Can You Afford to Take that Vacation?
It is a warm summer’s afternoon here in the “Paris of the South.” Locals are slowly returning to the city after their yearly pilgrimages to the seaside.
Drifting back into the capital, they appear windswept and freshly scorched, testament to many hours spent tanning on beaches and by hotel pools, no doubt. They spill onto the footpath between cafés…gesticulate passionately when arguing over parking spaces…and talk at excited volumes about their vacations.
All in all, the homecoming porteños seem refreshed…rejuvenated…and ready to get back to work…
…after just one more cafecito…and maybe an unhurried lunch or two…and perhaps another glass of Malbec…
Life in Buenos Aires is not so hectic that one hasn’t time to enjoy another glass of Malbec. Especially when there’s work to do!
We chatted with one of the returning vacationers this morning. Sonia, a kindly woman who sells flowers in front of our building, had taken off the entire month of January to spend by the shore.
How could she afford it, we wondered? Her corner stall is modest…and her prices seem fair, at least to us. We had no idea the bulb business was so lucrative. And yet…
“We have a little place down in Mar del Plata for holidays,” Sonia explained to us. The classic resort town rests a few hours drive down the coast. “I’ve been going there every January since we moved here when I was a just little girl.”
Sonia was born in rural Bolivia and speaks a Spanish that is heavily accented to your editor’s ears. Your editor was born in Australia and speaks a Spanish that is heavily accented to anyone’s ears.
“We always take the whole family,” Sonia continued. “My husband and our children…my sisters and their children…my brothers and their children…my cousins and their children…”
Clearly a woman who pays attention to detail, Sonia was careful not to miss anyone…not that we would have known if she did. This role call went on for some time, before…
“…and finally, my mother. She’s 87 years old.”
“And are you all in the flower business?” we ventured, sensing we might be on the verge of unearthing (if you’ll pardon the pun) a local horticulture empire…
“No,” came the casual answer. “Mostly they are maids and cooks.”
Our beat in these pages is Independence. How to think…act…and eventually even live on your own terms.
Maybe that means a little business of your own that allows you to take extended vacations when and where you like. Perhaps it means a second home on a coastline somewhere. Or maybe it just means escaping the “rat race” so you can enjoy more time to do the things that really interest you.
These goals sound modest enough…but for one reason or another, they are seldom achieved.
Surely it’s more than a matter of mere gumption…or talent…or dumb luck. Is there something else standing in the way, something that prevents most people from living as they truly wish to?
Maybe the reason is hidden in our background…something hard wired into the way we think and act that stops us from being truly free. Maybe we’ve been led down the proverbial garden path, induced to believe things that just aren’t so.
Historian Yuval Harari calls them “imagined realities” and suggests (in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) that our abilities to both create and believe our own myths en masse might have given homo sapiens a crucial leg up in the evolutionary race for survival.
In other words, these shared myths might have helped us “out-network” neanderthalensis, erectus, florensiensis and other human competitors. Not brains. Not brawn. But a capacity for inventing and following fiction. Thanks to our superior organizational power (and a language rich enough to accommodate its attendant complexity) we stand in 2016 as the lone representatives of our species on this planet.
Pretty good deal, right? Get a bunch of people to believe in something so that it becomes their reality and the group’s ability to move in concert increases dramatically.
Alas, mobs don’t always exhibit the sharpest navigational acumen. Sometimes individuals come together as groups to achieve greatness…other times to march off a cliff, arm in arm, goose-stepping all the way.
We recall here what is sometimes known as the Gadarene Swine Fallacy: Just because a group is in formation, doesn’t mean they’re headed in the right direction.
In fact, history is strewn with tales of collective idiocy…usually underpinned by one corpus-congealing myth or another.
Moreover, as Harari points out, even if something proves to be beneficial for humankind, it may not—ipso facto—be good for the individual. (Which brings us directly to the subject of independence…)
By way of example, Harari cites what he calls “history’s biggest fraud.”
And so it was that, long before Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and Stalin’s “Agrarian Reforms”…thousands of years before Napoleon gazed east of the Neiman or Hitler dreamed of the Lebensraum (“living space”)…
…mankind was perpetrating a collectivist scam of epic—and catastrophic—proportions.
Today, we know it as the “Agricultural Revolution.”
But for simple foragers and humble hunter-gatherers, it was the end of the Good Ol’ Days. And of true and lasting independence.
National Lampoon’s Vacation Loan
Spending an entire month with every member of your extended family might not sound like a vacation to everyone…but we all need our time away.
Every year, my grandmother would take out a loan so her family could spend two weeks at the seaside—and then she had to spend the rest of the year paying that loan off. And when my parents started a family, they fell into the exact same trap.
These days, there really is no need to put yourself under that unnecessary financial pressure. Thanks to the internet we’re more connected than ever and for every $300 hotel room with a bed and one chair there’s a beach house down the road going for free.
Websites like trustedhousesitters.com, mindmyhouse.com, and housecarers.com will charge you a small fee to sign up ($20-$95) and introduce you to an enormous network of people in the market for trustworthy folks to look after their homes while they’re away. Sits vary from short- to long-term and, as long as you are respectful of other people’s property, the whole country (and beyond) is your oyster.—Ed