I love Bank Holiday Mondays. Even though I now work from home, so weekends and Bank Holidays are of little consequence to my timetable, I nevertheless get out of bed with a sense of anticipation, of mild excitement, at the thought that it’s officially a non-working day. I feel very virtuous when I sit at my desk on Bank Holiday Monday, and only moderately guilty when I decide to take the day off.
Bank Holiday Mondays. Here in Britain, these three days are tacked on to the weekend. Why risk a holiday in the middle of the week, when people might also take the days in between off? Still, a long weekend is eminently practical for all concerned, I admit. Bank Holiday. I wish there were names for these days, rather than something decreed by the closure of cold and now not very popular institutions such as banks. It’s always made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable. A day when banks don’t trade, when there is no financial speculation, instead of a day to celebrate something or someone – be it a saint, the First of May, or the anniversary of independence. I wonder if any other European country has nondescript, apparently random days off. When I first arrived in the UK, I asked where these Bank Holiday Mondays had originated. Were they former saints days? Pagan festivals? Historical anniversaries? No, people replied. They’re just Bank Holidays. It seems that in this country we’ve been ruled by banks for some time now… I can’t help but wonder if this is why Britain has among the lowest number of holidays in Europe. Economy in all things! Waste not, want not. A penny saved is a penny earned, etc.
My favourite Bank Holiday Monday is the August one. I can’t really say why. Perhaps because it’s the last Bank-sanctioned day off before Christmas Day, nearly four months later. In Catholic European countries, there’s at least All Saints Day in the middle. But we, with our staunch Protestant work ethic, work valiantly till Christmas.
Perhaps, also because, having been brought up in Catholic countries (although I am not myself a Catholic), where 15th August, Assumption Day, is a major religious holiday, I feel cheated unless I have at least one day off in August, albeit at the very end of the month.
People change, I guess. When I was young, living in Italy, I would dread the approach of August. The month when, just because of that one Assumption Day, the country seemed to sink into officially-sanctioned torpor for a whole month – and still does. Ferragosto. Why do you stand in the crushing heat, waiting for a bus for forty-five minutes? Because it’s Ferragosto. Why are so many shops closed? Because it’s Ferragosto. Why are all your friends away, either at the sea or in the mountains, leaving you to be bored to tears in a ghost city? Ferragosto. My family could not afford holidays, so as a teenager, I hated the month of August with a purple passion. The intense heat, the lack of social life and entertainment, the nationally-approved inefficiency of the City of Rome. I couldn’t wait for the traditional, violent thunderstorms in the second half of the month, that heralded the end of this unbearable inertia.
In a way, something similar happens in the UK, when the end of November signals the start of general laziness, inefficiency and incompetence because it’s Christmas.
Now, nearly thirty years later, I find myself longing for Ferragosto in Rome. As a freelancer who, noblesse oblige, never turns down work, I yearn for a government-approved month of quiet, of sleep, of doing absolutely nothing. A whole month of lounging about, reading, writing, dozing in the sun. I remember with unexpected fondness the streets outside the tourist-infested city centre almost totally deserted, the blocks of flats with the blinds of almost every window shut tight, the bliss of not hearing the neighbours’ TV because they’re away. I long to have a lengthy afternoon nap, with the blinds half down, listening to the maracas of a dozen cicadas rhythmically lulling me to sleep. I have fond memories of lying on a reclining sun lounger on the balcony, until past midnight, staring up into the black, starry sky until I was no longer sure if I was falling into the stars or the stars falling on me. And counting shooting stars. Blink and you’ll miss it.
I miss being in a climate hot enough to eat watermelon. Bright red, sweet as sugar, with large, black seeds I can then crunch – not the pathetic rubbery white ones of under-ripe fruit.
Above all – and especially in view of these three months of grey, wet, chilly transition between last spring and next autumn in Norwich, that you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call summer – I long for bright light in my eyes, and hot sun on my skin.
The conkers will be ripe soon – the leaves of the chestnuts are already preparing for winter. The best weather in Britain is an Indian summer in September. Please let it happen this year. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness- those were the days.
For the first time in my adult life I am not looking forward to my favourite season: autumn. There’s too much chill deep in my bones. I long for sunshine, for warmth, for yellow, for sunflowers, for dryness.
