Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Siesta Time on the Camino Santiago


The word siesta comes from the Latin hora sexta – "the sixth hour."   If you count from dawn, the sixth hour is noon.

Many societies that celebrate the siesta were agricultural, and in cultures dominated by agriculture it was common to have the largest meal of the day in the early afternoon.  I grew up in the hot San Joaquin Valley. I was reared by my grandfather, a farmer. At the height of the noon heat, all work would stop and we’d go into the coolness of the house to eat a large midday meal. The heavy intake of food at that time combined with the heat contributed to feeling of post-lunch drowsiness. It’s a lot like the feeling you have after a big old Thanksgiving dinner.

 The midday nap is prominent in many countries where the afternoon heat dramatically reduces productivity. The Life of Charlemagne recounts the emperor's summertime siesta: "In summer, after his midday meal, he would eat some fruit and take another drink; then he would remove his shoes and undress completely, just as he did at night, and rest for two or three hours.”

In Serbia and Slovenia, it is common to observe the so-called "house rule", requiring people to refrain from telephoning or visiting each other between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., as people are supposed to be resting. Lunch in Serbia and Slovenia, eaten usually between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., is the main dish of the day. 

In some southern German-speaking regions, the Mittagspause or Mittagsruhe is still customary; shops close, and children are expected to play quietly indoors.

 In South Asia the post-lunch nap is common.  In Bengal, the word which describes the concept is bhat-ghum, literally meaning "rice-sleep", a nap after lunch. In north India a colloquial term sustānā (सुस्ताना), which literally means "taking small nap" (possibly of Persian origin), is used.

Afternoon sleep is also a common habit in China and Taiwan after the midday meal. This is called wujiao (午覺) in Chinese.

Some Japanese offices have special rooms known as napping rooms for their workers to take a nap during lunch break or after overtime work.

In Islam, it is encouraged to take a nap before midday. 
It is called by some Qailulah.

 In the United States, the United Kingdom, and a growing number of other countries, a short sleep has been referred to as a "power nap."

Most studies agree that a short midday siesta is very good for you. According to the website called Siesta Awareness, a Washington Post article of February 13, 2007 reports at length on studies in Greece that indicate that those who nap have less risk of heart attack. But then there were studies that indicated people who nap are more likely to develop Diabetes Type 2. 
So go figure…
One of the challenges for the Camino pilgrim 
is the cultural difference in eating times. 
Because the Spanish eat on a different schedule, 
you may find opening and closing times awkwardly unfamiliar 
until you get into the groove. 

There are two periods of siesta in Spain. 
One is the siesta time for shops and businesses. 
During this time, many people go to a bar or restaurant. 

The other is siesta for the restaurants, 
who obviously can't rest when everyone wants to come and eat.   
A very important thing to remember when you're scheduling your day 
are these two siesta times.
The Siesta by Van Gogh
Shops and businesses close from approximately 2pm until 5pm.
Bars and restaurants close from about 4pm until about 8 or 9pm. 
Even if a bar is open during these hours, 
you will find that their menu for food is very limited.
A Siesta by Frederick Arthur Bridgman
This dead period in the late afternoon 
when everything shuts down in Spain 
gives the pilgrim the feeling of walking through a ghost town.

La Siesta by Pablo Picasso
Although some people still work in the fields in Spain, 
you may wonder why shops and businesses in big cities close down. 
La Siesta by Antonio Gattorno
One reason is because the Spanish like to have a long lunch. 
The Spanish are very family oriented.
Adult children often still make their way "home" 
where their mother prepares a huge lunch for the whole family.
Elderly parents, children, and grandchildren can reconnect during this meal, 
which can last up to two hours. 
Afterwards, everyone needs to digest their food 
and rest before returning to work.
John William Godwards "Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day"
 Another reason the Spanish stop for siesta 
is simply because they want to! 

Stopping for a long lunch 
allows people to stay up later in the evening without fading.  
 I learned when we were visiting family in Portugal 
that the Portuguese also keep these interesting hours. 
We were staying in an upstairs apartment 
that has been in my family for over 400 years. 
As I brushed my teeth at 10:30 pm one night getting ready for bed, 
I heard a horn honking outside.

I went to the balcony and found a car full of cousins 
dressed up and ready to rock and roll! 
They were yelling for us to come on down and go party with them. 
We were exhausted, being American tourists
and not having rested that afternoon.

We declined, 
wondering between ourselves if they were absolutely NUTS! 
Later I learned about the siesta, 
and realized we had missed a wonderful opportunity 
to enjoy the company of family and friends.

 The Spanish nightlife is an all-night affair - visitors to Spain are surprised to see the streets just starting to fill up at midnight and are even more surprised to see people in their 60s and 70s still out at 3am. 

It is likely however that you, 
as a pilgrim may be too tired, after a long day of trekking, 
to enjoy the Spanish nightlife!
UNLESS you have a siesta!

Siesta by John Singer Sargeant
Remember these siesta hours and plan your shopping around them.  
If you don't take this into consideration, 
many stores and restaurants will be closed 
and you may struggle to get everything done, 
and still hold on to the pilgrim mentality 
in the face of cultural incompatibilities.

Photo by Stevosaurus - pending approval

For the pilgrim walking the Camino, a siesta serves two purposes. 
First, it will help you get into the work/sleep/eat cycle 
of the country you are visiting. 

Second, a short midday nap will invigorate you 
for walking those last kilometers. 

Third, if you nap when you arrive at the albergue, 
those rustling plastic bags and roncadores (drunks)
won’t take such a toll on your rest.

By the way, if you have low blood sugar 
it's a good idea to keep a bit of food in your pack 
for those stretches you can't find anyplace open.

How to Take a Siesta

1. Lie down if possible on the ground, the bed, floor or sofa. If it’s comfortable, you can sit back in your chair. Use a cushion or pillow if you can. 

2. Set your alarm for 10-20 minutes.

3. Close your eyes. Use something to block bright light such as a sleep mask, a newspaper, your arm....

4. Let your mind wander or think of sinking downwards.  Even if you do not actually sleep, the process will relax your mind and refresh you.

5. Enjoy.

Have a Buen Camino!

PS:  Lately, there has been talk of change, and that the siesta may go away.
We'll see...

* * * 
If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

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