Friday, 5 July 2013

what fantasy?

Alain De Botton’s Art of Travel is a great little book.

“Few activities seem to promise as much happiness as going travelling: taking off for somewhere else, somewhere far from home, a place with more interesting weather, customs and landscapes. But although we are inundated with advice on where to travel to, we seldom ask why we go and how we might become more fulfilled by doing so. With the help of a selection of writers, artists and thinkers - including Flaubert, Edward Hopper, Wordsworth and Van Gogh - Alain de Botton's bestselling The Art of Travel provides invaluable insights into everything from holiday romance to hotel minibars, airports to sightseeing. The perfect antidote to those guides that tell us what to do when we get there, The Art of Travel tries to explain why we really went in the first place - and helpfully suggests how we might be happier on our journeys.” (Amazon’s brief)

Sometimes (perhaps even often) our travels are filled with idyllic experiences. But this last two weeks in Byron Bay has reminded me of De Botton’s wisdom. One of our friends broke down towing his ‘new’ caravan on its maiden voyage at Mittagong, and after a couple of days ended up getting the car and van shipped back to Melbourne. The trouper that he is, he hired a car and continued to Byron Bay. Just this morning I learned of other friends who broke down yesterday on their first day on the road.

At least 7 of our friends have been ill (some violently so) over the last week or so. A tent or caravan is not the best place to be with gastro!! The waterlogged days have given way to clouds, despite the promise of sunshine, which has only fleetingly tantalized us.

As De Botton reminds us, the problem with fantasy holidays is that we take ourselves. Life travels with us. Cars break down (as, by the way, ours did yesterday), the weather can be rubbish, and our bodies get sick. The real peace and joy in life comes from inside rather than via external realities.

I’ve admired the resilience of people this last two weeks. Smiles never failing. My view, for what its worth, is that people remain strong not despite the lack of fantasy style holidaying but because of inner strength.

When our kids were young, Maria and I decided not to use the word ‘holiday’ to describe what we did when we went away. With 4 children, the work never stopped. I wonder more generally if we need another concept, other than what the commercial world defines as holiday.

Sometimes holidays simply means ‘away from work’. While this is practically accurate, I’m not sure its helpful. The old fashioned idea of ‘Sabbath’ included the idea of regeneration – I like that. The beauty of the Sabbath was how it was integrated into life; 1 day a week for people, and even 1 year out of 7 for the land.

I reckon we should figure out how to integrate ‘regeneration’ into our lives. What do we need to do every week, every month, every quarter, every year – to make sure we are rested in a way that refreshes us.

Going away ‘on holiday’ would better be understood as a quarterly or annual change of scenery that refreshes our inner worlds, rather than a fantasy escape from the drudgery of work.

mixed bag

Plus - there was some patchy blue sky and sunshine today

Minus - there's gastro going around and the car is in the garage

Plus - we have so far avoided the gastro and Pat required only a minor repair

Minus - lots of washing required to get rid of the damp smell from clothes, towels and tent bedding

Plus - colour in the sky and reflections in the water at sunset make it a better day

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

rain happens

The weather forecast suggested we were in for some rain. Trying to look on the bright side, I was sure a few damp days could be brushed aside with some holiday nonchalance. After 100+ mm, most of the last 48 hours stuck inside the caravan, an abandoned tent with wet mattresses, blisters from digging trenches, tarp pegs that constantly come out in the wind gusts because the soil is so sodden and another day of rain ahead of us … sometimes I wonder why we do this!!

Anyone who camps regularly has some horror stories. We sometimes recount the Easter a couple of years back when the 150km/h winds made a mockery of our attempts to pin our tent to the ground. So why do we keep coming back?

One of the attractions of being in the caravan is that we feel closer to nature. Our modern living quarantines us from most of what nature offers except for extreme weather events. There is something natural about the discomfort that comes from being vulnerable to nature. When we were trying to figure out how to fit everyone into dry sleeping spaces for tonight, Gaylene (grandma) suggested she’s be happy sleeping outside on a bench just to soak in the drama. Bless her.

So what do we do? We go for walks and swims in the wind and rain. We sit in each other’s personal space and read, play games, fiddle with our photos (that’ll be Maria), scheme elaborate cooking plans (that’ll be me). We soak up the goodness of being together.

And yes, we hope for blue skies and we’ll celebrate them when (or if) they arrive because when the sun shines it lifts our spirits. But in the meantime, we live out this curious habit of gathering with others in great locations in makeshift homes, simplifying life, and not worrying about doing in favour of just being.