I grew up near the Alps – as a family we used weekends to travel across the mountains to Italy. I, too, long for bright light in my eyes, and hot sun on my skin. I relate to your fond memories, so wonderfully evoked – even the love affair with the stars 🙂
One compensation these long weekends in the UK bring is the palpable calm in the air due to the slowing down of the rat race. Masses of people sleep longer, enjoy relaxed meals and have time to reflect with, potentially, a whole (holy) day to themselves.
I’ve never been to the Alps. I’ve translated a book set in South Tyrol, ‘Eva Sleeps’ by Francesca Melandri. The recent Strega Prize winner is also a novel that takes place there. The Alps seem to be very fashionable in literature. I’d love to go, someday. Thank you for my understanding my craving for bright sunlight. It’s so deep it’s visceral.
We explored the fertile side valleys with orchards and vineyards in Tyrol. The beautiful Rosengarten peaks 🙂 Merano, Bolzano – all the way down to Lake Garda and onwards.
Must look up ‘Eva Sleeps.’
Perhaps the days’ name should be changed in “Capitalism Recovery Day”. It would introduce the element of salvation! Luxembourg’s government is setting up a department looking into the well-bring of employees and public servants to counter the increasing number of burn-out cases as well as any form of harrassment at work.
Yes, burn-out is a genuine problem that is not sufficiently acknowledged (been there, done that, got the T-shirt). I only once had a boss to whom I could just honestly say, “I’m sorry, I’m building up tiredness. When can I have a day of, this week?” and she would be totally understanding. She preferred giving me one or two days off every so often, rather than risk my getting ill and then taking a week or two off. She knew that when I had a day off I’d come back refreshed and more efficient. Thank you for commenting.
Picturesque and talented writing, as always, of course. I’m envious of bank holidays in a funny way, because the U.S. is sort of the center of the off-center, made-up, silly holiday (it might be National Doughnut Day, blink and you’ll miss it). I understand your passion for the heat of August in Rome. I have a similar attachment to summer, early morning noises in European cities, where if one is alert early enough, one awakens to the heat and clinking bells (around 4-5 a.m.) of the oxen pulling a milk wagon. Or at least, that’s the way it once was, down in Madrid, to a much younger and more romantic me. Now, I get to hear the garbage truck making its early morning rounds, and it’s more like 7 or 7:30 a.m., to a sleepier me. Ah, well, it gladdens my heart to read your post, anyway, and remember things I can’t resuscitate, now that I’m getting older.
Oxen pulling a milk wagon in Madrid? You’re joking! How long ago was that? How amazing! I once read an article which explored a theory the rise of depression in Europe was closely linked to the growth of Protestantism. Perhaps Catholics are right to provide so many feast days with crowd celebrations. They seem to know that people need a break. Thank you for kind, encouraging comments, as ever!
Though it dates me sadly, I have to confess it was back in 1974 and I was all of 17 years old, on with a teenaged tour group to Europe. It was one of the better ones, I think, and anyway, I played hooky a lot from the group and went my own ways. The nights I speak of, we were in a room at the back of the hotel, which rooms opened on a side street, so the oxen might not have been so difficult for them to manoeuver. Actually, the bells around their necks “clanked” rather than “clinked,” because they weren’t the little delicate ones goats, sheep, and donkeys wear, but big, cumbersome things that made a lot of noise, even if it was a pleasant noise. And of course, we got to be at the end of the process as well, because when we went to breakfast those mornings, the first thing that happened is that two waiters circled our tables, one behind the other, the first with a steaming jug of milk half the size of a man, which he poured milk from into our cups without spilling a drop or burning himself or anyone else, and the same ditto with a waiter following him who had a steaming hot jug of coffee. No wonder i’m spoiled for anything else! But you know, that was a really economical trip, all things considered. I had to make and take my own extra spending money, of course, but my mom only had to pay $1000 for a little more than a month of planes, trains, buses, hotels, two meals a day (breakfast and dinner) and various entertainments we went to, like flamenco dances and light shows at Les Invalides, and stuff like that. Come to think of it, I simply don’t know how the company survived on that. It was set up through our church and Reader’s Digest Magazine (a distinctly middle-brow American monthly digest), but things were possible then that just aren’t possible now. I was very, very lucky not only to have a mother who considered Continental travel “broadening,” but that we managed to find something safe that we could afford. Anyway, that’s part of the “skinny” on my trip. There are lots of other details, but I’ve already taken up enough of your space and time, and I hope I haven’t bored you totally.
“Bored”?! This is brilliant. You really should write about it more at length. Do. Honestly.