“Let’s go for a passeggiata,” a friend had asked me. I still remember that moment four years ago when my ears first heard that word, “passeggiata.” The truth is I had no idea what it meant, but the word immediately conjured up images of me being out on the rough open seas in some old, wooden sailing vessel, sucking lemons like lollypops in hopes of staving off syphilis, and dreading the thought of catching a right hook (literally) to the side of my face. Putting my fear of pirates aside, it happened to be a Tuesday, which made such a journey impossible on a work night. For all of these valid reasons I quickly dismissed the offer as ridiculous.
Since then I have learned that a “passeggiata” has nothing to do with a 17th century sea voyage (other than both words share one syllable in common). In fact a “passeggiata” couldn’t be any more different. For those of you who made the same logical error that I did, allow me to clarify the meaning of this word.
A “passeggiata” (note this is the last time I put it in quotes) is literally an evening stroll that happens on land usually with someone that you feel some affection towards and often performed while consuming a gelato.
I would imagine you are feeling the same overwhelming sense of relief that I did upon discovering this rather lovely Italian tradition. Here in Rome around sunset couples of all ages can be observed holding hands strolling around their local neighborhood taking in the sights and sounds of the night.
Over the last several years I have matured into an expert at the passeggiata. Upon careful reflection I have disseminated 4 essential guidelines that will ensure passeggiata success. Knowing that many of you may be new to the Italian culture I have decided to share these trade secrets openly.
1) Success or failure of the passeggiata is directly correlated to how much you enjoy the other person’s company. It is not recommended to take a long passeggiata with a person that is irritating, acutely temperature sensitive, or who continually talks about someone else that is not you.
2) A passeggiata should not be undertaken on a completely empty stomach or conversely while feeling bloated. As most passeggiati include the consumption of a gelato it is paramount that you anticipate this by planning all prior food intake thoughtfully.
3) Familiarize yourself with the local terrain ahead of time. There are certain elements that can either make or break a passeggiata. While it is true that a passeggiata is undertaken at a casual pace, depending on your level of conditioning you may want to ensure that benches are located strategically throughout the route. Little kids playing football (soccer) is another element to be highly aware of. I have seen too many nearly successful passeggiati tragically end with a ball hitting someone in the face.
4) Extra napkins. Even the most skilled gelato eater is no match for a hot, humid August night. Protect yourself by tucking a few spare napkins away in your pocket- you will be thankful that you did. If you are coming from the US note that 1 American napkin = 9 Italian napkins.
The passeggiata defines the carefree lifestyle that one enjoys living in Italy. If you follow these four guidelines than you can feel assured that you have taken all the necessary precautions needed to ensure that your next one will likely be a success.