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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: The Art of the Riposo

PART 59: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: The riposo, siesta, or afternoon nap in southern Italy is neither an obligation nor a recreational activity. It is an art.

Step 2: Some history.

The riposo originated with the ancient Romans, not in Spain, as many believe. The Spanish word "siesta" comes from the Latin words "hora sexta," or sixth hour, counting from dawn, hence the midday rest.

Midday nap breaks are common around the Mediterranean and many Latin American countries with warm climates and hot afternoons. Before air conditioning, the midday nap (riposo) offered a break from the hottest hours.

Step 3: Benefits.

Numerous studies show that naps can improve one's mood and physical and mental performance.

When I lived in Rome as a student, I began taking long naps in the afternoon, after lunch, with wine. The consequences were that I had trouble sleeping at night and lacked the necessary daylight hours for my studies.

It was then that I discovered that the riposo is an art.

I eliminated wine from lunch and began taking shorter naps, no more than 30 minutes; brief rests helped me be more alert and refreshed.

Studies have also shown that naps that last between 10-20 minutes can improve physical and mental performance and reduce stress. But naps that last longer than 30 minutes might provide different immediate effects; if one enters a deep sleep beyond the 30-minute mark, grogginess or sleep inertia is often the result, which can impair one's performance. So, setting an alarm for 30 minutes or less can help avoid sleep inertia.

Again, the riposo is an art.

Step 4: The riposo and business hours.

A friend spent a few weeks in Italy some years ago, traveling around and seeing the beautiful sites. We all gathered to hear about his trip when he returned to Los Angeles. One companion asked him, "Did you learn any Italian?" The friend answered, "Yes, I learned one word." We looked at one another, perplexed. Then I asked, "what word?" He responded “Chiuso.”

“Chiuso” means “closed.”

One day, soon after arriving in Puglia, we decided to go to Otranto to see the cathedral floors. The town is about a 45-minute drive; once we arrived, we looked for parking, walked across the city, dodged cafes and tourist shops, and made our way to the cathedral. It was about 12:15 when we arrived.

We approached the front door, which was closed. "What the ….????!!!!" I swore as we discovered that the church was locked. We forgot about riposo, which, in this case, began at noon.

We belong to a gym in our town. Being from California, we are used to gym hours from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. We should have paid more attention to the hours posted when we joined the gym that first week since we intended to go every morning. But one day, we had things to do in the morning, so we walked over after lunch and found the gym closed. Another "What the…???!!!" came out of my mouth. We forgot about risposo.

Since these events, I have come to appreciate the rhythm of life in southern Italy, including the riposo, and we now consider it when we plan a field trip somewhere.

There is something human about the riposo, allowing employees to go home, have lunch, spend time with their families, rest, and then return to complete the work day.

Many businesses have abandoned the riposo, and I suspect this trend will continue. Still, it would be a pity if riposo is abandoned because, in a world where value is measured by production, the art of the riposo points to something more important than what can be produced or consumed in the shortest time.

The art of the riposo allows one to pause and savor the day, return to the present, refresh oneself, and then continue.

Insights: Life in Puglia has many lessons, including the art of the riposo. Rather than seeing the afternoon closing of businesses as an inconvenience, one can experience it as a blessing, in which the day is paused to allow one to feel refreshed and renewed before heading into the evening hours.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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