Monday, September 14, 2009

Un bon déjeuner et une sièste -- ils sont sacrés!

A good lunch and a proper nap.

Do we still do this somewhere in the US (or even in the Anglo-Saxon world at large)? I certainly never did before I came to France. I remember being at work at 7:30AM, zooming through piles of text and tapes to type up, dashing out for a quick cup of soup at 11:45, back at my desk at noon, through another pile of folders, and out the door at 4:30PM, in time to get to an aerobics class. When necessary, I worked late into the night, nibbling at a hoagie or some Chinese food as I typed away, researched, etc., This was normal.

Then I came to France. In Paris the lunch hour was an hour plus. Everyone left their post. Everyone went outside and purchased something hot to eat, with a preference for a sit-down meal in a restaurant. I was still in Japan mode, and would bring my not-quite bento lunch to the office. My boss at the time, the travelling show coordinator at the Centre National de la Photographie, would look askance at my cold food, and encourage me to get out and about. A tendency to eat quickly and be back at my filing was something she just found odd and quirky, if not downright sad.

In France many businesses distribute lunch checks worth 10-12 Euros (perhaps more these days, I've not gotten any since I last worked in Paris, over 12 years' ago) to their employees. Thus, out the door, and go forth to purchase your lunch! Keep the bistrots and cafés in business. Or, if you are following the fast-food trend, perhaps a sandwich with crudités?

And then I moved south. My first years with Erick in Arles drove me batty. I tend to not be a morning person (before 7AM you're not likely to see me vertical). I need that cup of coffee. Unless I'm driven out the door by necessity, or facing an emergency, I have a brain that wakes up slowly. Brain speed is improved dramatically by a long bike ride in a brisk and moist wind before arriving at an office, or by an equally long and vigorous walk. But, when you work for yourself, it is a different sort of effort to put this activity into your day (particularly when you've small children to wake, dress, feed and get to school). All this to say that it was the rare morning when I could get to the computer and actually start working through emails, paying bills, etc., before 10/10:30AM.

But then I'd get on a roll and start boogying through the day's work. Simply writing, responding, corresponding would wake me up and I'd slip into the flow. Eleven thirty would arrive and I had to tear myself away from the computer, or the files, or the phone, and go prepare lunch. At twelve fifteen I called Erick (for many years he was working to renovate the b&b, so just visualize him covered in chalk dust, physically weary, and in need of a woman to put lunch on the table).

Salad, a hot dish with meat, pasta, cheese, wine, and then freshly brewed coffee with perhaps a square or two of chocolate. While Erick then went to sleep on the downstairs' couch, I would clean up, put away, do dishes, etc., It was now after 2PM.

I would feel sluggish from the meal, the post-lunch coffee didn't have the enlivening effect of its morning cousin. Stopping so abruptly for such a long lunch completely jammed my momentum. And yet, there was more work to do. At this point, I didn't consider taking a nap myself. How could I when there was ever so much more to get done? I was more than a bit terrorized by the idea that lying down mid-day would eat up whatever work hours were left, and then before I was newly conscious, the kids would be home, and time just a memory. So, I pushed myself up to the computer. There, it took a moment, but slowly, I'd get back into responding to emails, updating the email list, re-working the web site and the year's programs, etc., By 4:30 I was back in form and chugging through the work at hand.

5PM, little voices, feet running up stairs; the beasties are back. I could try to keep working, but distractions were many, and then if I didn't get dinner on the table, it didn't happen, so, off I would go to keep the household functioning. Between dinner prep, setting the table, eating, clearing, dishes, etc., then bath, tooth-brushing, bed, stories, ... I would never get back to the desk. For those who came to our cooking classes, they witnessed even busier evenings. No matter the needs of the kids, I was with the clients from 5PM till 11PM, with nary ten minutes here and there to run up to kiss the boys goodnight. Clients or kids, at a certain point bed called to me too, and off I would go. I've friends who manage to get back to work after the kids are down and work till far into the night. I'm not an adept of this option, unfortunately.

Thus, for me, this major pause mid-day -- 11:30 to 2:30 -- wrecked my efficiency. I lived this as a frustration and as a burden for years. I was in a state of shock and amazement. I would look back with nostalgia to the days when I got lots done (office work) every day, when I'd been a super-achieving employee, diving into piles, creating order, mowing down the tasks at hand. What might I have accomplished for our businesses if I'd been able to give the time my brain and past history told me was normal? I would laughingly say that both my business and my son would have benefited from all my time, but were managing with only a sliver, and yet, they both seemed to be doing okay.

But, I preamble for far too long. I'm trying to write about people who successfully nap, and though I've brought up an example, I am also digressing at length.

