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Original Title: “TAILPIECE: La Siesta Brava”
by Ann Urbach
First published in GUIDEPOST
15 August 1980



To sleep, perchance to dream but not in the afternoon


Some do it sometimes, a very few not at all. But most people succumb to the joys at one time or another and especially so, it seems, in summer.

Yes, sleeping a siesta is very popular indeed. Even so, the Anglo-Saxon continues to make a moral issue out of it. Take John Newman, from Lincoln, Nebraska: “Sleep in the middle of the afternoon, who me?  Whaddya think I am, sick or something?” Then there’s Mary Tarpaulin, from Augusta, Maine: “How can you even suggest that to a hard-working’ woman like me? That’s for that other kind that stays up all night!”

Scarlett O’Hara, played by vVvien Leigh: She eouldn’t have had time for parties and intrigues is shje took siestas

Even in the Deep South, where the heat is easily comparable to Spain’s, come objections: “Would Scarlett O’Hara been able to plan all those social events and amorous intrigues if she’d been snoring all afternoon?”, “What do you need to lie down for if you’ve got a lovely wisteria-covered front porch, soothin’ rocker, bejeweled fan and all the chirpy, jumpin’ frogs in Calaveras Country to get you through the day?” and “Da ya thank ah got where ah am tuday sleepin’ aon mah peanut sacks?” The disapproval goes on and on.

Those of us who live in Spain have been able to observe the siesta phenomenon first hand. Among other things, we marvel at the Spaniard’s enthusiasm for embarking on social forays after 12 midnight, their late supper, their relaxed attitude toward life. Even so it has taken us a long time to put two and two together.

There’s built-in protection of the Spanish snoozer against the mugger who might feel guilty mugging an innocent sleeper in the park, in a car, in the subway

Most of all, no Spaniard feels guilty about taking a snooze. In the country, you’ll see many a parked car, door open, from which a lone sleeper dangles out his feet. In the city, construction sites harbor choruses of snorers, reverberating from eerie heights. They nod in the subways, in the parks, in lobbies and stairways. Not only are they guilt-free, they don’t even worry about getting mugged. Perhaps there’s a built-in respect on the part of a Spaniard mugger toward a restful would-be victim. The mugger would probably feel guilty.

The foreigner, otherwise well-entrenched in Spanish life guilt-free, has in many instances, adopted a “who me?” attitude while enjoying a siesta all the same. Who among us has not made a mid-afternoon phone call to a friend only to hear a sleepy voice at the other end. “Did I wake you up?” you inquire. “Not really, I must have just dozed off for a few seconds reviewing the company report,” comes the foggy reply. If he’d been caught in persona, you’d assume that the best way to read a company report is with the shades fully closed, the shoes off and in a supine position.

If a foreigner takes a nap it’s “just for a moment” or due to “ a big night out”. Some might even exclaim, “I don’t know what’s come over me!” The more original would add, “It’s a biorhythmical triple critical day. The only thing to do is stay in bed.”

We all feel the need to explain our siesta habits or lack of them. Few have picked up the Spanish panache required to emit a simple “Me voy a echar.” But we quaff the cañas, sniff the brandies, tank at the tascas and stay up very late. No wonder after a few years’ stay we all start to look a little haggard.

We’ve forgotten that if the Puritans had been Spaniards we’d all be napping, guilt-free. Why hadn’t Balboa or Pizarro been at the helm of the Mayflower? They were dead of course, but at least Ponce de Leon could have made it, hadn’t he discovered the Fountain of Youth?

One, however, cannot blame these

If only the Puritans were Spanish and Balboa was manning the Mayflower!

intrepid Iberians when the real fault lies with gouty Habsburg, Philip II, who, when he married Mary Tudor, failed to take over the crown of England. The two were more bent on the pro-Catholic than on the soporific. As can be expected from two such nap-disdainers, the marriage produced no heirs and Elizabeth took over the reins. It was downhill for Spain and the Anglo-American siesta from thereon in.

Except that is, for the very few truly enlightened who adapted indiscriminately to all the customs practiced in their host country. They’ve even formed a group whose motto is, “Siesta nappers outlive other zealots” (SNOOZE).  I’d be glad to give out any information, but be sure to call before three in the afternoon or after six. That’s the time when, I for one, have to look over some company reports. . .




Featured image (man sleeping in a car)/Joegoauk Goa, CC BY-SA2.0
“Scarlett O’Hara”/PD
Mugger/John Doe via Flickr, PD
Snoozer/bark, via Flickr, CC BY2.0, cropped
Mayflower-Balboa collage: Balboa (copy of an engraving of the Retratos de Españoles Ilustres, 1791), anonymous via Wikimedia Commons, PD. Mayflower ship (“Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882. Source: Pilgrim Hall Museum), PD via Wikimedia Commons