e are all doing too much waiting—for the pandemic to be over; for a vaccine to arrive; waiting for the end of those awful tallies rising. Wait, what? the students would say. I thought Godot was all about waiting. Well, yes, and well, not always. The two beleaguered individuals in Beckett’s play got themselves out there, somehow, under a tree.
DEFENSE OF THE HOLIDAY
French people know that holidays make the fabric of life into a fabric, not a dull monochrome, called work. In France, outings are a part of life and are scheduled in. Let’s start with fall and early winter. The Toussaint (All saints) Vacation, is a two-week holiday for students around Halloween. November 1, All Saints Day, is a bank holiday, as is Veteran’s Day, November 11. Christmas and New Year’s, of course, are holidays, as is usually the week in between.
We love holidays, too, says the American, on his way to work, secretly wondering what French people do during that free time. The French love to get outside. Families sometimes convene in a nearby by forest, such as Le Parc de St Cloud, to gather mushrooms. Danger, right? Well, if you’re not a pharmacist yourself, you take your mushrooms, dubious and otherwise, off to the pharmacy for vetting before you cook them in a delicious recipe. In addition, many parks feature biking, hiking, and conducting little boats around on a pond. Leisure centers offer horseback riding camps for the kids.
Shall we go on to February?
TIME TO SKI
Now, most French people ski. And to offset the expense for those who can’t afford it, the mayor’s office of each town organizes a ski trip to a vacation center for an affordable price. A child of about 5 takes a class to earn a “flacon de neige,” (snowflake pin) which proves you can ski 7 or 8 times down a little hill in snowplow position and surmount a tiny bump. Then the children graduate to getting little stars by managing the lift and getting down bigger and bigger hills. The difficulty for each slope is rated in a color: blue, green, red, black (!) and hors piste (which means off the beaten track, or, you’re on your own, buddy!) Here’s a clip called Hors Piste. This is a trailer for an animation where two ski professionals rescue somebody, but evidently things don’t go as planned.
A LITTLE MORE CONVINCING ABOUT HOLIDAYS
In April, spring holidays. Easter Monday, and Pentecost Monday are bank holidays, so that’s two three-day weekends there. Ascension Thursday is a bank holiday, and often the Friday is taken off too, for what is called a pont or a bridge.
On to May. Don’t forget the May holidays, Labor Day, May 1, and Victory in Europe Day, May 8. Do you detect any unforced errors in that sentence? On Labor Day both in the States (which is in September) and in France, everybody has the day off! In fact, most people call May 1 Workers Day. The country celebrates by handing out Lilies of the Valley. This tradition apparently started when a knight offered Charles IX a bouquet of these flowers for prosperity in 1561. Did I say 1561? This was back in the day before we in the States had a day to be back in.
Finally, we have the grandes vacances, summer holidays, 3 to 4 weeks for working people in August. School kids have off from early July to end of August. (Don’t get me started on teachers and their vacations. Exhaustion is not vacationing.) FYI, the 15th of August, the Assumption of Mary, is also a bank holiday.
Phew! Did you notice how many of these are religious holidays? I’ve asked my students from time to time what’s behind these holidays. “How about Ascension Thursday?” I ask. Often students say, “Jesus rose from the dead?” Nope. “Dormition of Mary?” I ask. Not a clue.
QUALITY OF LIFE, PEOPLE
Smug Americans (with no passports) mock the French. All that time off. Well, may I politely say, the shoe is on the other foot in France. Life is to be enjoyed. Delicious food, family meals. How many in the pandemic have rediscovered family meals? Welcome to France! Let’s go biking in the Loire Valley, visit a chateau. Or visit the Normandy beaches in the north for a taste of history; Provence in the south for a taste of delicious rosé. Why leave France? When asked why he didn’t travel much outside of France, a Frenchmen reputedly said, “Where will I get my baguette?”
WHERE DOES THE FIVE MINUTES COME IN AND FRANKLY I’M DEPRESSED
Ok, ok, I accept holidays, you say. But look at the news. Breonna Taylor’s family was awarded 12 million, but the only officer accountable was the one who shot into a neighboring apartment? Millions for wrongful death and no wrong-doing? Frankly, Godot is also about despair. I have wondered if the blasted tree, which is a typical setting, comes from images of the battlefield. Is the bare tree dead, the gentlemen wonder, or just out of season? Later in the play a handful of leaves appear on the tree, which cheers one and saddens the other. I think that we, as people, have a naïve wish to be one or the other: when I’m happy I’ll go outside. Otherwise, not.
That’s where the five-minute holiday comes in.
WHERE DID THIS IDEA COME FROM?
A friend of mine called me from the Collegiate Peaks this morning, peaks containing some of the highest mountains in Colorado, and named for a bunch of colleges. (I kid you not.) Digression: Imagine you have the most wide-open spaces in front of you, and would you think, ah, Harvard, ah, Oxford? End of digression.
My friend described what she saw from her campground: sweeping peaks at over 14,000 feet with a dusting of snow, on a cool morning with bright blue skies, promising a warm afternoon. I could feel myself breathing in that fresh mountain air, and I could almost witness with her these peaks with their first white powder. There it was, a five-minute holiday, albeit mostly imagined.
HOW ABOUT THE REAL THING?
I used myself as a test subject yesterday afternoon. I was on the dismal side of a good mood because I am moving. Noooo. I just moved from France. But I found a perfect little gem for a writer, so off I go. But first I have to move. Did I say that?
I went off to buy two creamers (essential for every household), from a woman who lived ten miles away, for a total of four dollars. (Carbon footprint awful.) Then, inspired by my friend, I typed in my phone “parks near me.”
Off I went in spite of myself, in spite of packing hanging over my head. No glen is going to change that, or me. Well, it was fun. Two black women and I could not find anything at first, from the falls to the parking lot, but we managed. Sunshine, waterfalls, strangers to joke with + (a snake). That’s the one thing the pandemic (and Yeats) is pushing us toward, I think: take a deep breath, outside.
I’d like to point to a passage in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, when the protagonist’s friend Clerval is still alive. The protagonist writes about his friend, “Alas, how great was the contrast between us! He was alive to every new scene, joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence a new day. He pointed out to me the shifting colours of the landscape and the appearances of the sky. ‘This is what it is to live,’ he cried; ‘how I enjoy existence! But you, my dear Frankenstein, wherefore are you desponding and sorrowful!’”
That “Alas,” at the beginning, is especially touching because we have a presentiment that Clerval will be lost, and he is. Situating his friend in the midst of nature like this is a way of reviving him, even though the storyteller knows he will die.
WHERE YOU GOING TO GO?
If you can’t make it to the Collegiate Peaks, how about a park? You could arise and go now. Or not. If not the Versailles gardens, how about a walk? Go ahead and type in, “Parks near me.”
A taste of Young Frankenstein!