Family holiday: an anthropological analysis

So we went to Lanzarote on a family holiday. In the midst of bleak January, five adult children and their two childlike parents packed themselves into two cars, packed all of their belongings into one suitcase and seven bursting ‘knapsacks’* and jetted off for some sunny R&R. Here’s a relatively accurate account of our travels, filled with artistic licence and a flair for the satirical.

*my dad believes he’s American, it’s a whole thing that I can’t momentarily explain here on the sidewalk while I eat some too-na on this fine Two-is-day.

The packing…and inevitable repacking

The suitcase is left open on the landing for days before our departure. No one goes near it until the night before and then all impractical hell breaks loose. What is it about the thought of going overseas that allows us to suddenly become binary versions of ourselves? Packing for holidays witnesses the splitting of something fundamental inside us as we morph into unrecognisable versions of ourselves that find expression in impossible shoes, outlandish items of clothing with no recognisable use or suitable occasion for wearing and a book for every passing interest we’ve entertained since we became literate.

A sister that lives in black flings garments of the most garish fuschia into our suitcase while the brother who has never before shown an interest in hygiene suddenly decides he needs at least 3 kilos of unctions for as many days of potential sun exposure. There is much kerfuffle over the weight of a toilet bag and how many bikinis is too many. Father says he’s hardly bringing anything but what he does decide to bring are the heaviest trousers in all the world. Heavy jeans in sunny Lanzarote – practical. He also has several enigmatic beige items – no one is entirely sure what they are.

As I watch the procession of neatly folded piles run from room to case to floor to room again, the suitcase filling, failing to close, emptying and refilling with renewed enthusiasm struck me as a beautiful symbol of our crazed attempts to stuff a new year with every good intention we’ve ever set ourselves. The optimism of some of our chosen outfits – get ups we would never dream of wearing on any other day – suddenly become not only aspirational but tangible.

The fuschia dress, the madly patterned shirt, the hygiene products, are emblems of our desire to shake off the shackles of our normality and, for this brief period of time at least, be something other, better.

It is exactly like New Year’s Eve, this packing. Anticipation, hype, a complete lack of practicality, foresight or planning but a whole bucket of hopeful optimism – I will deefinitely wear this. This time I’ll make it fit. We aren’t just hurling clothes into the abyss; spiritual, physical, emotional, academic, social goals are all flung – in slippered frenzy and wet-haired haste – into the suitcase that is not just a suitcase but a portal to a new beginning, a new horizon.

As the final thrust, bang and push finally seals our soul’s clothes, and brother’s greatly reduced self-care pack, we are filled with smug anticipation and confident expectation. There are wide grins – here we go, this is it. Only to get to the Ryanair check-in desk to find we are grossly over the weight limit. 8 kilos, to be exact. Does the world not want us to be our best selves?

The flirting

Eldest sister banishes us to the corner of Cork Airport to put on more clothes from the suitcase and to leave the matter of diplomacy to her. I am wearing two cardigans, leggings under a dress, a jacket and a scarf and am cradling the four books I decided were necessities in the arms already juggling passport, boarding pass, phone, 100ml toiletries, water, yoghurt, purse, an apple. We are literally flinging clothes at each other, everyone trying to find a culprit for this luggage obesity by picking out the heaviest items with an exasperated tut tut. Eldest sister goes back to the check-in desk, all sweet smiles and simpering. We’re still 4 kilos overweight. She is sweetness personified. Ryanair man is powerless and lets us off because by now all seven of us have crept up to the desk wearing the same pleading smile on our faces. Looking back, he must have been very scared.

Ignorance is bliss and amnesia is real

Somehow, we arrive intact. 24 hours settled into la vida loca and I’ve conveniently forgotten in my aforementioned, determined, New-Year’s-Eve-like optimism, the reason I never wear the skirt that really feels more like a loin cloth or garish tea towel. The fuschia remains positively untouched and the brother gives up on hygiene after a very diligent two hours.

In our haste to be better, and to present the best version of ourselves to the exotic locals, we forget the most fundamental part of travel. That it is not in fact, and despite the turbulent Ryanair flight that makes you feel you are in a modern remake of ‘Back to The Lower Fared Future’, time travel.

We don’t transform into different beings with different habits or personalities the second the stale air of the airport hits us. There is no metamorphosis.

We all go back to wearing the worn shorts and faded t-shirts we’ve worn for Ireland’s two week summer period for the preceding four years. A significant part of the suitcase remains unpacked and unused. Simone de Beauvoir and Zadie’s Smith pertinent essay collection judge me sullenly from the bottom of my bag as I reread my worn copy of Call me by your Name.

