Tia peeks into my favorite trattoria in Bevagna – La Bottega di Assu’: Chiuso.
CHIUSO. How closed doors create curiosity and lead to an appreciation of the rhythm of the Italian day.
This afternoon, together with my new friends (students of Speak!’s Two Weeks in Todi course), I strolled the quiet streets of one of the only towns in Umbria that’s not on a hill – Bevagna. It’s a lovely, jewel box of a city with just one perfect hotel, one perfect little restaurant, a few amazing wine bars and my favorite (Romanesque) church in Italy. Each June, the town becomes a theater during its Festa delle Gaite (Festival of the “Neighborhoods”) in which locals dress in medieval garb, re-enact trades like paper and bell-making, decorative painting and cloth-dyeing and compete in a city-wide display of pride to see which borough will produce the best medieval marketplace, archery display or outdoor tavern (being so close to Montefalco, the jug wine is always exceptional).
Since, as is often the case during our afternoon excursions, we arrived in Bevagna today well before 5pm, many of the doors of the shops and certainly all of the restaurants in town were closed. “Where is everybody?” my students asked as we walked past L’Orto degli Angeli (sweet hotel) and its new pizzeria next door. They’ve only been in Umbria for a few days, but soon they’ll become accustomed to the rhythm of the Italian day. Soon their bodies will start to slow down after lunch and pick up again after or 5 or 6pm, when shops open up again and everyone bursts out into the streets for the late afternoon “passeggiata” (stroll), followed by the aperitivo (cocktail) at around 7pm and dinner later at 8 or 9pm. They’ll also learn to anticipate – as much as possible – the difference between CHIUSO and APERTO (open) and learn that most shops open from around 9 or 10am to 1pm and then reopen, following the total shutdown of the town during the “pausa pranzo” (lunch pause), at around 4 and stay open until around 7pm. Needless to say, it takes some getting used to, especially when you need to buy groceries and the only “Alimentari” (grocery store) closes at 1pm, just as you are finishing your morning Italian class.
Although I often miss the convenience of 9-5 and 24/7, in Italy I readily and happily adapt to the natural rhythm of city life, where basic needs like eating, resting, spending time with friends and family (or yourself), and getting an espresso or gelato are valued over the work-work-work, money-money-money, stay-busy-until-it’s-time-to-crash pace of life in the U.S. I love how all of the closed doors (especially those that read “chiuso per ferie”/”closed for vacation”) seem to make people from other cultures even more eager to return to Italy. From what I can tell, when we encounter a closed door we simply take out our notebooks, jot down the name of the restaurant, shop or hotel and promise to return some day…. all in good time.
On our drive back to Todi at sundown today, we marveled at the beauty of rolling hills dotted with vines, wheat and promise-rich fallow earth. Everything glowed in the pink-gold light. “If the restaurant had been open,” Tia remarked, “we would have missed this glorious sunset-drive back home.” We all agreed whole-heartedly.
“Chiusa una porta, si apre un portone.” says a well-known Italian proverb. “When one door closes, a bigger one opens.” I like to think that every time I encounter a CHIUSO sign, no matter how frustrating it may be, a door to something far more valuable has been opened. What about you?
I can’t help but mention that Speak! Language Center keeps very “Italian” hours, so I hope people in Virginia can appreciate what I’ve said about “chiuso”!
Have you had an experience with a “CHIUSO” sign? If so, please leave a comment below….I’d love to hear it!