I never know what time it is when I’m in Ischia. I have six clocks on my kitchen wall here and none of them work. Not one of them. I don’t own an alarm clock in Ischia because I keep American hours for work, which means starting the day at 2 in the afternoon, and I’d never sleep that late. Never. So, if I don’t have my computer booted or my cell phone on and in front of my face, I have no idea what hour of the day it is. I know it’s time to start work once lunch is over. My in-laws with whom I live are in charge of lunch, so when we’re all done, I run to the computer, start the day, and know what time it is until about midnight when I shut down. I never know the time on holidays or weekends.
While my friends were staying with us in May, they kept asking, “What time is it?” None of us ever seemed to know. In addition, everyone in Ischia – maybe the whole of Italy, I’m not sure – keeps weird hours. We eat lunch between 1 and 2 p.m. Then, everyone (except me because I’m working and an American who knows nothing of the siesta) sleeps from 3 to 5 p.m. Yes, they sleep, sometimes to the point of snoring. It’s like night time all over again. Shutters and doors are drawn and barely a soul – except for a tourist or two – walks the streets. You are expected to refrain from calling people, out of respect, in the middle of the afternoon. Then, at 5 p.m., people with traditional full-time jobs return to work, where they stay until about 8 p.m. And no one starts eating dinner until 9 or even 10 p.m. That’s crazy time if you ask me.
So, when my friends saw the above ad in one of the storefront windows, they snapped a photo just for me. They realized that this goes beyond the hours the Ischitani keep, too. Ischia time really is crazy time. “Ischia dove si mangia, si beve, e si fischia,” which means “Ischia, where you eat, drink, and whistle” is a popular saying on the island. It’s what makes this place perfect for a luxurious vacation and not so hot for a normal life.
Most of the time when you’re on the island, especially if you know the natives, you’re doped up on heavy, delicious southern Italian fare, including tomatoes and bread, fresh peaches, and every pasta you could imagine, all cooked like mamma made it (because she usually did). This food high clouds your judgment. In the summer, the heat smothers you and you wanna lightly swing in a hammock as the sea breeze caresses your skin. In the winter, you are cold to your bones and you want to curl up in front of a fire and under an enormous blanket filled with feathers or rather the entire goose because you’re that frozen. There are really only two seasons here – summer and winter – and both are extreme.
All this breeds laziness. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to give up all ambition and bum on the beach or make heat with a sultry islander (there are a few of those here as well and I should know because I married one and that’s how I ended up on crazy time). The next thing you know, you’re eating, you’re drinking, and you’re whistling. That mortgage you have? Don’t worry about it. That high-power career you were developing? Forget about it. Family and friends back home? Who remembers them? Move in with the islander, lounge in the sand, invest in a hammock. This is all sounding very appealing to you. You’re about to jump in head first. After that last bite of homemade gnocchi, you gotta say yes to giving it all up to live on a small island…that never appears on a map…where everyone will know your name and your business…where dreams go to swim in the ocean. Then, you wake up and realize that Ischia time is indeed crazy time. And you just want to quit the gnocchi cold turkey and go home. Still, you might put a hammock in your living room.