Tom first mentioned this phrase over dinner one night when we were sitting in practical darkness accompanied by the sounds of waves lapping at sand and crickets chirping. We were on Gili Meno, a quiet island just off Lombok, good for, as the local guidebook stated, snorkelling, sunbathing and honeymooning. ‘Bel far niente,’ he said, ‘It means ‘the art of doing nothing.’ I wondered why he had brought this up – it wasn’t in line with anything we’d previously been speaking about, nor did we really explore the phrase. But I was impressed that he knew it.
Shortly after, I started reading Eat Pray Love, a book he had recently finished whilst we were in Bali. At 17% on my Kindle, an Italian man with the most ironic name, Luca Spaghetti, declares that Italians are ‘the masters of bel far niente.’ According to Elizabeth Gilbert, the author,
‘The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all of your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement.’
This is the purpose of our honeymoon! Except phrased a bit more eloquently than, ‘I’m going to be lazy.’ Or as Tom puts it, ‘I want to be bored. It’s been so long since I was bored.’ I suggested that I remove his Kindle which he has become rather attached to (he’s just devoured Before I Go To Sleep and has quickly moved onto The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window) but apparently that’s not an option.
I’m looking forward to mastering bel far niente but it’s hard to even start. We’ve given ourselves the best chance so far – we’re on a teeny island off Lombok which we can walk around in an hour. Upon writing this its only just struck me there’s no TV where we’re staying. The only people around are the guests staying here. I’ve so far counted 3 others. Most mornings we lie in hammocks, watch the cats play and eat a leisurely breakfast (grilled pineapple for me, toast and scrambled eggs for Tom). Yet there’s still things hanging over our heads. For Tom, it’s finishing the last edits of his book. For me, it’s all the blogposts I promised people. There’s a backlog and slow internet is making it tough going.
As Tom and I have both agreed, we’re practicing bel far niente with the leisurely pace that this island demands. But until we clear the tasks hanging over our heads we can’t fully embrace becoming masters of doing nothing.
There is also the guilt factor we have to work through. The idea that we somehow don’t deserve to be idle. That we should be at least exploring all the nooks and crannies that the island has to offer. Even Marika, the Dutch girl who runs Mao Meno where we’re staying remarked, ‘aren’t you going to explore the island?’ We just smiled lazily. Bel far niente was setting in.