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Villa Moretti - Exterior

Four tips on embracing pleasure

After spending precisely 63 hours in Tuscany, drinking lager and olive oil in equal quantities, Emma Garland shares a few things she learned

The first thing you need to know is that Tuscany and Italy are not synonymous. This fact is impressed firmly upon me by a Tuscan chef, flanked by two local “nonnas”, as they demonstrate the traditional method of making spinach and ricotta tortelli, which looks like but is not – I repeat, not – to be confused with ravioli. They’re both pasta parcels stuffed with cheeses, meats etc, but the shape is different, you see. Ravioli tend to be square or round, whereas tortelli can be larger squares or rectangles or navel-shaped, with a wide border around the filling for trapping sauce. These provincial differences may seem small, but they provide the cultural bedrock of Italy’s 20 autonomous regions. Call a Welsh or Scottish person “British” on match day and you’ll get the same response as messing up your pasta types in a Florentine restaurant.

This is the only form of discipline I experienced on my trip to Tuscany with Birra Moretti, who are encouraging people to slow down and appreciate life’s “small pleasures”. The three-day trip covers the city of Florence, the walled medieval town of San Gimignano and rural Siena, each stop coming with its own lesson in how to “live Italian”. In this context, that mostly involves: making food, eating food, talking about food, and drinking Moretti in between.

Of course, it’s easy to slow down and appreciate things in a place where everything is remarkable. The air is hot and full of smells: rosemary, garlic, espresso, wisteria. The landscape is like the Elysian Fields for mortals, all lush green fields dotted with poppies and pointy cypress trees. Every meal is a slow, social affair revolving around a variety of small dishes containing three or four basic ingredients – mozzarella, basil, olive oil – that taste better than any elaborate Bon Appétit recipe you’ve put your sweat and blood into. Anywhere you go there are elders sitting down, leaning out of windows, or going about their business with a grace and lack of bother that no amount of Hackney-based “mindfulness” classes could hope to approximate. It’s a way of life very much lost on the UK, where the tomatoes taste like watery tennis balls and grown men are regularly reduced to tears by the words “rail replacement bus”.

By contrast, there’s a reason the Birra Moretti logo is a well-dressed gentleman sipping a lager and looking smug – he was a real person. The story goes that the nephew of founder Luigi Moretti saw a man in a green suit sitting at a bar one evening in Udine, a city and comune in northeastern Italy. In perhaps the earliest recorded example of “hey, we like your vibe”, the nephew approached the man to ask if he could take a photo in exchange for compensation. The man said yes, but only if he paid him in beer. It’s an urban legend, sure, but based on the kinds of characters you see knocking about Tuscany it’s not a far-fetched one. Besides, another tip on the road to embracing pleasure is that you should never let truth get in the way of a good story.

How, then, can you integrate the “small pleasures” of a region built entirely around them into a life in a place like England, which stands in opposition to pleasure of any kind? Based on precisely 63 hours in Tuscany, drinking lager and olive oil in equal quantities, here are a few things I’ve learned:

SPEND THREE HOURS EATING ONE MEAL AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN 

As far as I can tell, the easiest way to “live Italian” is to spend half your life around a table. It’s also the easiest thing to take home with you. You could be having a family dinner in the living room, you could be at a café while it’s raining out, or in a park at the height of summer – block out a full window of time to luxuriate over a multi-course meal, eat slowly, and be present. I can remember every single morsel I ate in Tuscany, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch the day after I got home. Sad. It might not be realistic as a daily thing, but based on the run-time of most films these days it shouldn’t be too difficult to fold in once a week. If you can make three hours for The Batman, you can do it for spaghetti and sides.

LESS IS MORE

If there’s one thing Britain loves, it‘s excess. When the pubs close at 11pm and you only have a small window of time on either side of the workday to get a hot meal in you, more is more. That is not, however, a very good way to exist. A fact this trip cemented that’s taken a decade and a half under the influence for me to fully acknowledge is: two lovely lagers at the optimum frosty temperature is better than 12 not so good, partially chilled lagers. This is a lesson you can take with you to a festival this summer if you’re over the age of 28. By that point in life, your bones can no longer handle heaving two crates of piss across a field, and you won’t want to drink any of it by day two anyway because the last thing anyone wants as hair of the dog is a beer at body temperature. Just suck it up, buy a cold pint at the bar when you want one, and marvel as the sensations of taste and temperature collide to create an actually nice experience.

DO YOGA

There were yoga classes on offer each morning at the Moretti villa. I didn’t attend any of them because I was too hungover, but everyone who emerged from the room while I was ladling scrambled eggs into my mouth looked extremely calm and rejuvenated. If, unlike me, you pay heed to lesson two, lesson three should be no problem for you.

LIVE AT YOUR OWN PACE 

Whether you’re at a pub with people knocking them back like Tyson Fury on pay-per-view or driving down the M4 with a white van up your arse, don’t make yourself uncomfortable trying to go at someone else’s speed. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time drinking, driving (not at the same time, obviously), or anything else. Let them honk, fuck it! If you find this difficult, I recommend having a 68-year-old Tuscan monarch watch as you try to knead pasta dough with your elbows. After that, you’ll never feel shame again.