Italian time

Having now completed a week here, I can say with certainty that one of the biggest adjustments I’ve struggled with is the notion of time in Italy.

No, I’m not talking about jet lag upon arrival, or the time zone difference with family and friends back home. I mean that I don’t know when the hell people sleep here.

I’m continually amazed at how late into the evening things happen here. You thought New York was the city that never sleeps? Fuggedabouddit. Restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8-ish. (The “ish” is an important addendum to times here, except it’s translated into Italian through a grimace, an “ehhh…”, and an extended flat hand tilting one way then the next back and forth, all of which indicating that by no means should we take that time as anything but approximation.)

Walking around a bit late at night (by my standards) on Thursday, I observed how bizarre it felt to see dozens of children gleefully running around the Piazza del Campo at midnight. And no, this wasn’t a holdover from the Palio two nights before, and it certainly wasn’t in celebration of Independence Day in the United States. This is just flat-out routine here, it appears.

It’s also perfectly commonplace to hear loud and emotional conversations on the street outside your window at 2AM (or even much later). Last night / this morning I heard an hourlong conversation between what sounded like teenagers or young adults, with one of them wailing inconsolably about something and complaining incessantly to friends. (I tried desperately not to focus on the words, because I was afraid if I paid too much attention I’d wake up fully and never get back to sleep, but I managed to accidentally understand about 1 word in 10, and have no idea what they were talking about.)

Okay, fine, so this is a late-to-bed, late-morning culture? Oh no, it is certainly not that. Because I’ve had to keep my bedroom and living room windows open at night for cross-ventilation, I can clearly here the city come alive at about 6:30AM. Street sweepers doing their thing (this city is remarkably clean, considering its heavy tourist population), shopkeepers getting ready for the day, people chatting as they stroll the streets at sunrise, people cheerfully clanging dishes as they do their morning chores with the kitchen windows open, and what must be around seven million pigeons having serious conversations about their plans for the day, all making tons of noise.

And then, there are the church bells.

I though having an AirBNB next to the duomo (cathedral) would be charming, and indeed it makes for a useful landmark when navigating Siena’s labyrinthian streets to find your way home. But these church bells are monstrously loud (especially if the bedroom windows are open), and they’re insistent and repetitive. They make it very clear that it’s time to wake up and reflect, and they won’t take no for an answer.

So between people (and especially children?!) starting their evenings very late, routinely staying up well past midnight, and getting up absurdly early to start their next day, I don’t understand how anyone gets a good night’s sleep around here.

The one thing they do have going for them, though, is their afternoon pausa when people take a few hours off for lunch and go home to nap. This is a practice that I can solidly get behind.

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