Sunday, February 1, 2009

Italian Physics 101

Italian Physics 101
(Published  by Fra Noi, Chicago IL, September 2008)

Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time, is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” He was an incredibly insightful man, with a gift for making the incomprehensible, simple and clear. When once asked to explain his theory of relativity, he replied that our perception of time was relative to our experiences in any given moment. He went on to say that an hour sitting on a hot stove would seem much longer than an hour spent talking to a pretty girl. But I think that dear Albert missed one very important detail in his supposition, that being, whereas his Theory of Relativity may hold true anywhere else on the planet, the country known as Italy is an anomaly.

Years ago when I first came to Italy, I remember writing my friends back in America, saying that instead of 24 hours in a day here, it seems that there are instead 28. Time appears to move at a different speed here, a much slower one. And it seems to slow down because of an enjoyment of life, not speed up as in the Einstein theory. This paradox has perplexed me for years, and I have been pondering the possibilities for a probable paradigm. 

I now think I may have come up with a reasonable explanation. After years of observation and considerable contemplation upon my studies, I have devised my own personal theory regarding time in Italy, what I call the Theory of Buffered Time. 

Allow me to explain. Initially, for the novice, Buffered Time can be an uncomfortable and confusing experience. One must learn to adapt to this new flow, or suffer unpleasant side effects, such as anxiety or irritation. In the role of translator, I once accompanied a middle-aged American tourist to the grocery store, and was forced to witness her unfortunate reaction to this new, Italian cadence of time. After selecting her purchases, we were waiting in the checkout lane, when I noticed she began to physically react to the situation. There was a detectable rocking motion to her body and a subtle drumming of her fingers on the handle of the shopping cart. I intuited that the source of her irritation was the cashier casually chatting away with another customer, long after their transaction was completed. My companion’s body language became more and more anxiety ridden, until she exploded, yelling, “Oh for God’s sake. Forget it! I don’t need this stuff! Let’s just go!” She shoved her shopping cart off to the side, and stormed out the door, leaving me to apologetically shrug to the surrounding shocked witnesses of her tantrum. 

I did not fully understand then what the real problem had been. I simply concluded that this poor woman had not yet adjusted to the “rhythm of life” in Italy. And I came to realize that at that time, I myself had not yet understood exactly how to define the Italian rhythm. And so began my quest to comprehend.

I have now come to the conclusion that every minute in Italy is cushioned by a tiny little cloud of flexible time, a buffer zone if you will, with a maximum dimension of 3.497 minutes. In Italy, sometimes an hour will last the commonly accepted duration of 60 minutes, but at other times it can last up to an amazing 238.2 minutes! The reasons for these variances in time are not fully understood as of yet, but I feel they may be due to all kinds of fluctuations in the time-space continuum, the results of powerful astral phenomenon such as black holes or supernovas, or can even be affected by something as simple as the breeze created along the flight path of a swift. 

To fully demonstrate the Buffered Time Theory (henceforth referred to as the BTT), let us use the often referred to issue of dealing with an Italian plumber, to understand the concept. It is well-known in Italy, that if you call a plumber to fix a leaky sink, although he will make an appointment to come and resolve your drips, he never EVER arrives when he says he will. Using the BTT, we can clearly see why this happens.

First, let us understand that just as in space, a black hole’s gravitational pull can bend and flex the web of time, in Italy time is affected by its proximity to any given set appointment. Using the aforementioned parameter of one Earth minute having the maximum duration of 3.497 Italian minutes, when one says “See you in 5 minutes!” that actually means that the person you are waiting for will arrive in 17.485 minutes. “See you tomorrow,” can mean “See you in 2.76 days.” And so on.

Now, for our plumber. Let us say that you call your plumber on Monday at 9 a.m., and make an appointment for him to come to your home on Thursday at 3 in the afternoon. To calculate his actual arrival, you simply take the time between your phone call and his appointed appearance, in this case, a difference of 4,680 minutes. Multiply that sum by the aforementioned BTT variant of 3.497 and you will get a total of 16,365.96 minutes. Divide that by 60, and you get 272.766 hours. Divide yet again by 24, and you see that your plumber will arrive 11.36 days late.

Now, after all that mathematical laboring, you might think that your leaky kitchen will be repaired a week from next Monday. However, one must take into consideration that plumbers don’t work on Sunday, so we must add on another two days, thereby allowing us to hedge our bets on his coming the following Wednesday, a grand total of 13 days behind schedule. 

However, I do need to mention at this point there is yet another variable we must take into consideration, that being the Holiday Factor. In any given two week period, there most certainly will be some sort of Holy Day, Day of Celebration, Day of Recognition, or Day to Rejoice for Any Given Reason, and this will throw off our carefully calculated result by an unquantifiable amount of time. So to conclude, the plumber will knock on your door anytime between a week from next Wednesday and the middle of next month. 

Time is limited. Time is precious. Time is all we really have in this life. It is a glorious gift that we need to appreciate. If you’re waiting in a grocery store line, and the cashier is enjoying a few minutes of her life talking to a friend instead of hurrying through her work, who cares? Take that time given you in that moment to talk to those around you, organize your wallet, daydream, anything. Every instant in our life is an opportunity to live, if we will only see it as such. The 19th century poet Philip James Bailey said, “We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial.” So whether a minute in your life lasts 60 seconds or 238.2 seconds, live it in all its splendor, for once its gone, your chance to enjoy it is gone as well. 



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