Holidays are about becoming enchanted by short-term habits. Noises don't annoy us, and even bus timetables seem fascinating. But then we return, and the spell is brokenby Lesley Chamberlain / June 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
We’re not going on holiday this summer, so I thought I’d remind myself what I’m missing. Nietzsche talks of the enchantment of short-term habits. When I think how excited I get mastering another place’s bus timetables, I know he’s right.
Some of the joy comes simply from being away from home. Because the landscape is different, your eyes wake up. Because the food tastes different, your palate is tickled into making new distinctions. Whether or not the language is familiar, your ears enjoy the challenge of a different sound world.
You can lose yourself in the music of foreign streets—car horns, scooters, trams, even horses’ hooves. It’s almost a definition of being in the Mediterranean that you don’t mind the noise. Even the birds sing a different tune, so you get interested in birdwatching. The vegetation is more luxurious, so add to that plantspotting. You wake up with foreign words in your head. You cover your face with a different kind of detective story on the beach, which has to be read with a dictionary, and it doesn’t really matter that you never get beyond page three.
Wherever you go, they have different styles of travelling by train, different ways of setting out their banks, different ideas of where to put bus tickets on sale and, in their stations and bars, extra-clean loos for women opened with keys that need to be fetched from the bar.
Being on holiday is different from being at home, but mostly only in comfortable, picturesque ways. Cats start behaving like the wild beasts of prey they really are, while dogs shrink to the role of status symbols. Both provide a pleasing spectacle. Most canines in fashion in Europe today are so tiny they look as if they might be blown away by the bora or the mistral, or whatever is the prevailing wind. The cats are rake-thin, scrounge for old pasta and lack all trust in humanity. Short-term pleasures are often games and illusions, but they are great while they last. There’s nothing more holiday-like than sitting in a bar and half understanding the television news in Greek or Portuguese. Other people’s politics are fascinating, and the more byzantine they are the better.
Glimpses of the home turf from far off are almost equally exotic. It’s a great way of whiling away the short time between the last swim and the first…