And don’t, let me beg you, go with that awful tourist idea that Italy’s only a museum of antiquities and art. Love and understand the Italian people, for the people are more marvelous than the land.
…And I do believe that Italy really purifies and ennobles all who visit her. She is the school as well as the playground of the world.
–Philip Herriton in E.M. Forster’s novel “Where Angels Fear to Tread”
Philip Herriton is in desperate need of a drenching rain to strip away all of his petty niceties. In the Italian, he sees a sort of coarse, tobacco-spitting “noble savage” who awakens a keen sense of pleasure in all those who come to his shores. (It is unclear whether the cringe-worthy depictions of Italians in the book belong entirely to the author himself.) “You’re without passion; you look on life as a spectacle; you don’t enter it; you only find it funny or beautiful,” a character says to Philip at the end of the book.
I have a great quote on my fridge: “Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place. Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
That’s Annie Dillard speaking. Good advice for all of us terminal patients. I think that’s what Philip means when he says Italy is both the school and the playground of the world. He means, get into the thick of it, really feel life, engage and don’t hold back. Risk discomfort for the sake of all the pleasure you can stand and at the expense of everything you think you should be doing. I say this at the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker or a greeting card. “Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.” I think Philip only feels like himself when he is in Italy.