A day of rest. A day of relaxation.
The day of the traditional pranzo della domenica (Sunday lunch) in Italy.
It used to be that I dreaded Sundays in Italy. Nothing is open, beaches are crowded, church bells over-exercise their right to chime and you can feel the marked change of pace in a place, especially smaller cities and towns. The whole country downshifts into a lower gear for a day, and it was an odd feeling for me, coming from a city in Canada where Sundays feel the same as pretty much every other day of the week. I’d find myself at loose ends, an outsider watching families gather in the piazza and pranzare (have lunch) together. I didn’t have family in Siena, and because many things are closed on Sundays, I didn’t have a lot to do.
When I started working, I drew the lucky straw that had me in the office, without fail, every Sunday morning at 8am. Sunday being Sunday and Italy being Italy, public transportation didn’t run out to the little hamlet where my office was situated, so I’d have to rely on the kindness of my coworkers to get me to work. Bleary-eyed, I’d be up walking through the streets to meet my ride before the rest of the town had begun to stir, getting a glimpse of Siena behind-the-scenes. Slowly, I started to appreciate that little window of time.
Then we’d be in the office, cursing the fact that we had to be there but happy to be getting one of our weekly shifts done on a day less hectic than the other six. Our boss wouldn’t come in until later or not at all, and by the time 2:30 rolled around and it was time to leave, the trains had started running and I could get back home on my own.
As I started making more friends, Sundays weren’t so bad. In fact, some of my happiest, most peaceful memories of Italy are of Sunday lunches that went on for hours, a little table spread out in the piazza, the calcio (soccer) being broadcast on the radio in the background, and friends gathered together enjoying one another’s company. Even this year, on a quick visit to Siena, I had the pleasure of indulging in a beautiful Sunday lunch with a new friend out in the Chianti countryside. If you had seen me then, eating from a tagliere di salumi (sliced cured meats), enjoying some insalata di farro (spelt salad), and washing it all down with sips of smooth Chianti, you would have found me the perfect picture of contentment.
I don’t know what it is about Sunday lunch as opposed to Sunday dinner, but somehow, I like it better. Maybe it’s because Sunday lunch affords you more time; If you start at 2pm, you can sit at the table for 3 hours without worrying about anything. If you sit down at 6pm though, by the time 9 rolls around you’re worried about the things you have to prepare for Monday, thinking about how much sleep you’ll get before the alarm goes off and all the dirty dishes that are separating you from your bed.
Call me sentimental, (or maybe I’m just getting old) but I’ve come to love, look forward to, and even crave the feeling of slow Italian Sundays. My experiences in Italy (and recently, in France) have reminded me of what Sundays should feel like: calm, a day of rest, of reconnection with family and friends topped off with some good food for good measure.
It warms my heart to know that there are still places in the Western world that cling to the idea that Sundays are and should be different from the other days of the week. I experience an often-missed feeling of contentment when I’m in a place where Sundays are still Sundays.
Buona domenica & happy Sunday!