“Learning to Appreciate Time and Space”

Andee Finn ’16

Catholic Rome, Lutheran Wittenberg

Learning to Appreciate Time and Space

“We were asked to write a comparative essay that analysed the most notable differences between US culture and what we  observed in Italy or Germany. Going into this interim, I had a strong personal bias of religion in the context of place because I had previously travelled and studied religion in the context of the Sacred Places of Greece and Turkey with Prof. Deanne Lagerquist in the Interim of 2014. As a result, these features had a strong influence on my perspective of Italian versus American culture. ”

Comparative Essay: The US vs. Italy

Through previous study, I have learned that in order to experience religion and have a profound encounter with transcendence, there must be a perfect connection between space and time. Interestingly enough, these two complex systems are also the only things shared by the entirety of humanity simultaneously: that is, in a single instance, all of humanity is occupying the same space-Earth. However, even though these facts may be true, every cultural, religious and ethnic group experiences these forms differently. For these reasons, I believe that space and time offer a unique comparative perspective between cultures.

The easiest description of time is a time line. Time is organized in a linear fashion where the past, present and future are connected sequentially. In the US, our culture is known for being run by the clock. The average American works 47 hrs/week, uses less than half of their vacation/sick time, and is not provided with a maternity/paternity leave by their employer. Furthermore, in order to occupy and care for the children of these busy American adults, a plethora of clubs, sports, and after school activities are offered, and even encouraged, as a means of teaching your child how to be a successful adult and competitive college applicant at a young age.
Through the development of technology, this need to fill every moment of one’s life worsens. Absentmindedly, most individuals check their phone nine times an hour, and with individualized plans, every message, email, or planner reminder can be set with its own ding, ring and buzz to make sure it gets our attention and we don’t forget something important.
In Italy, the race against time is not a noticeable feature. Most Italian shops don’t open until 9am and some even don’t open their gates until the odd times of 10:22 or 10:37. By observation, it does not seem like schedules are a main motivation in Italy.
Before coming on this trip, I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. In the film the protagonist is an American woman who feels guilty for spending her vacation in Rome “only eating and learning a few Italian words”, but her new Roman friends quickly become agitated with her complaining and “her American ways”. In their minds, the Italian way of life is best described as the “sweetness of doing nothing.” I thought this scene was meant to poke fun at Americans, but I have found it to be a true description of the Italian way of life. The afternoon siesta in Italy, which runs from 12-4pm, roughly, is a period in which the country comes to a halt. People go home to eat, sleep and take a break from their day. However, there is still an evening rush home from 5-7pm and the dinner hour runs from 7pm till midnight. No Italian would ever feel guilty for enjoying a long meal, or spending the time and money to sit outside and enjoy a fancy coffee, gelato, or glass of wine on an outdoor patio. Italians enjoy window shopping and having the opportunity to share a moment of affection with their lovers in the middle of the day and the street.
In some ways, the Italians view time as an opportunity to create a story of their lives, and in this story, ordinary places become extraordinary because they now have a memory behind them.
Rome in particular is a bustling busy, and as you try to find your way through the maze of city streets, there is always a piazza, monument, or ancient ruin to be discovered. Wherever you go, you are never alone, and there is always a mix of tourists and locals at any of the shops, restaurants, churches, and other community spaces. At night, commercial centers are not abandoned, but rather piazzas and other communal areas fill up. Street performers, local artists and vendors, restaurant goers, and people just traveling on their way, fill the night with an energetic buzz. Because many Italian cities do not have a lot of street lights, the dark spaces are lit up by fountains, outdoor restaurant fires, and tourist toys. The sounds and sights of an Italian piazza at night create an enthusiastic atmosphere. However, Italy is just as busy during the day, and these same locations often have a busier atmosphere during normal business hours-however the crowd may have a broader age range.
This use of space is in sharp contrast to the US where Americans are constantly trying to finish their daily to-do lists and tasks. A lot of Americans describe their life as a series of repetitive motions. They tread through places and not into them.
Before my last interim trip, students in the class were asked to describe their sacred place, and unsurprisingly a majority of American students described isolated places in nature. Because of our daily lives, Americans tend to put a healing/enjoyable emphasis on isolated places where we can “unplug” from society; however, even when these places are available, they are not readily used. For example, the city of Minneapolis boasts the most natural/park space per resident; but except for the odd early morning runner and children’s birthday party, a majority of this land goes unused and unnoticed. In the US, the most common place of relaxation and communal gathering occurs in one’s living room in front of an entertainment system.

Through my experiences at St. Olaf, I have discovered that the most profound cultural and religious events are sacred-a feeling of perfect isolation mixed with the overwhelming sensation that I am connected with something bigger than myself. This only occurs when there is a perfect time and space connection. Even though Italians may be considered less efficient than Americans, I believe that their culture has given them the tools to recognize and experience more of these sacred moments, and over time, these moments intertwine together to create a rich and fulfilling life-story.