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Wednesday, 11 April 2007

behind the Siesta

A bit of Wikipedia first:
Siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in hot countries. The word siesta derives from the Latin HORA SEXTA - "the sixth hour" (counting from dawn, therefore noon, hence "midday rest").
Siesta has nothing to do with a simple cat-nap. This is a whole different concept, as siesta means the deep, dreamy, and "comatose" postprandial sleep.

I really HATE siesta, the whole country goes dead and you literally cannot do anything for four hours! Business hours in Sicily are usually 8:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 20:00 and in the black hole of Siesta, getting anything done becomes next to impossible. Need to speak with a call centre operator? The phone will ring through. Need to report a crime? The police officer will tell you to come back at 16:00. Need to shop for supplies? You can starve...
But worse thing is, instead of having rush hour traffic only in the morning and the early evening, main cities in Sicily have rush hour traffic four times a day: Morning, beginning of siesta, end of siesta and end of work day. Secondly, those two hours of spare time are too long to hang around in the office, but too short to do anything meaningful. Third, when I finally get home and have made myself dinner it is too late to do anything of substance if I want to get a full night sleep before work.
Getting started is half way to getting the work done, what happens with productivity when you have to get started twice a day???

My mother took siestas this all her life, to a point that her body had adjusted to the nap time, and literally '"shuts down her system"' everyday at 14:30 on the dot. After lunch each day, she disappears into her bedroom and like clockwork, fall into a deep sleep. The entire house falls into a religious silence and the telephone absolutely must be off the hook. By doing so for many years, my mother would party hard until 4 am, be up by 7 and to the office by 9, then sleep from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. Then back to the office and party again. And always feeling fresh.
I had started to wonder what all the fuss is about Siesta and what the positives might be, so I started to research a bit more about this Latin beloved habit. Here is some interesting facts I managed to uncover:

FACT: A siesta goes beyond the 30 minute rule at which the brain suddenly goes in to deep sleep with undesirable consequences. Naps are short, refresh the mind and body and, according to scientists, improve night time sleep.

FACT: Siesta lovers... Winston Churchill did it, even during the London blitz. Spanish and Portuguese gentlemen do it, not to mention Italians. Most upper-class Greeks used to do it -- although the practice has stopped because there are no real Greek gentlemen left. Gianni Agnelli, of Fiat fame, does it every day, as did Aristotle Onassis, Charles de Gaulle, Benito Mussolini, the Duke of Alba, Juan Peron, the King of Spain, and Lucky Luciano, among others.

NEWS: France's health minister has floated the idea of making the siesta official government policy on
the grounds that "a short nap is good for efficiency and safety at work".
Under his proposal, French workers would be encouraged to doze off in special "quiet rooms" provided by their employers and also be equipped with a "sleep passport" in which they could record how much napping they fit into their day.
Why should only the French, the Spanish and the Italians have all the fun? Should the Anglo-Saxon world adopt the siesta too and thus relax, enjoy life more and generally "chill"?
Or is the siesta a symbol of everything most decadent about life "on the continent"? Is it just a rationalisation of the Mediterranean countries' natural laziness?

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