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Leaning Out - Sicilian Style

I bought a new t-shirt last week. Each time I wear it, people stop and demand to know where I bought it. It says, 'La Bella Vita'. Three simple words that mean a lot.

Regardless of where we live, what language we speak, we all desire the same things.  People are the same all over the world and we all want to live a beautiful life.

There is a reason I only brought one book with me and that it took me a month to read.  Instead of burying my face in books while I am alone in places, I look around, open up, and speak with people.  I ask them about their life and what makes them happy. Time and time again it is the simple things such as reading the paper, family, sunsets, nature, meeting friends at the beach, watching kids play from a kitchen window while drinking coffee. It is the simple things that bring people joy in life.

As I make my way across the seas of southern Europe, I am experiencing life and people from the Aegean to the Adriatic.  I find myself now in the Mediterranean, actually the Tyrrhenian Sea.  I am on the island of Lipari.  It is La Bella Vita.  A short ferry from Sicily, I am visiting my NYC friend Maurizio and his family and learning about the Sicilian/Liparian way of life.

It is simple and revolves around family, food, friends, the beautiful sea, lots of espresso and the best cannoli you ever ate.  Most important, life here is about Amore.  Love is everywhere.  It is in the people, the food, the cooking, the sun, the water, and even the gelato – served on a roll in a gelato sandwich.

Maurizio’s aunts cook with love. Each day is a lunch with an aunt who cooks my friend’s favorite things or dinner at his home with his family and sometimes a few neighbors.  If I did not know Italian then I would have thought my name is Mangi Mangi.  That is all they say to me, “Eat, Eat!”  

Meals are prepared thoughtfully.  They select the ingredients with care and most come from their gardens.  Basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini flowers, lemons, figs, and on and on.  I continue to eat and drink vino and do not really have a choice.  My favorite snacks are arancini.  Risotto made into balls filled with cheese, ham, tomatoes, whatever, breaded and deep fried. I must stop eating these everyday as my stomach is turning into one, but good thing for stretchy pants.

We jump on the scooter and I pray to the Madonna statue on the corner to protect us as we zip around cars and buses at high speeds, up and down hills, Italian style.  I hold on and close my eyes. We pass other scooters and sometimes there are even three people on one, even kids with a parent.  It works. 

Life in Lipari.  It’s the coffee bar in the morning, it’s lunch, it’s the beach, then a visit to his nephews at camp, the beach, dinner, nights out in Lipari.  We never go anywhere without stopping at least three times, since there is a ‘ciao’ to say to someone he knows.  This all revolves around the love that people have for each other.

The house.  It is a large house with several apartments and families.  There are gardens, dogs, cats, chickens, and my favorite friend, a pig.  The first day I arrived, I went to pick lemons and was startled by a snorting sound. The pig was coming towards me and I ran away.  To be honest, I have never really seen a pig outside of the county fair.  I am happy to learn it is a family pet and not for tomorrow’s dinner.  

There is community, love, laughter, drama.  Maurizio’s father sees me each day, smiles, and asks (hand gestures included to enunciate), “Bongiorno, Tutto Posto?”  I reply, “Si, bene, bene.” It is all good.  We eat again.

One thing for sure is that there are clear female and male roles.  As a woman, I help with cooking, cleaning, dishes, hang laundry. I even walk into places after the men. I am offered an apron.  It is OK.  Being in this environment as well as spending time in Greece, I have reflected a lot on my time pushing and achieving in my career and also my relationships. 

In the past, a few men have told me that I need to soften up.  Was told by a man who I had a date with that “women MBAs scare him.”  Again, I am thankful for who I am and all that I have, but listening to others and speaking with people, just makes me think.

So here I am ‘Leaning Out’ in Lipari. For those who do not know the book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, wrote it.  By the way, she just bought a new $11 million home.  I did not read the book, since it came out at the time I was leaving Corporate America and really did not care.  I was more concerned with what bikini I would buy for the summer.

From the Lean In website, the book examines “why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.” In the book she asks women to ‘sit at the table’ and to ‘lean in’ and to not submit to a male dominated corporate culture.  

Over the years of my career, the fight was exhausting.  I no longer see a need to lean in to anything that stresses me out or does not bring at least a little bit of joy. In Lipari, I am just leaning in to the next bottle of wine or the next amazing meal or the next hot Italian man…..

OK, I am not trading in my Prada’s for an apron anytime soon, but there is something to say about the simplicity in life when roles are defined and women take care of the house and the children and men provide for the family.  I see here in Lipari that living close to other family members makes it easy to care for the kids. 

It is not all simple in Lipari as I am sure there are money struggles, family issues, screaming kids, and some of the same challenges we have in the States. People do not earn a lot of money, don’t take luxury vacations, or buy fancy cars and jewelry.  

What I observe is that even without these things there is still laughter. At least to me people do not seem stressed out nor are they running around from place to place.  It is 1am and in the piazza there are celebrations and the kids are still out enjoying the festivities with their parents.

I have been fortunate enough to have decisions to study at university, have a career, move around, and to live an independent life where I can take care of myself.  Similar, independent, successful women who are mostly single, but also married surround me.  All of us have achieved a lot in our careers. 

I am not convinced that ‘Leaning In’ completely is the right answer.  As women, nurturing and caring for others is part of our DNA.  When we lack this, then we lack meaning in something that is just wired inside of us.  I don’t have surveys, but I wonder who is happier?  Women with simple lives, defined roles or women with high-powered jobs single or married, nannies, and little time for kids and hobbies. 

I do not have kids nor do I have the answers, but what I do know is that where I am now people are happy and there is love.  I’m ‘Leaning Out’.  It is simple and easy for me to do.  It is La Bella Vita.

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