Friday, April 9, 2010

BEAUTY - The Italian Way

“The child should live in an environment of beauty.”

-Maria Montessori

I have just finished the first third of "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is a book that has sat on my shelf for over a year anxiously awaiting to be read, and I am thrilled that I finally have the time to read it.  It is a book which follows the author's quest for peace and happiness.  She embarks on a year long journey, in which she will spend 4 months in Italy, 4 months in India, and 4 months in Indonesia.  In Italy, she will discover the earthly beauty of the Italian language and food.  In India, she will discover peace by delving into the spiritual realm.  In Indonesia, she will learn how to incorporate the two - "to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also [to] devote [herself] to God." 

As I read the section on Italy, I couldn't help but think of Maria Montessori.  Gilbert speaks of beauty and Italy.  Here is an excerpt from chapter 36:

"Luigi Barzini, in his 1964 masterwork The Italians (written when he'd finally grown tired of foreigners writing about Italy and either loving it or hating it too much) tried to set the record straight on his own culture.  He tried to answer the question of why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political, and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power.  Why are they the planet's masters of verbal diplomacy, but still so inept at home government?  Why are they so individually valiant, yet so collectively unsuccessful as an army?  How can they be shrewd merchants on the personal level, yet such inefficient capitalists as a nation?  His answers to these questions are more complex that I can fairly encapsulate here, but have so much to do with a sad Italian history of corruption of local leaders and exploitation by foreign dominators, all of which has generally led Italians to draw the seemingly accurate conclusions that nobody and nothing in this world can be trusted.  Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one's own senses, and this makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe. This is why, Barzini says, Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent 'opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors...'  In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted."

As I read this, it made so much sense that Maria Montessori emphasized the importance of beauty in an child's life.  She lived in this very world that Barzini describes.  Montessori knew that beauty is incorruptible.  It is something that we as parents and teachers can control.  Beauty cannot be taken away.  How items are displayed on a shelf, the manner by which a table is set, the way a simple vase of flowers are arranged are all essential for a child's growth and education, according to Montessori.

Here are a few simple ways to bring more beauty into your home:

~ Place a small of vase of fresh flowers in your child's room.

~ Play classical music as your child plays.

~ When serving his/her meals, arrange the food in a beautiful way on the plate.  Teach your child to arrange his/her meals in this fashion.

~ Encourage drawing, painting, and sculpting.  Have a well-maintained stock of art supplies.

~ Sing with your child.

~ Enjoy an evening stroll with your child.  Listen to the beauty of the nighttime birds and other sounds of nature.

~ Point out the beauty in everyday things - a field of wildflowers alongside the road as you are driving, the glistening of a dew drop on a leaf in your garden, the sound of the breeze whistling though the trees...

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