Okay… from a Calabrian viewpoint – what is the meaning of life? And yes, I’m being serious. I’m not looking for the “ultimate” answer, just what you think the local answer would be.
This is a fabulous question, and first let me preface my answer by saying I certainly don’t presume to speak for all Calabrians, who are a rather varied group despite the basic, deep Calabrese pride that runs throughout the toe of the boot.
Calabrians work in all industries from agriculture to technology from Cosenza to Milano and beyond (even in the CIA!), so let me begin by painting the picture of the small group of old-fashioned Calabrians I’ll be drawing from in formulating my answer:
I live in a hilltop village of about 350 people, most of whom are probably over the age of 65. The houses are built on top of one another, more or less, as space used to be limited; the village used to hold as many as 12,000 people.
On the sides of the hill leading up the village, there are many plots of land, most of which are still used as garden spaces or places to keep animals.
So for many of these traditional Calabrians, those who still get up at sunrise to feed the hens, pick olives, or till the soil for a new planting of tomatoes, I’d say the meaning of life is rather simple—to wake up relatively healthy each day, strong enough to have the opportunity to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of, whether it be the land, the house, or the family.
And when they have a little left over, well it’s time to go off to the neighbor’s house and share.
I think that’s what the Calabrians I know are best at doing and what they strive to do each and every day—they do what needs to be done for themselves and their loved ones, and then go one step further and help out friends and neighbors when bounty allows.
It seems to me, for many here, immense satisfaction comes from simply knowing they do what they have to do and if they are able to share beyond that, all the better. This allows them to sleep well at night even if their beds creak with every slight movement and are held up by frames tied together by old rags.
You’ll perhaps notice I didn’t mention elaborate several course family dinners, which are certainly a big part of southern Italian life. I can’t possibly overstate the importance of fresh, homemade food and wine to the average Calabrian, and of course that’s what a lot of that hard work accomplishes.
But I also didn’t talk about sitting back and relaxing with a nice glass of homemade wine while gazing at the sea. Yes, some of that goes on down here, but more by the younger generations; the older generations hardly have time for such frivolous things with all the work they’re always busy doing.
Jen, thank you for pushing me to verbalize exactly why I love living here so much.
I am so very blessed to live among such wonderful, hard-working, kind people who provide, along with a never-ending supply of figs, lemons, and oranges, constant inspiration to be a better person in ways that truly matter.