Trying something new

Father decides to learn a new language. We assume it’s Spanish but nobody’s really sure. It’s not really a language, per say, but rather his own interpretation of a language. A hybrid between English words spoken with a Spanish accent and Spanish words spoken in unmistakable good old Irish clarity. Like most people who take the plunge out of their comfort zone in ‘New Year, New Me’ frenzy, his deep-dive into linguistics is met with a degree of hilarity, confusion, and sweet condescension. He orders us a taxi to take us to dinner in his best beige shirt and impression of a Spanish accent. We can hear him in the other room making noises that don’t sound anything like the address the AirBnB host left us but who am I to confront or tackle this? The man is a very successful and articulate professional who navigates the nuances of business meetings and cultural differences on a daily basis – how wrong can things go?

…Forty minutes later and we’re sitting on the kerb outside our villa. It is incumbent on me to note that Lanzarote is not particularly balmy at 8pm on a Friday evening in early January. Brother keeps talking about how hungry he is while sisters bury themselves in social media. They are a row of chins hunched into palms and dead eyes lit up by the lights of screens that tell them of sweet Ireland, the exact place we’re supposedly taking a holiday from.

Mother tries to tactfully ask father if he’s sure he gave the right address – father is all perplexity, twitching leg, and exasperated sighs as he punches the taxi number into his phone again and keeps repeating ‘Playa del Cable’ to what I can only imagine is either a very frustrated or thoroughly entertained operator on the other end.

Eldest sister jumps in to save the day once more, this time conducting the conversation in garbled Italian garnished with an inordinate amount of ‘si’s.

20 minutes later and we still can’t ‘si’ a taxi. I’m dancing in the middle of the residential street now, as cars pass by having a right laugh at this sombre congregation standing morosely on a dark street in their holiday finery.

Still mad for trying something new

We undertake a family yoga class. Seven adults and a Dutch woman who believes in angels on a beach in Lanzarote on a windy Sunday morning breathing into their groins. Afterwards, we carry our zen up to the cafe and right into our cortados and nutella-covered crepes. We talk about how great we feel, how wonderful, energised and alive. SO energised in fact, we probably won’t need another yoga session for another twelve months.

Brother decides he wants to really broaden his palette, opening his tastebuds to new gastronomical experiences, all while being healthier and more nutritious. It is decided that the cocktail, Sex on the Beach, is the best way to achieve this, given the amount of fruit juice it contains as well as its exotic connotations. This ‘trying something new’ went surprisingly well for him, actually, and he refused to drink anything else for the rest of the holiday. In fact, as he downed his second jug of it in what must be some form of record time, the argument could be made – indeed, was made by an increasingly disturbed mother – that it went too well.

Humiliation, self-congratulation and the replacement of unhealthy habits with equally destructive ones – is this not the hamster wheel of New Year’s Resolutions made, maintained, and instantly negated?

When all else fails, berate your siblings

The best way to abdicate responsibility from your failure to live up to the hype of this ‘better self’ malarkey is to of course chastise and criticise the habits of every other family member. As a family, we are Olympians at this most subtle of sports. Middle sister won’t eat anything that’s not related to goujons and chips. Chicken that is not breaded and fried need not apply. Potatoes by any other name or form are not welcome in the hallowed tracts of her digestive system. Brother gives out to her, telling her she needs to broaden her horizons or she’ll never survive living abroad (he’s been out foreign and indulging in the notions). Brother is a great multitasker. He manages to engage in this motivational rebuke all while poking at the “medium” steak he is insisting is “too rare” that he ordered with no sauce, no vegetables, and no “bits”. But chips please.

Pool side, the battle continues. Little sister doesn’t like reading too much so we, in true overbearing sisterly solidarity, try to beleaguer her into reading our favourite volumes. Meanwhile, we are simultaneously scrolling through our Instagram and avoiding our own books as they slide ever closer to the pool edge.

Tomorrow’s a new day

Us modern day Von Trapps are nothing if not consistent. Eternal optimists, we are always able to look towards the horizon of tomorrow and forget the woes, mistakes, or blunders of the present. And so, at the end of each day, wracked with the ever-growing list of things we meant to do and didn’t, were supposed to try but wouldn’t, had hoped to achieve but couldn’t, we revel in ambitious plans for the next day over beer and freely poured wine.

I believe, should family’s still have mottos, ours would be forever consolidated in two succinct phrases that sum up the beauty of our combined intentions and the fallacy of our continual reality.

These phrases would be something along the lines of, and in no particular order: “we’ll get up early in the morning”; “make the most of the day”.

Every morning our goodnight routine involves a pinky promise from all family members that we will get up early the next morning and we will ‘make the most of the day’. I won’t tell you the amount of time dedicated each evening to deciding a communal time for waking up. Let’s just say, it rivals the annual discussion (read: argument) over what time we’re rising to see if Santa has come. Yes, we are adult children and no, I don’t know why this is still a necessary conversation.

In conclusion

It is noon before the majority of family members surface. It is 2pm before we contemplate a plan for the day. We leave Lanzarote with no Spanish learnt, hardly any of the local seafood cuisine sampled, and thousands of pages unread but Jesus, the tans’ are only gorgeous.

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