I was sixteen years old in a country I had heard about since the day I was born, Spain. “Spain is in your roots! It’s in your blood,” my family says. In Spain, blonde does not mean gringa automatically as it does in the U.S. or various other nations. Socially, it didn’t matter that I was blonde, what mattered was how well I spoke Spanish, and I spoke it well. They were close to pinpoint my origins too. “Boricua!” which means Puerto Rican, or “Caribena!” for Caribbean. “Close enough,” I would answer, “I’m from Miami, Fl.” At this, they would smile, and typically make a joke about Miami being its own Caribbean island of sorts.
I was well respected in Spain…for the most part, excluding the cat calls. One I’ll never forget was [translated] “Cookies and milk…damn!” This was aimed at my good friend and I. She, the opaque morena, and I, the transparent rubia. I guess we were a fine match.
In Granada, Spain, I had the unique pleasure of staying with a Spanish family. I had never met these people before. My “in Spain” experience rested fully in the hands of my Spanish teacher who had organized the trip. The family consisted of a mother, father, teenage daughter (my age) and her thirty year old brother who I think lived in the home too (but schedules were so loosely constructed, I couldn’t tell if he slept there or just stopped by a lot).
Upon my arrival, we sat right away all together for lunch. I had not anticipated the girl’s parents having a thick country accent. Mind you, this was a Spanish country accent. I had a lot of trouble understanding them, but thankfully, the daughter, Sofi, spoke more urban Spanish which I could understand very well. Immediately, we all sat at the table to have a large bowl of soup with bread. It was July, and the family had no air conditioning. But, when you’re in such a new yet intimate surrounding, you somehow don’t worry about feeling hot or hungry or thirsty. You’re just trying to communicate and understand.
Sofi’s dad was in a tank top; how could you blame him? Her mother in comfortable stay-at-home wear. Only Sofi and I were in jeans and MNG brand shirts. Both her parents were incredibly sweet, and I could tell somewhat reserved, but the casual, warm nature of our first meal together made me feel safe and cozy.
I looked down at my soup. There seemed to be slices of ham floating in a broth. It never crossed my mind that the soup in front of me was cold. Her mother explained to me that because it was so dang hot out, she doesn’t bother to warm her soup once its already been cooked, and it really wasn’t bad at all.
As the guest, I stayed in their spacious attic/guest room. They warned me that it was the hottest room in the house, and that I was more than welcome to rest in the living room with the television set. Regardless of the heat, I was so happy to have my own room with a view of a cobblestone street. Once they saw that I was settled, they each retreated to their own rooms to rest, sleep and digest. This chance to recoup could not have been more perfectly timed. After the nap, I was ready for more Espana.
There are so many anecdotes I could tell you about, like the time I indulged in their shower to shave my legs. Immediately following my shower, both daughter and mother took me to the kitchen. Her mother opened a small cabinet near the stove and showed me the world’s smallest water heater. Apparently, I had used all the home’s warm water for the day. From then on, her mother insisted I use a kitchen timer while I showered.
But— this post is about the siesta, and how it can help you. I learned that the two hour rest after lunch was the classic Spanish cultural habit of “la siesta.” When we woke up, her father reopened the bodega (small grocery store) downstairs; Sofi and I began planning to meet her friends for a night out clubbing (at sixteen, your priorities don’t revolve around sight seeing as much as they should!).
For the rest of my stay with this family, each day we took a siesta during the warmest part of the day, the part of the day when everyone’s work performance lowers, and we begin to count the minutes till 5pm.
Instead, in Spain, with this mid-afternoon break, people seemed perfectly fine to work until 7 or so, fully rested and well-fed. I fell into this rhythm as though the siesta had always been a part of my life. After touring around town all day with this girl, Sofi, who quickly had to become my friend, the idea of going out and socializing more in the evening sounded like the last three miles of a marathon. Until, we had a big lunch, napped, showered and reunited, then I felt ready for action once again.
Staying with these “strangers” became easy quickly. I loved the pace of the family’s everyday routine; unrestrained and honest communication flowed over meals. Impatience slipped out as much as gratitude and concern. No one was ever left feeling unheard, embarrassed or silenced. Her father was always fully accessible because he ran the store, literally, downstairs. Her mother, a stay at home wife, held as much weight in the home as her father, and the thirty year old son, regardless of his age, would openly frustrate them with his late night passing by and, from what I could decipher, recent loss of a girlfriend. I could also tell, however, that both Sofi and her brother were very well-educated and stylish. From two guajiros (country folk) sprouted these exciting intellectual young people.
Like the siesta tradition, this couple seemed as antique as they did cutting edge. Yes, they spoke a country dialect, but they also raised two well educated, cosmopolitan kids, one who had finished college and the other on her way (still Sofi was to live at home of course, which didn’t seem too bad at all since we used to come in at 4 without any reprimand).
I remember once, during siesta time, Sofi and I with our elbows on the window sill, staring down at the cobble stone street, chatting about our futures. Here we were in the middle of the week, during siesta time, really learning about each other and our families. I remember wondering if we would have ever managed to find the time to chat like this back in Miami.
Ironically, as closely tied to the home as Sofi and her big brother were, as content and at peace she felt with staying at home during college to save and focus on classes, they were miles ahead of me it seemed in terms of maturity. I felt like a kid next to her, looking out the window at a secret garden. She was looking out the window with her house guest to the street where her father had built her life on.
As I admire my time with this family in Granada, Spain, I have had the luxury of years to reminisce and examine. While the personality of everyone is unique, each is also fertilized by whatever culture he/she developed in.
The cultural trait, siesta, is not a chore, nor a sign of weakness or immaturity; it is simply a part of life that makes sense. Maintaining the art of the siesta, aside from its wonderful gifts of relaxing, gives one time to reconnect with oneself. Yes, work is necessary, but so is rest, family, self-care and good digestion. Even when Sofi and I didn’t nap, when we were too excited about the events to come, we used the two hours to reflect and connect. Her father didn’t make any less money because of the siesta, since most of the shops around him closed too. Even the “masculine” culture of competition took a nap. There was an unspoken understanding that everyone deserves a break. Check out the incredibly underrated health benefits of the siesta below.
Proven Health Benefits of “la Siesta” Lifestyle
Taking a siesta regularly…
significantly reduces risk for heart disease.
“Taking a nap could turn out to be an important weapon in the fight against coronary mortality,” said Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who led the study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Naps appeared to offer the most protection to working men: Those who took midday siestas either occasionally or systematically had a 64 percent lower risk of death from heart disease. Non-working men had a 36 percent reduction in risk.
Read more at Washington Post
increases performance ability.
Sara Mednick, Ph.D., Stickgold and colleagues demonstrate that “burnout” — irritation, frustration and poorer performance on a mental task — sets in as a day of training wears on. Subjects performed a visual task, reporting the horizontal or vertical orientation of three diagonal bars against a background of horizontal bars in the lower left corner of a computer screen. Their scores on the task worsened over the course of four daily practice sessions. Allowing subjects a 30-minute nap after the second session prevented any further deterioration, while a 1-hour nap actually boosted performance in the third and fourth sessions back to morning levels.
Read more at National Institute of Health
improves mental health.
Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Read more at National Sleep Foundation
Okay, now go take a break!