Hand in hand, my wife and I venture out on our ritual evening walk. Or as our former neighbor used to say, “your lovely strolls.” It’s dark now, dinner’s been enjoyed, and we step out into a place assuming a character of intrigue. I find myself thinking about an article I’d come across years ago about this peculiar and lively Italian practice known as passeggiata – a word which evidently means an evening stroll partaken after a meal. I remember thinking, “unbelievable! Traditional Italians actually have a special word for the evening stroll! Talk about cultural values!”
This passeggiata is thought to vitalize a place, enhance playfulness and trust among neighbors, and now that modern concerns have looked into it, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar right when it’s most needed: after a meal.
From my several years of participating in the after dinner stroll, I will attest that there’s a rough, yet whimsically social quality to the practice.
When we’re out in the community passeggiata(ing), we encounter the unfolding life of the street. We discover and participate in a spontaneous creativity: the saunter; the distracted wait; the ramble; the abrupt shift in direction; the crouching to take a closer look; the grabbing of leaf, trunk, flower, post and rail.
Situated all up and down the socio-economic ladder, we strollers, ramblers, conveyors, and walkers nod in smiling recognition upon seeing one another. We smile in acknowledgement of the singular “mood” of this place, of the smell of the wet mulch and slick pavement, of the greasy exhaust of thousands of urgent motors as it intermingles with the humid air.
At least while in this space — the amount of which has receded in concert with the motorist agenda — we ramblers are literally and figuratively on the same plane. No matter our background, our class, the price of the sweater warming our torsos, we human animals must negotiate this rectilinear hardscape together.
Sure, we’re not exactly intimates; certainly, my wife’s endured noxious cat-calling, but with ascending familiarity that routine encounters bring, we strollers develop an understanding. Soon, we become young children engaged in “parallel play.” As our relationship matures, we locate a basic respect, a general reverence for one another’s sentience.
This is largely because we are here. Together. Now. We’re not silo-ed off, speeding away to something potentially better or fancier. We understand that life happens here, in this place and on our terms.