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Mission Mondays: Solo San Francisco – Part X

August 16, 2010

Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love

Dolce far niente, the Italians call it. Sweet idleness or, more literally, the sweetness of doing nothing.

I hadn’t heard this expression before until yesterday when I visited my local movie theater to see Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts. It was a lazy weekend and I was feeling restless and in need of an escape—what better way than to visit Italy, India, and Bali all in the space of two hours?

I was expecting two things: Julia Roberts being “Julia Roberts” and the sweeping vibrant vistas of place and people we’ve all come to expect from a travelogue. I was disappointed on both points. One–Ms. Roberts, as distinctive as she is, does a fairly decent job of taking on the role of Elizabeth Gilbert (although I couldn’t quite help but wonder what a young Meryl Streep could have done with the part–now there’s an actress who knows how to really disappear into a character!). And two, the film isn’t a travelogue—far from it. It isn’t about travel at all, really. It’s about a woman searching for wholeness–regaining her balance–after her life falls apart in a spectacular way. I enjoyed the film (I’d give it 3 out of 4 stars) and it gave me some food for thought as I finalize my plans for my trip to San Francisco.

Ms. Roberts’ character Elizabeth learns about dolce far niente while finding herself in—and eating her way through—Rome. Dolce far niente. It must look like this. Relaxing. Breathing. Learning to take life as it comes. Not needing to always be so in control. Throwing your plans to the wind. I’m just not sure if I know how to live that way.

I’m always planning. Trying to orchestrate everything. The better part of my weekend was spent with a notebook, a pencil, a map of San Francisco, and a list of all the places I wanted to go, all the things I wanted to see, all the meals I wanted to eat. I was trying to plan each day, map the most efficient routes to get from place to place, and make the most of my time in the City by the Bay. Could I do all of Fisherman’s Wharf in half a day? Should I spend the whole day in Golden Gate Park? Muir Woods, Chinatown, the Mission–do I really have time to do it all? The questions and the doubts came tumbling one after the other like river rocks knocking against each other in a strong current.

In effect, I was stressing myself out. And I’ve decided I need a little dolce far niente. Stateside, we’d sum up the dolce far niente concept in the words of Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis in Bull Durham: “I just want to be.” Not do. Just be.

If you do an internet search for 3-day itineraries in San Francisco, you’ll find lots of other people’s ideas about what you should see and do in San Francisco, what you should avoid as a waste of time and what you can’t miss. But that’s their San Francisco. This trip is mine. It’s going to be as unique as I am.

I suppose that’s part of the beauty of traveling solo. For a few days, you can get away from the cacophony of your life’s external pressures and move to a quiet place where you can truly listen to the soothing beat of your own heart. It’s in this quiet place that you find yourself again. And it gives you the will and the power to keep on moving forward in this life with your self-hood intact.

So I’m going to San Francisco without a real plan, save for the Alcatraz night tour for which I’ve already purchased a ticket. I’m just going to be. I’m going to wake up, take a shower, and find a nearby cafe. I’m going to peruse the local paper while eating some local breakfast fare and I’m going to ask myself: what do you feel like today? Chinatown? Be Chinatown. Fisherman’s Wharf? Be Fisherman’s Wharf. Golden Gate Park? Be Golden Gate Park.  Don’t worry about what you’ll do next or what you’re going to miss. Be in the moment. And if I feel like doing nothing and savoring its sweetness, then I’ll just continue to sit and enjoy my meal and watch the people as they pass by.


Okay. I’m starting to hyperventilate. I’m not sure I can do this “zen” travel thing. Ten bucks says I’ll have a minute-by-minute itinerary put together by the end of the week. Curse you, OCD tendencies!!!!!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. trachinotus permalink
    August 25, 2010 12:11 am

    Yes, please, no OCD! If you just “be” then you shouldn’t get “woolly” either.

    We’ll need to read about your success at dolce far niente after your trip.


  2. The Seeker (Craig) permalink
    August 28, 2010 10:05 pm



    I lived in Marin County/S.F. for 5 years and just saw Eat, Pray, Love twice last week so both topics and your comments captured my senses & interest. I agree with your overview of the film. There is so much to see and experience in S.F. and the Bay Area in general, but so many people don’t realize that there is just as much, only even more diverse, just over the Golden Gate Bridge! It makes me happy that I am going back there in just about a month for a visit. I enjoyed your story!

    • August 29, 2010 6:04 am

      @Craig–I sincerely hope that this won’t be my last visit to the Bay Area. I’ve heard so many good things about Marin County but alas I won’t have enough time to truly do it justice. Hope you have a great time on your visit and thanks for stopping by!

      • Craig permalink
        August 29, 2010 10:25 am

        My pleasure Marsha! When you decide to return to the Bay Area let me know and I’ll supply you with a bunch of wonderful and some unknown special places to visit in Marin and Sonoma County.



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