They say Italy doesn’t matter, part II

Joe LaBarbera (left to right), Martin Wind, Scott Robinson and Bill Culiffe.

The great thing about traveling is that you really see how other people live, and how it’s, alternatively, similar and different from the way we do. Things we do better here in America, and things we’ve forgotten, that made us great, initially.

In a similar way, I like to think of myself as a “passionate centrist,” as talk show host Dennis Prager used to talk about himself as, politically. I believe, and I don’t know why anyone would dispute it, that we should keep what is good in society, and get rid of what doesn’t work.

My biggest complaint about our society, and how it’s changed, is that yes, the computer makes everything faster, but then the expectation is you have to do more, so, no time saved. And you have to care and feed the machine, so it’s a net loss. But, I have to look on the bright side and see that  individuals can be creative in a way they never could have before. And artists can totally do their own thing, without bowing to “the man.” So long as the government doesn’t control the internet (Syria!!), we’re OK.

The seminal book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (don’t ask me to pronounce it), “Flow,” talks about the way to happiness being that of being absorbed by an activity that produces flow, which is often described as “time speeding by,” “arousal”, “relaxation,” and “being in the moment.” He describes it as, “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Now, it makes sense to me that if a society can preserve the things that allow people to do this, it’s to all our benefit.  People would be happier, more productive (my kids at Fullerton work much harder when they are in flow), and I would imagine crime and things like that might go down. What kinds of things encourage flow in a society?

Love (family, relationships), music and the arts, food (local and organic food preparation), spirituality (yes, churches), health (good medical care, both preventive and  curative) and a sense of joy. And of course, economic prosperity, freedom, and democracy! Feeling like you make a difference.

Wanda Lau showing off a spectacular Italian dessert in Pesaro, before one of our gigs with the Martin Wind (background) Quartet and the Philharmonic Orchestra Marchigiana.

As great as we are as a nation, there are so many things that a place like Italy does better.

One can’t argue with the food, its freshness, the variety, and the excellence of its preparation. The siesta in the afternoon, that may decrease efficiency at that hour, but perhaps make life more enjoyable, and stress-free, and increase efficiency down the line. The beautiful ancient public squares that actually attract young people to walk, talk and hang together.

Furthermore, Italy is blessed with hundreds of medium sized theatres that encourage productions of music, and theatre at a not prohibitive cost. And its culture of celebrating beauty has many of us just sighing with pleasure as we look at a great looking Lancia, an ancient church, or a brunette!

I cry out, in anguish: Why can’t we be more like Italy, but still keep the essential things about America that are great!? Remember the two martini lunch? How many great plans were hatched over those?

You know the old joke:

Heaven, where the police are British, the cooks French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian, and it is all organized and run by the Swiss. Hell, where the police are German, the cooks British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it is all organized and run by the Italians!

Interior of the Teatro Rossini, Pesaro.

After the three orchestral gigs, we spent a day at a lovely winery outside of Brisighella. We tried to play a set outdoors, but the weather got in the way!

After that, we did a gig in Graz, Austria, where the lovely Dena DeRose sat in with us. Then to Germany, for a gig in Nuremberg, and finally, a clinic and concert in Neuberg, home of the great Birdland jazz club.

The flights home were blessedly free of stress. See you soon!


Bill Cunliffe


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4 responses to “They say Italy doesn’t matter, part II

  1. Bill,
    I was just in Italy for 2 weeks and it was Heavenly! Food, art, wine, music, and joy gushing over and spilling onto everything and everyone. It was so beautiful. It’s too bad I missed you there! I sat in at a little club in Florence and did some singing. Much love! Chelsea (Kreitler) Davis

  2. Robin D. Young

    Mary Lou Williams?! and Really just picked up on your blog…very refreshing. And an Ode to Olive Oil for your Italian report! Robin

  3. Lawrence Brazier

    We were in Nice, for Christmas. Our friend’s bookshelf contained a travel guide to Tuscany, the book fell open naturally to a palce called BARGA. My wife had never seen Tuscany, thus, a long loop back home to Austria. Down the Italian Riviera to Lucca, we went then took the road towards Florence and turned off somewhere and stated the climb up to Barga (get your seach engine into gear). The place is tiny, a real Tuscan hill village. The car stays outside of the walls, of course. We walked through the lanes, the tiny piazas. In a cafe the owner, Gianfranco, spoke English with a plummy, Queen Mother accent. “Well, we lived close to Cambridge, once,” he said. Along the back of the bar was a long row of jazz CDs, MIles, et al. “A jazz club will be opened tomorrow,” he said. Barga was turning out to be a bit of paradise (on top of all of the gorgeous Italian ambiente). “We have a jazz festival each year,” he related. “Lee Konitz has been here, Enrico Rava, Paolo Frescu, the incredible Stefano Bollani, on piano, Maybe Gianni Basso, the lovely Prez-inspired tenor sax. The jazz club opening was sensational.A huge Lady day painting on a back wall. Italians KNOW jazz.
    Check out Stefano de Battista, A terrific Bird-inspired alto and his CD “Parker’s Mood” with Kenny Barron. Then there is the swinging Roberta Gambarini, who continues the line of great jazz vocalists. Recommended is her CD “You Are There”, with Hank Jones.We ate at a place run by four ladies, Two sisters in the kitchen and their daughters serving. I had the best steak of a lifetime, cooked with herbs. This was years ago. Maybe it has all changed, sure hope not. Wish you lots of amore – Lawrence

  4. Lawrence Brazier

    Sorry for the typos – I wrote in a rush – Lawrence

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