Quiet, quiet, quieter still, by three o’clock, Apollonia has settled down for the afternoon. Shops and businesses have closed. Far fewer vehicles are driving through. If you walk along To Steno, the pedestrian alley that once was and in many ways still is the main street of the town, other than the sun pouring in and the occasional cat lolling about, chances are pretty good that you’ll be on your own.
It will feel, actually, as though the town is asleep and in essence, it pretty much is. Not only are the shops quiet, the houses are too. Things will open up again around six, but for now life has moved indoors.
I recall that when I first came here, like so many visitors from countries where lives are organized differently than this, I wondered what on earth I’d do during those hours. I could soon see how practical a custom this must be in a climate that can be so blazing hot, but sleep in the afternoon is just not something I do.
Then I discovered the secret. What I would do during those hours was pretty much what those who live here have done for so long. I would move inside. I would slow down. Breathe in the peace. And as I started to do that, I found how delicious it is to spend those quiet hours in the cool indoors. How civilized.
How very good for you too, as it turns out. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health tracked the habits of twenty-three thousand Greek men and women over a period of six years. They discovered that those who napped three times a week for at least thirty minutes were much less likely to die of heart disease. 37% less, in fact. And for even those who nap only occasionally, the risk was 12% less. The Greeks, once again, have had it right all along.
So if you’re in Apollonia at this time of day, or anywhere in Greece for that matter, realize that there are rules for this time of day that are quite exact. Even the police get involved and every year announce the national quiet hours, in summer between 3 and 5:30 in the afternoon and again from 11 until 7 the next morning. “Offenders of this particular law,” their announcement always says, “should be reported to the Police.”
I once asked an Apollonian of my acquaintance whether another long-standing practice here was a matter of custom or law. “Custom,” he said right away, “… much stronger than law.” So if you’re ever in Apollonia in the afternoon, I’d advise you, police or not, to know how it’s done. Do not disturb the peace in any way. Do not under any circumstances knock on someone’s door. They’re asleep and, if they’re not, they have no desire for now to come outside. Go inside yourself. Slow down. Chances are you’ll be glad that you did.