Everyone loves a holiday, right? Sun, sea, sand, surf…
There is a brilliant moment in The Mystic Masseur, the debut novel of recently departed Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul. The main protagonist, Ganesh, is bettering himself in rural 1940s Trinidad, and his long suffering wife Leela begins to think out loud to her female acquaintances about taking a vacation.
Such airs and graces!
The reaction is swift. Who does she think she is? The social presumption of thinking yourself worthy of a holiday, or just taking off, forgetting the housework, and doing nothing for days on end but, what…?
It got me thinking.
Other than religious feast days, not so long ago a holiday was unheard of outside the ruling elite. Industrialisation gave birth to the idea of taking a day trip to the seaside, and later on, maybe even an extravagant week in a deckchair.
Foreign pleasure trips are even more recent – thanks to the power of the low cost airfare. Yet I know people – especially from poorer countries – who are still uncomfortable with the idea of the modern holiday.
For them, leaving the home to travel means visiting family members – however distant. They must trust strangers to drive the bus, fly the plane, make a meal on the way – but as soon as possible, a family member will be there to escort them.
To pass freely without let or hindrance…
The modern holiday is a construct of the era of the nation state. It requires stable infrastructure in which we trust strangers to service our needs, not rob, poison or otherwise injure us. It also requires that we have surplus wealth.
Which gets to the other essential element in the modern holiday – the display of status. The tan – despite all the health warnings – still has street cred in Western cultures. Every ex-school kid remembers the cache attached to a ski holiday.
Holidays. Just sun, sea, sand, surf*!