Knowing the Known

“You have brains in you head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Dr. Seuss, a genius.

Confidence; Here’s something the Italians do well. I find confidence so visible here. Romans wear confidence like black overcoats – like professions, that’s how.

The air of confidence wafts heavy down the streets. In the strong gazes of the men walking down the sidewalk, in the gestured speech, in the women behind their sunglasses. These Romans walk tall, even if they are only carrying groceries. We’ve made an observation: Americans walk too fast, too hurriedly, too preoccupied. We’re distracted. We’re flustered. Not Italians. Everything appears fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. Did you drop your gelato? It’s fine. Is the economy failing? It’s fine. Let’s have a glass of vino. Is it raining? Ok, not as fine, but eh (shoulder shrug), let’s still have that glass of wine.

And this calmness, not universal or constant – I’m not painting in totalities here, translates to confidence. That confidence then materializes in simplicity. Let’s use food as a tool of illustration. Italian food is simple food. The best panino of your life consists of bread (amazing, simple bread), olive oil, prosciutto, formaggio, and maybe arugula. Anything else is just nonsense. Sure, you can exchange ingredients, but let’s not crowd the party with any more. Mentally place this next to an American sandwich, where the adjectives in the dressing’s name outnumber the Italian’s components. It’s excess; it’s America. It begs the question, what are we hiding?

In Roma ease abounds. If it does not, the Romans mask it with attitude. The aesthetic overwhelms any trouble. They say, “Let’s paint this school red.” Bam. Bold confidence. I turn the corner and hear the kids through the open windows and think, “This is beautiful.” It is a red, rectangular school. It’s confidence. I find it walking back to my apartment on a moped licenseplate that reads, “i AM Roma.” Yeah, you are.

This confidence, and simplicity, the attitude,  we often construe as creepy when we switch the subject to Italian men. They do not shy away from eye contact, that’s for sure. But why does that make us uncomfortable? Maybe because we are so used to utterly avoiding it. We look down, away, glance to the side, text on our phones, see we have no texts and pretend to text anyway – we do anything to avoid the intensity and intimacy of a look. Tell me which end of this interaction is rude? I will say that the obviousness of the routine shocks at first. The Italian look says, “I know that you know that I’m looking at you.” It will go further, “I know that you know that I know.” – I could continue, but just extrapolate for yourself.

Does this confidence hold function outside of streetwalking? I don’t know. Does it extend beyond glances and paint colors? I am grossly under-qualified to comment on arenas anywhere near serious here. But, I would classify the Italians as a passionate people – even if only about a simple zucchine pizza. Do they follow their dreams more? Do they risk more? Do they try things, do they walk outside comfort? I don’t know, but their confidence should be contagious. At least their confidence to look. Why aren’t we fascinated like these kids? Days are full of metaphorical balloon art, right? Is that a stretch?

Look at life in the eyes, and know that it knows that you know you are.

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