Friday, May 29, 2015

Siesta time

Think of Spain; think castanets, think bullfights, think those tall lacy mantilla things that the women wear and we are well inside cliché territory. They all exist, they are all alive and well but they co-exist with the Twenty First Century, with WhatsApp and low fat, low sugar chocolate. The siesta is in the same box.

The siesta is a catnap, forty winks, getting in some Zs, a bit of a kip. As always I need to add the warning that generalisations are, as a generalisation, generally flawed. Nonetheless, lots of we foreigners seem to think that the Spanish siesta lasts a couple of hours. Shops and many other businesses close from two to five in the afternoon leading to the widely held belief that your average Spaniard gets his or her head down for an hour or maybe more. For the 9% of Spaniards who do have a nap at least three times per week the siesta is usually between fifteen and thirty minutes. For the majority, it's simply closing their eyes after lunch and dozing for a while in front of the afternoon news on the telly.

That 9% figure comes from the scientific journal Neurology. Here's a surprise. They say that in Europe the top nappers are the Germans with 22% of the population closing their eyes after the midday meal, then the Italians at 16%, the British at 15% with the Spanish coming in a distant fourth. Obviously it's easy to dispute the figures and the three times a week filter is probably a major factor. From nothing but hearsay evidence I think that the siesta is definitely a part of Spanish life but it's something that fits the daily timetable rather than shapes it. On a Sunday with no work, with no school routine there's time for a siesta so why not get your head down for a while? During the annual holidays having a doze after troughing down is part of the ritual of summer relaxation. Oh, and whilst we're with scientists some from NASA found that astronauts who took a siesta carried out their work much more effectively.

Apparently it was the Italian Saint Benedict of Nursia who came up with the idea. He founded the Benedictine monks and he set la sexta, the sixth hour after getting up, as the hour when the monks should be silent and have a rest. Benedictines it seems got up between six and nine so la sexta varied between midday and three. It doesn't take much to transform sexta into siesta and move it from a monk's cell to the leather effect sofa in the living room.

There's a playful sort of Spanish vocabulary about the siesta. We can echar la siesta, hacer la siesta or dormir la siesta – the last two to make the siesta or to sleep the siesta are straightforward enough but I always like echar la siesta. Echar is one of those dictionary page filling multi-purpose verbs. It usually implies movement of sorts like throwing, putting, pouring or producing. Although I know the phrase I always smile when someone says they are going to echar la siesta as a fleeting vision of them hurling themselves onto the couch passes before my eyes.

All that writing and I'm exhausted. The time is right. Siesta time.

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