Napping in New England

Ana Hebra Flaster

I stared at my neighbor for a moment trying to remember why I’d rung his doorbell that hot Indian summer afternoon. Two o’clock, 90-something degrees, humidity so high the air felt like plastic wrap on wet skin. Living creatures everywhere were hunting for a cool spot to sink into, a mud hole for wallowing, a place to nap. That was it, a nap. Based on the height and spread of the cowlick sticking up on the back of my neighbor’s head, that’s just what he’d been in the middle of doing. His droopy lids fluttered as he raised his eyebrows up, up—desperate to appear alert.  

 “I … was just doing some work out back,” he lied. His right eyelid slid back down from the supreme effort of speaking.

“Oh, uh. Look,” I said, “I found this in my mail.” I handed him his letter and, after we agreed the heat would kill us all if it didn’t break soon, I walked back along my side of the street. In the buzzing, insect-infested air a question kept circling in my head: Why, why are Northeasterners embarrassed to admit they nap? Sure, some ‘fess up, but you have to dig deep to find them, and they’ll usually blame lingering maladies, a bum back, toe nail fungus, anything but admit to the basic, ancient human preference for a bi-phasic sleep cycle.

Well, I’m not afraid to say it: my name is Ana and I’m a napper.  Is anything more delicious than succumbing—once you’re home, safety first!—to the sleepiness that creeps in during a drive down Route 3 on a frozen winter afternoon, a low-hung sun warm on your face? Or at the orthodontist, waiting for your son’s multi-hour wiring appointment to wrap up? I’m not the only one who’s dozed off there, nestled in the corner across from the fish tank. The worn spot on the wall proved other parents had gone down hard after staring too long at the clown fish.

Napoleon, Churchill and Clinton napped.  Einstein napped, and we all know the guy killed at the chalkboard.  By now the sheer number of studies proving the benefits of napping—from lowered heart risk to better productivity—should leave all of us wistful for our couches. Why fight it?

In my native country of Cuba, as in Spain and all of South America, napping is not the sign of moral decrepitude it is in the North. Siestas are a necessary part of life and nothing to hide. People “guard” a napping person’s sleep with a respect that approaches the sacred. I once saw a cardboard sign on a wrought iron fence in the old part of Havana with this unabashed announcement: “Please do not disturb me. I am lying down.” It was 2 o’clock, hot as hell, and at least one living creature had softened to the ancient human call for a midday repose.


Ana Hebra Flaster is a freelance writer and Lexington resident. Ana’s work has been featured on NPR and the Boston Globe.

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