In Praise of Pausa
It may be the most defining difference between Toscana and California. Pausa is the break in the middle of the day. A pause. And it’s brilliant. We’ve already mentioned the pace of life here is our preferred norm, but Pausa, we love you.
Remember back in time to when you were 5 years old and got to eat your lunch then turn out the lights and lie down on your cot in kindergarten. Relive your summer holidays when you had long leisurely lunches with family and friends. Think back to your weekend when you could take a much needed nap in the middle of the day. THAT IS EVERYDAY IN ITALY.
Italians value a break in the day to regroup and be with family and friends. Traditionally, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and is enjoyed sitting together at the table - tablecloth, full place settings, salt/pepper/olive oil. Pausa Pranzo is either at home or at a local restaurant.
At 12:30/1:00pm, you will encounter vespas zipping down alleys, diesel-fueled cars hugging turns and motos weaving through traffic to get to their ‘place of pausa’. The chatter of the day stops. Behind closed window shutters you can hear clanging of dishes, the sounds of telenovelas, muffled conversations and laughter. Some small towns, like ours, are dead quiet. Being out and about during pausa in some villages, one might envision tumbleweeds rolling past with the eery western whistle soundtrack filling the space between locust and bird chirps. An Italian version of a ghost town. Then, after the mini hibernation, around 3:30/4:00pm, doors open and slam, people shuffle back out to resume their day, zooming back whence they came.
I have come to particularly appreciate pausa during the heatwaves (which are now a daily occurrence, because, well, summer in Toscana). The Italians also built pausa around the hottest part of the day. Rising early, they get in a 5 hour workday (roughly) before the period of the day where the heat makes it impossible to think, let alone labor. Pausa is as much about being with family as it is getting out of the elements to rest.
It is through pausa that I have learned the Italian means of keeping cool. You know all those charming windows and door shutters (not the fake kind in the states) you see on every picturesque villa or stone cottage photo of Italy? These shutters function as heat control. In the summer months, windows and shutters are flung open in the early morning to capture the cool morning, fog laden air and promptly shut prior to leaving the house. As all homes are made of concrete and stone, they keep amazing cool if shuttered during the heat of the day. As with everything in Italian life, you learn to yield to nature and the rhythm of the day. Knowing when to shutter your home from the blast of the summer sun becomes tantamount.
As a California native, it is instinct to leave windows open - to let the air and light in. Like idiots, the first few heatwaves we left all our windows open to ‘get a good air flow through the house’ proudly displaying our naïveté to the locals. One day after walking Elliot prior to pausa, I noticed all the homes, including the ones who I knew had residents, were all shuttered up. And in a ‘lampadina’ lightbulb moment, raced home with Elliot to shut all the windows, close all the wood window panels and drapes. Now, during the hottest part of the day, we shut the windows and our wood panel shutters. True, we look (and feel like) shut-ins, but darn it all if it truly keeps things 20 degrees cooler.
Having lived with Pausa as my new best friend for a few months now, I realize just how important a ‘stop’ in the day is - for your mind, body, soul, and relationships. It quite literally and figuratively ‘keeps you cool’. I adore Pausa and I am already scheming how to avoid breaking up when we are back in California. It’s become such a necessity in my life. One that I feel ought to be in everyone’s life…everyday, not just weekends or while in holiday. Keeping Pausa part of our life daily is a new life goal.
Oh! Would you look a the time? It’s 1pm. Gotta run, I have a date with my bestie. Pausa, I love you.
FYI, the photo is of Elliot taken from my vantage point laying down during pausa. Our bedroom window only gets sun during the early morning (and we keep it shut along with the wood panel blinds or shutters), so on days when it's not too hot and there is a breeze, we open this window during pausa.
FYFI, there are three types of shutters. Traditionally, in old stone buildings you will find external shutters on the exterior with windows on the interior OR windows with wood panel shutters on the inside of the window. We have the latter, but would much prefer the external as you can have those shut and your windows open. Effectively keeping the sun out, but a breeze in...if the breeze is not of the steamy agosto variety. There are also roll up shutters - either wood or metal. Metal shutters are used on most modern apartment homes.