The Art of August on the Mediterranean Coast
Updated: Jun 16
In the summer months on the Mediterranean, rest is an Olympic sport: One in which the Spanish always take gold.
It's nearly 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and we are gathering our beach towels and sun hats to migrate from our spots in the sand to our seats at the table for lunch. The sun is at its strongest and beats directly into my eyes as I glance out at the soft blue-green waves of the Mediterranean.
On the minute walk from the sandy shore to the apartment my in-laws rented for the month, I notice several other families who have fallen into a rhythm with this communal August routine: Breakfast, beach, lunch, beach, dinner, sleep. Rinse and repeat for the entire month.
A 3 pm lunch call may sound absurd in other parts of the world, as would a four-week-long beach vacation. But in Spain, there's no better time to eat the day's most important meal and no better way to escape life's obligations.
You won't find much going on in Spain during August. Many non-essential businesses close or limit their hours so families can get a few weeks of R&R in their pueblos. They'll eat, drink, sleep, play cards, and spend hours talking. There are no fancy resorts or extravagant outings needed, just a simple apartment or villa where they can refuel their tanks for the upcoming year.
The Spanish appreciation for rest – true rest – is perhaps one of the things I love most about the country I've come to call home. It's also the thing that drives me half crazy. When I began joining my now husband's family for their August holiday, I was ecstatic. After the first week, restlessness crept in.
"How can you just do nothing for so long? Don't you get bored?" I asked him once.
He answered my question with his own: "What else would I be doing?"
His remark was sincere and, without trying, reflects a fundamental difference between our homelands.
What would I be doing if not here eating incredible homemade food, sleeping eight hours a night, and spending uninterrupted time with family and friends?
For one, I would be working more—a lot more. I don't own a home, but I suppose I would be toiling with projects around the house if I did. I would likely be eating rushed meals, thrown together from whatever was left in the fridge, and watching much more tv. I would fill my time with ways to get ahead and stay ahead.
When I quit my job to work for myself, it was a calculated risk. One that I was willing to take in hopes that one day I could afford this type of time off. So it would be, "one day" arrived, and despite my gratitude and (extensive) planning for this time away from my laptop, it was challenging to ignore the nagging voice in my head that told me to seize the day! Translation: Get off your butt and do something.
Processing my feelings out loud, I feel foolish.
Having no to-do list and falling asleep to the sound of waves on a Tuesday afternoon is clearly the most worthwhile way to spend one's time. So why does doing "nothing" put me on edge? Why am I riddled with layers of guilt?
The obvious answer is that I am red, white, and blue to my core, hailing from the land of doing and then doing some more. After all, keeping up with the Joneses sometimes means being able to afford health insurance.
I'm acutely aware of this cultural disparity and mentally express my gratitude for Spain's wildly affordable healthcare system. Still, I can't shake the feeling of needing to do something. Should I use this time to pitch new clients or triple-check invoices? Am I wasting time on this historical fiction series when I could learn something useful?
My family and friends back home roll their eyes when I explain my struggle to unwind and let go for an entire month. They tease me and say, "That just sounds terrible!" I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm certain that if they were here, they, too, would utilize this time to get ahead on the responsibilities of September.
Embracing August in Spain is an art I'm still learning to master. But here, on this sunny Mediterranean beach, I have no choice but to sit in the discomfort of doing nothing until it ultimately turns into bliss. Until I trade in my desire to fill every moment with utility and lean into the holistic rest that makes Spain the healthiest country in the world.
It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.