked in the Wisconsin corn.
It was a time (una volta) where my time (il mio tempo) was spent not thinking about the time (alle ore).
I hope you’ll take a moment out of the busy time of your life, to enjoy something you might have otherwise rushed over—you’ll be oh so Italian if you do!
**And in case I have given the illusion that Italians care nothing about time, here are some of my favorite Italian displays of time—clock towers~