Whilst in Florence we stayed in a fairly insalubrious hotel – it was pleasant, affordable, and clean. It was also within walking distance of where we needed to go, which was important.
In short, for our current purposes, it was perfect.
Breakfast was simple continental fare – breads, croissants, brioches, sliced cheeses and meats, and of course espresso coffee to order.
The breakfast room was smallish and sparsely decorated, and contained 12-15 tables. But there was also a narrow balcony outside that contained two tables. The tables were in the sun with a view out over a garden and across to some Tuscan houses. Most mornings there was a sweet breeze.
I noticed that each morning, the tourists that came down for breakfast immediately checked out the balcony to see if there was a table free. If there was, they grabbed it immediately. And rather gleefully. If there wasn’t, they found a table inside, rather dejectedly.
I thought about that.
When did they set up their expectation for a table on the balcony? The night before? When they woke up? As they were coming down in the lift? At the moment they realised there were tables outside and perhaps it would be more pleasant to have breakfast there?
The expectation was that their breakfast would be a more enjoyable experience if they ate outside on the balcony in the sunshine, with the breeze. If they ate inside, in the cramped breakfast room, their experience wouldn’t be as good.
So at the moment their expectation was set, two things were inevitable: they would either be delighted, or they would be disappointed.
I then began to consider how at the moment of setting that expectation, it impacted on their emotional state.
Did it make them anxious that they might miss out on a table on the balcony? Did they hurry to get to breakfast fast? Did they regard it as important to the start of their day, or was it inconsequential?
If it was important, did it mean they got out of bed earlier? Did they rush through their shower? Did they neglect to give their partner attention? A kiss? A compliment? Did they bundle out of the lift in front of others so that they could get to the balcony first?
Each morning, I watched the tourists come to the balcony to see if a table was free, and realising the tables were already taken and that they’d have to eat inside, I could see they were clearly peeved.
And I wondered how long that sense of loss, that disappointment, would last.
Would it affect their breakfast? Would they be churlish to those around them? Would they carry that disappointment with them into their morning’s sightseeing? Or would they simply dismiss it as being bad luck, nothing to worry about, no big deal, and get on with their day?
How it impacted on them would depend so much on how important the expectation was, and what their prior life experience was –
Were they of the belief that they always missed out? That someone else always got the best table ahead of them? That “life” was stacked against them? Did they envy others who had a better car, a better house, a better wife/husband/partner/pet? Were they prone to bitterness?
Or did they have a storehouse of life experience that had taught them to brush off disappointments, because something better was always around the next corner?
As I watched these people checking out the balcony I thought that it was so much like life. This little moment in this small rather ordinary hotel in Florence.
In life we set up expectations. Moment to moment, day to day, year to year, throughout our lives. And moment to moment, day to day, year to year, throughout our lives we’re either delighted or disappointed.
Mostly we’re disappointed, because life rarely delivers us the sunny breezy table out on the balcony. Instead, most of us have to eat our breakfast in the cramped room with everyone else, looking at fake Tuscan pictures on the walls.
What if we had no expectations? What if it didn’t matter? What if we were happy eating in the cramped room with the fake pictures? Then there would be no disappointment.
It happens on the Camino all the time. Pilgrims set their heart on sleeping in a particular albergue. And they rush through their day to get there, only to find that the albergue is full. They miss out on so much by rushing through their day. And then they’re disappointed.
So what’s important – where you sleep?
Or what you do through the entire day?
Did those people who ate out on the balcony really have a better breakfast experience? Maybe the sun was in their eyes. Or maybe the breeze kept blowing their napkin off the table. Or maybe because the balcony was so narrow it was difficult squeezing in and out past the tables to get to the buffet.
Perhaps it was a pain in the butt eating out on the balcony. And perhaps your expectation of the better experience was an illusion. A fantasy. And in fact you were actually better off eating inside.
It’s all about expectation. Or detaching yourself from expectation – and savouring what you have right here, right now, right at this moment, right in front of you.
And when you look at it, what you have right now, you have to admit it’s pretty bloody good.