by Jessica Sequeira
What could be more relaxing than to take a holiday? From the start I knew that the word was a bit of a lie, since it wasn’t really a vacation (what is usually meant by the word holiday): my job had sent me across the world to a country that I didn’t know, not even the capital, but a city farther south, in the forest. But if holiday, for many people, means going somewhere that they do not know, in order to see new sights and experience new emotions, paying good money for the sort of isolation that I am being paid in order to visit as an architect, then why not call this a holiday? I even invited my wife, which is something that I would do were it a genuine holiday, by which I mean, one that had been designated as such by my boss, rather than created by myself, as a clearing in the thicket of dense working life. My wife was enthusiastic because although the seaside has always been a hallowed place for her family, which lives by the coast and delights in the lore of all things marine, for them the representation of the Real and the Beautiful capable of illuminating the essential structures of life (in their view: family and nation), despite this the forest was completely unknown to her. My family liked the sea too, but for this very reason, my feelings towards it were precisely the opposite. My father had belonged to a naval club, a club for admirals, which had not only a special restaurant with special menus, and a special museum inside, but also several nooks and crannies where secret historical events had taken place. These two words, special and secret, were repeated whenever my father talked about the naval club, and by extension all things marine, which created in me an extreme repugnance whenever I heard them. I was made to understand that the naval club had nothing to do with the country clubs or university clubs or gymkhanas but was its own special and secret entity, a way of life. Perhaps because of this, I have tried to turn my whole existence towards precisely the opposite, making things less special, less secret, more accessible and open. To build a hotel that allows people from all over the world to experience the culture of a place, for instance: to do away with what is secret (I cannot stand the language of touristic brochures that promise exclusive getaways, virginal landscapes, untapped resources, privileged experiences), to abolish family connections and special codewords, to simply open the doors to anyone who can pay. Accessible and open is the mantra I repeat, reminding myself of those first years as an architect repelled by colleagues who went into the private sector, only building houses and clubs for Oxbridge graduates. I would not do this, but instead build for anyone who could show himself capable of succeeding in society. Accessible and open: though sometimes when my boss pronounces the same words, they can come to sound perverse. A similar perversion is at the heart of the phrase justice, dignity and peace, which now repeats over and over on the radio in our cabin: the cabin we rented in the forest, from which I will be working on my architectural plans while taking these two weeks as a vacation. Justice, dignity and peace, says a politician, referring to their precise opposite, an act of extreme violence. Nobody speaks certain words except in the context of their absence (because of course justice, dignity and peace are not real values, but simply an absence of problems, just as a holiday is traditionally defined as an absence of work). A few miles south of our cabin Mapuches and Chilean police officers are battling over the land, an ancestral resentment that will not be solved this holiday season or the holiday season next. A police officer deliberately aimed his weapon at the driver of a tractor, and fired: the man was supposedly a terrorist, though this word was used with reference to its exact opposite, a non-terrorist who represented values and a way of life that posed a perceived threat. On the radio in the cabin this is all they can talk about, justice, dignity and peace, by which they really mean injustice, debasement and violence. After I heard this event on the radio last night I dreamt of a woman and a man in a cabin making love with frenzy, a Mapuche man and a female police officer, breaking all of the ancestral codes, rupturing all of the stereotypes carnally, brutally, with savage lust. But this did not really happen, and even if it had happened, it would be just one moment in time, as long as the time it took for the police officer with Mapuche features to track down, aim at, and annihilate the terrorist (or non-terrorist) who perhaps had a German great-grandmother, driving the tractor during his holiday (or non-holiday). My wife is resentful, she sees me working and says she was promised a holiday, but that this does not qualify. She says that she knows what real holidays are like: real holidays do not even require travel, she says. When I was at university, and even before that, when I was fifteen years old, I would lay out on the grass at the park with my friends, with a bottle of whiskey in a paper bag and plastic cups. At first we would start by talking about secular public education and the way certain combinations of astrological signs can strengthen the potential in individual lives, then eventually someone would roll over and start laughing and our chat would fly away to who knows where, fluttering up to settle on the nearest branch, so green in those days that the city still had still trees, and it was not necessary to cross the world in search of distant forests. At some point a vagabond would come up, his silver pack carefully rolled, to ask for a cigarette or money to replace his stolen tent (there was always a request for money to buy a tent, which in reality usually meant its reverse, money for wine). If he were a visitor from one of the neighbouring European countries, he would usually come and go without a fuss, in a purely transactional exchange. But other times, a local would come along who insisted on participating, believing that he was part of the group, cackling, adding comments, refusing to leave. Then we would have to get up and relocate elsewhere, annoying at first but always for the best, since the night was fresh and cool but not cold, and the sea was somewhere nearby, and it was nice to get to know other sections of the park, other trees, other vagabonds. Then it felt like the Christmas season and Catholic educational system, which we had all been questioning a few hours before, had been dismantled without effort, in a sudden keeling over. Those had been real holidays, unlike this holiday, really a week of work with your boss exploiting you for a pittance in order to build a luxury hotel, a theme park for nouveau riche foreigners which will destroy the natural forest in this area, the forest you claim to love so much, as you listen to news of incredible injustice, debasement, and violence on the radio. If you prefer to use the word holiday, and the phrase justice, dignity and peace, that’s fine but it’s simply a way of turning everything inside-out, not to make good things seem worse than they really are (I have to admit, I love Christmas and have fond memories of Catholic school days), but the opposite, to make bad things seem less serious, less disastrous, less horrifying than they should be, until they almost seem holy. This is what she said, before she picked up the radio and flung it to the ground, where to celebrate its rest from the incessant work of jabber it sang a final static carol, crackling like a yule log before assuming, at last, a blissful silence.
About the Author:
Jessica Sequeira is a writer who lives in Chile.