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The great getaway?

I imagined we were off to the Caribbean for plenty of heat and humidity, and other things, but it was Antibes for ‘les vacances’.

In actual fact, Antibes, next door to Nice in France, was glorious.

Antibes: Just the ticket, 30 degrees with a beautiful coastal breeze. An outpost to Nice, like beautiful Skerries is to Dublin. An imposing castle owned once by the Grimaldi family in 1608 looked over a perfect bathing semi-lunar beach between two circular walls, like arms guarding us. Boats that cost millions lay asleep, only a few hundred yards offshore.

We might be envious of such wealth. But knowing human nature, I suspect that no-one is capable of consistent happiness. Surely there must be some actor on board who wishes they could be unknown, this anonymity allowing them to stray into the lovely village markets of Antibes.

In the bowels of this Antibes castle was a Picasso museum, with his strange Cubism shapes. A nice man, maybe, but odd paintings. Il est mort, however. Life is short and so, unfortunately, are holidays. Maybe this is a good thing — that vacations are short and sweet, to be savoured in their brevity and in their memory.

Holidays are strange things — artificial, an invention surely. Like Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. The card industry likes to make us feel bad for not sending Christmas cards and Mother’s Day cards, and the travel industry makes us feel bad if we don’t take holidays.

Industry’s flip-side is that it does not like its staff on holidays. It is ‘not necessary’ and ‘over the top’ in a ‘modern, flexible, competitive world’. We need workers to look after all the tourists coming to Ireland on their holidays. We can’t be taking holidays when they are taking holidays. Time-out does not look good in testosterone-led organisations;  unseemly, if you want to progress up the ladder.

Once, I was in a Zurich airport coming back from Australia. I was alone as I overheard the mobile phone conversation between a young American soldier and his friend in the mid-states of the USA.

This man had two weeks’ leave from military duty in Iraq. The plan? Two weeks of “hunting” at home with his mates. It was not clear whether they intended to hunt deer or people. It got me thinking: Are holidays about being with mates? Being in control of your own life? Being the hunter rather than the hunted? Beats me. I was just surprised they were not going to catch up with family, wives, girlfriends, partners; maybe see a drive-in movie.

I have often heard of surgeons who like to do woodwork in their off-time. Surely woodwork is physical in the same way that surgery is? Except that no deadlines have to be kept, no questions have to be answered, no-one will die or sue and no work colleagues need to be placated. There is tea-break if and when you want. Peace and quiet. A man’s shed. Is this a sort of holiday?

I was cycling in Curracloe forest in Wexford. This protected forest lies behind the beach featured in the movie Saving Private Ryan. It was used as an acceptable substitute for the D-Day landing beaches, Omaha and Utah beaches in Normandy. Through this sun-drenched forest wandered various creatures of humanity, each to their own, some cycling, most walking. One person was obviously a dog-walker and happy with her six different dogs, who all got on like a family. Apparently dog compatibility is very important if you work as a dog-walker. I imagine an Irish Wolfhound pulling in one direction and an independent, barking Chihuahua in the other may not be even her idea of a holiday. In any case, she was content, or so she seemed. Working or holiday?

But another face in the forest was that of a vexed, older man of 60 who seemed to be fighting with life. He was going to get fit, even if he knelt over and died.

Like the paintings of the Spaniard, Picasso, who moved to Paris and then Antibes, beauty and holidays must be in the eyes of the beholder. And being ‘en vacances’ must mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. I suspect that for many of us, it is an escape.

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