In my current life I spend time under the roof of and in the company of my vintner. He seems to epitomize the Frenchman who abides by the good lunch and proper nap routine, and yet who also succeeds in getting a lot of work done. He religiously eats his main meal at noon (and often noon on the dot), follows it with a small coffee and a square of chocolate, and then lays down for 30 minutes. Even on the longest of days, with stress pouring out of his ears, he peacefully nourishes himself and then allows his mind and body a moment of complete and total rest. As he helps me finish up the dishes, and nap time isn't till the kitchen is clean, I am able to join him with a clean conscience. The presence of a warm and perfectly situated shoulder to lay my head on renders the act of napping quite marvelous. I succumb to the temptation.

This past weekend was typical: no matter the work at hand, lunch and nap were integral parts of each day. Saturday work began at 8AM, pressing the marc, but he was up at the mas for his noon lunch. Back down to the cellar at 1:30 after fifteen minutes lying down, finishing up for the day at 8PM. He offered himself a brief social pause between 4:30 and 5, but otherwise, it was a day devoted to the work. And yet, a good meal and a nap were not neglected.

Sunday moved a touch more slowly. He actually slept in till 9AM. Breakfast, some paper work at the desk, then down to the cellar from 10:30 - noon. A lovely lunch with his mother and my good cooking from noon - 1, a good nap till after 2, and then back to the cellar to finish up the cleaning, hosing down, airing the fermenting tank, etc., When I departed at 5, he still had a couple more hours to go.

In the world I came from, working sun up to sun down with nary a moment's pause, grabbing a quick bite, drinking lots of coffee in large-sized cups is the standard operating procedure for many. There is a tremendous need and pressure to be efficient. We do the most we can physically accomplish. And if we return home and simply collapse, eating whatever is put in front of us that goes down easily, such is life.

But here--and I have to stress here in Provence amongst the traditional professions, as outside of my artisans, not all of the population still abides by these rhythms--work gets done, lots of work gets done, and yet the civilized meal, the refreshing nap are not sidelined in favor of more efficiency. Granted, there's no nibbling while working, there isn't a large cup of Java sitting on a side board to be sipped throughout the morning, and there's a strong discipline in regards to the workday -- weekdays begin at 7AM in the vineyards, and finish anywhere from 5-7PM. Only smokers take breaks during work hours (not my vintner's case, nor my baker's, nor the cheesemakers', nor the beekeeper's), everyone else is at work and working. Thus, when the lunch hour arrives, the rest is well-earned.

I see, I live, I taste this rhythm. I feel the sensible nature of caring for the body and soul in this way. And yet when I'm alone in my house in Avignon, I do admit, I return to what was inculcated into me as a young adult. I'm vertical at 7, but not really on top of things till 9:30AM (8-9 is drop off at school time). I work till 3PM when I have to ready myself to go pick up the kids. Lunch is thus a brief affair, and a nap non-existent (unless I'm in a state of collapse, but then I run the risk of not waking in time to get the kids). Getting the kids, being with them, keeping an eye on homework, preparing dinner, orchestrating dishes, etc., these eat up the rest of the day, (after all, there are six of them now) till my bed beckons and rest is at last an option.

Napping is a wonderful idea, and I adopt it when the opportunity is offered, when the situation warrants it, but... the rhythms of my birth country are still mark me.


Zuleme said...

Visiting our friends in Nantes, we had a cooked meal at 12 and Papa came home from the office for it. I don't think he took a nap ( he is a notaire) but it was quite civilized. I love the way shops close for lunch. We quickly learned to be at the cafe by 1PM at the latest having arrived once at 2PM and needing to sweet talk the chef into serving us. Which he did. But they are used to having a horde descend at 12, unlike in the US where people eat lunch anywhere from 11:30 to 3.
Then the shops stayed opened later than they would here, maybe the offices too, I don't know. The notaire also made house calls, which I don't know if that would be usual in the US.
It's different but to me, a saner way of living. Life comes before work but they also get a lot of work done.
Whenever I get too crazy about work I remember something I heard once that stayed with me.
"No one ever laid on their death bed saying 'Gosh I wish I had worked more'."

Zuleme said...

And, an afterthought. I wonder if while Papa is napping Mama is doing the dishes. It would be really hard to do the French thing for women with kids and work.

Madeleine Vedel said...

Yes, I never found time for a nap when I lived with Erick (though he was religious about his -- something about getting up at 5/6AM though justifies such). I revel in my naps at the winery, but, it is a kid-free zone, JP helps with dishes, and it all just fits together. However, working at a sane and sustainable rhythm, making time for family, good food, caring for yourself... these could be easily brought across the Atlantic. Take care

Martha Ann said...

MV: We posted your latest thoughts on goat teats, curd and mishaps at

On the subject of naps, I find them indispensable. Living in the United States, where nappers are thought of as being lazy, I take solace in knowing whole other parts of the world consider napping essential!

Martha Ann