Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vacation Thoughts

About fifteen years ago, to the disappointment of my mother and the devastation of the family tenets she holds dear, we inaugurated the habit of taking a vacation over the Christmas holidays. Comparatively speaking during that period of time at my office there is normally little to do anyway. It’s a commercial convenience, nothing more.
The distinctive feature of this particular Christmas is its desiccation, normally a deprivation but which in this instance has the advantage of having nurtured purity of thought and sensation. As in most matters of spontaneity the pleasures are both unimagined and unexpected, a mishmash which contributes nicely to an agreeable result. The impressions upon one’s mind in such happenstance and unprovoked circumstances are often delicate and indefinable, though at times even mildly disturbing. Not surprisingly they are also singular for their connection with stifled past experiences or reminiscences which by virtue of their depth and texture promote a richer consciousness. When the percolating sentiments and recollections subside or are subdued, one is more capable of returning to a feeling of constancy, an enviable state in what is frequently an emotionally charged time of year.

Christmastime is of course almost universally a time of retreat. Having the opportunity to indulge oneself in reflection uninhibited by routine concerns is like taking a long breath after a hard run. As it should be, a holiday is both a sanctuary and refreshment. One needn’t dwell upon the future; or indeed upon the past. Allowing one’s mind to wander without direction is the luxury. Most of us are obliged to maintain a certain focus to accomplish our particular humdrum trade. Releasing oneself from such constraint is an extravagance to be desired.

This year’s holiday further distinguishes itself for its fixation upon two elements in particular, one of which is food; the other, bicycling (but more of that later). Normally an obsession with food would imply over-indulgence. Our fixation however is more with healthfulness (and admittedly some ordinary happiness, like sweets). We have so far succeeded in filling ourselves with salads and fish (including oysters, if that counts as fish). The morning breakfast is notable for its fibrous foods and fresh fruit. And, oh yes, there were those double chocolate cupcakes!

Complementing our food in-take is a passion for bicycling. This morning we attempted a run along the beach. The going was however near impossible. The sand was still saturated by the heavy overnight rains and the tide had not receded sufficiently to dry out the sand when we hit the beach shortly after eight o’clock this morning. Accordingly we abandoned the beach theme and headed for the ubiquitous paved bicycle paths which circle the Island. We had no trouble putting almost two diverting hours behind us before we arrived back at the villa.

Having descended from our bicycles we subsequently interrupted ourselves to put gas in the car, arrange massages and pick up some household provisions and groceries, and to have a quick lunch. But within moments thereafter, we again unlocked our bikes from the rack and returned to the beach.

The beach was by this time broad, dry and hard-packed. But something else had changed. Not insignificantly there was now a strong headwind from the northeast (which, by the southerly bent of the tops of many of the taller trees in the area, is the direction of the regularly prevailing winds). When I say “headwind” that is because it is our usual method to begin our jaunt by riding into the wind so that we have the reward of sailing home from the other end. Today’s tour was hard work. I doubt that we were pedaling more than two miles per hour into that strong wind, which was sending miniscule particles of dried sand like dust in wavering sheets across the flattened beach. From a distance, the swirls of sand resembled fog or snow.

When we at last flew home along the beach, I still couldn’t resist the further temptation of returning to the shore to take in the waning hours of daylight. It is my custom at this resort to park myself in a chaise longue next to the sea grasses overlooking the Ocean, facing into the setting crimson sun. If I am not too lethargic after my bicycling I read or even listen to music.

No doubt you can by now easily discern the pattern of pleasure which characterizes this vacation; viz., good food, exercise and idleness. What however I have failed to highlight is the underlying truth in the annual New Year’s celebration of health, wealth and happiness: health. I know this because soon after the euphoric experiences I have described above, I became quite ill and as a result all that had once engrossed me became empty. Admittedly I am not a good patient (and it is no accident that the word is closely aligned to patience, one of life’s virtues which I have managed to dodge). The two days of my intestinal torment were for me completely destabilizing. I did not feel like doing anything (other than attempt to sleep), and more importantly I was devastated to have to miss out on the erstwhile pleasures of what was mockingly another spectacular day at the beach. The time was painfully drawn out as I looked longingly upon the cheerful revellers upon the beach, incapable as I was of contemplating so much as a five foot journey out the front door of the villa. The dark hours of the night brought with them other trepidations, among them the possibility that I would be obliged to locate a doctor in a foreign state.

Mysteriously the illness evaporated almost as abruptly as it had materialized, though not without the thankful help of my partner who knowingly tracked down a remedial pharmaceutical notwithstanding my improvident initial objections. As improved as I felt this morning, there are nonetheless repercussions to ill health, lingering apprehensions. It takes time to recover from any physical assault, time to refortify oneself. And yet one finally adjusts. It is almost a pity that the complaint of illness is so ephemeral; too easily the recollection of the importance of health is forgotten. Perhaps it is nature’s way of accommodating; otherwise we might become as transfixed as Howard Hughes apparently was with microbial infection.

In an attempt to recover my buoyancy as soon as possible we set off shortly after eight o’clock this morning on another two-hour bicycle tour to Sea Pines Resort, a private “gated” community which we as part of the Marriott Resorts have licence to visit. Typically of everything on Hilton Head Island, this community screams legalized conformity and restriction, though the end-product is astonishingly pleasing and genteel. It occurred to me that this place must attract nothing but A-type personalities who obsess over detail, so pristine were the properties without exception. It was remarkable too that never once did we see a “For Sale” sign though I have no doubt that the failing US economy has touched this enclave like any other. If you looked carefully over the manicured lawns and between the magnolias and palm trees, into the living rooms of some of these grand houses, they were completely empty.

Once we regained the villa, it wasn’t long before another of my own personal obsessions surfaced. On our first visit to Hilton Head Island last year we luckily discovered Island Car Wash. Even though the car is washed in a soft-cloth automatic machine, the detailing at the other end includes the application of wax and subsequent hand polishing, in addition to the usual distinctive attentions to the tires and wheels. On a brilliantly sunny day such as today it is utterly impossible for me to resist the allure of such devotion to my buggy. There is invariably a parade of fine automobiles lined at the entrance to this institution, Mercedes, Infiniti, Cadillacs, Lincolns, flag-ship Buicks and so on. None of the owners conceals his or her pride of ownership. Having a polished car is part of the Hilton Head Island experience, and the beautifully maintained and tree-lined roads lend themselves so perfectly to the enjoyment of it!

The afternoon was marked by a pleasant lunch at the villa and afterwards a brief detour to Fresh Market to stock up before the anticipated shut-down for the New Year. Mid-afternoon I succumbed again to the magnetism of the sunshine and warmth on the beach. This time the wind was from the south so I headed into it towards Harbour Town.

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