It's 7.30 am. I exhale deeply. It feels cold outside of the covers. "Better get up now so I don't have to rush." *presses snooze button*....
A lot has changed since January 2014. Not just that I now live in London, have a stable job and most excellent workplace, but mainly for the reason that this time two years ago I was living in Palermo, Sicily. Yeah, I'm still trying to get used to the lack of good coffee.
To survive London and the flurry of briefcase laden businessmen and smart-zombies, namely the people who type furiously whilst waddling as if they were surgically attached to their smart phone, I've had to quicken my pace. Not only can I now slap my winged eyeliner onto my eyelids whilst balancing on one leg on a packed Northern Line, or dash past tourists in a way that would make Supermarket Sweep look calm, but I can keep up with the bustling, brilliant, chaotic side of London I've been craving to embrace for so long.
And yet the one thing that has dramatically changed in the past two years is going from a country where food tastes better when consumed slower, and days are more restful yet productive when enjoying the moment and taking a second to actually relish the here and now.
Rush rush rush. I feel breathless just typing those words. And then I hear it in my head, chiming through the noise and clutter like the green light in The Great Gatsby (DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER LEO!)....."piano, piano." And then my muscles relax and my brain grabs a sense of control and focus.
Italy has always conjured up images of vitality and affluence in my head- where the fast paced fashion smacks against the "Potrei avere un cappuccino per favore" demands lined up in a grab'n'go cafe/esspresso bar. But living there, in Palermo, changed my perception from the mere aesthetic. Working at a shelter with some of the most glorious people I've ever met was bound to change my outlook on life. And it did. But what I always think about now when I look back to "Clare's Palermo diaries" (someone will buy the film rights off me one day) is the fact that even if I was late going somewhere, I'd still be early. If I was rushing absent-mindedly through the streets, I'd miss something beautiful. Mealtimes (and wine times) went from being a "wolf it down n run" necessity to a "let's go to the local and eat ALL the courses" (Arianne, you know which place I mean!) and boy did I feel like I belonged there.
"Piano piano" was one of the first things I googled (once you've embarrassed yourself doing an appalling version of "do you have a towel?" charades) you begin to google things a lot .
I heard it when I got off the plane. A little Italian boy looked tired and agitated from the flight (he was in good company as we did fly with Ryanair...) so started yelling and running around like I do after too many wines to which his father simply said softly "piano, piano". Little did I know those two words would shape the next three months more than I thought.
Musically speaking, "piano" is an instruction to play softly (almost impossible when playing the clarinet). Quietly. Gently. Softly. The eardrum friendly alternative to a big brazen forte. But in the context of human interaction it didn't make quite as much sense. "Is he telling him to be soft?" "Quieten down?" "Gentle?" "God I need to stop overthinking. Right stop now. Stop." flew round my newly adjusting brain. "Piano piano."
When I found myself at work frustrated at being a stereotypical Brit with no grasp of any other language aside from English, my lack of Italian (aside from Latin GCSE- big up to main man Caecilius) I found myself trying to do too much too soon. Classic. Rush, rush, rush. Why waste time learning to walk when you can run and fall flat on your face.
So, when I explained (in italianglish) to one of the other volunteers about how I wanted to do as much as possible in as little time and wished I could speak better Italian they simply and calmly said those magic words "piano piano" - bit by bit. Or as Oasis once sang, little by little. And those golden words still whiz round my head now.
Palermo provided me and so many of my friends I met while there an opportunity to make the best of being a stranger abroad. But it also taught me to slow down and take things as they come. You can still be proactive and see a lot, do a lot, hear a lot, without burning yourself out or rattling though a checklist of 'to dos' so quickly you didn't actually get to experience each one.
Because as someone who is constantly planning ahead with where I want to be, what I want to do when, who I want to see, learning to let go slightly of controlling everything was an absolute soul healer. And now, if a friend goes through a tough time, I'll utter those magic words to them and continue to pass the "focus on the moment" mentality.
Because while you may have the capacity and ability to down a beer in 20 seconds or eat on the go to your next meeting doesn't mean that you can't grab those pockets of calm and slow when you can.
So the next time you're tucking in to that big bowl of creamy carbonara called life, give yourself a moment to really and truly let it digest. What do you have to lose?
Fancy yourself as a solitary wanderer? You're not alone! Check out my thoughts why travelling alone doesn't have to be lonely.