We live next door to the ancient Pleasure Gardens of Rome (uh huh, no complaints here!).
“Horti Sallustiani,” a lavish landscape dedicated by the Ancient Romans to abandoned luxuriating. Nearly 2000 years ago, the gardens covered most of North West Rome and spanned a series of Emperors starting with Julius Caesar. It was an epicurean theme park brimming with decadence.
Pleasure. It sounds so naughty, or maybe undeserved. Something rationed in case someone finds us enjoying life just a bit too much. But this isn’t how the Romans saw it. Hedonistic indulgence was part of the social fabric. Even now, you only have to watch Roma
n daily rituals to see how the concept of pleasure is tangled inextricably into Italian life. Art becomes architecture, food is a ceremony, and love, well that’s another blog entirely! Pleasure is a daily rite of passage regardless of class, age, or wealth.
So why do we think pleasure is so undeserving? Why is time alone, investing in wellness rituals, or nurturing ourselves considered such a luxury? Isn’t happiness and contentment linked to well-being? Doesn’t charging our batteries and filling our cup ensure we have more to give? Making us better partners, parents, friends, volunteers, colleagues and citizens?
“Art becomes architecture, food is a ceremony, and love, well that’s another blog entirely!”
The word pleasure (‘piacere’ in Italian) is often mistranslated into English to mean “to like”. As in ‘we like’ food, art, the things around us. But in actual fact the verb literally means ‘to give pleasure’. It’s an interesting reversal. It’s not up to us to like the beautiful things around us, but instead, those things bestow pleasure upon us. The idea is that life is gifting us a spectacle of enchanting treats and we are helpless but to bask in the pleasure of their giving.
I mention the Roman pleasure gardens (now Piazza Sallustio) because this is where one evening these exquisite gardens came to life and gifted us with their namesake. I’ve been accused many times of being a sucker for a sad face, and this time the lucky recipient was a tiny orphan kitten stranded against the gardens hopelessly in search of shelter.
She didn’t make the rescue easy (they never do!). But after we brought her to the safety of our apartment, crying and scratching, we cleaned her up and watched the transformation from scared, emaciated orphan (hoping at that point what we had rescued actually was a cat) into a gleaming ball of purring fluff sleeping ever so peacefully.
We’ve called our new baby kitten Emma. She is grey like the English autumn sky. She is now part of our family and we cannot even recognise the frightened kitten we rescued that night. She is bouncy, sunny and curious. She falls asleep in our arms and chews on our sleeve if we ignore her. She brings us together, makes us laugh and play. She delights us with the simplest of pleasures and fills our hearts with joy. We lose hours in shameless abandon, enjoying the moments she gifts us.
I am certain this is exactly what the Romans had in mind.
Welcome to our intercontinental family Emma! Pure Pleasure.