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Corn: An August tradition of rest, rejuvenation

POSTED: June 18, 2010 1:00 a.m.

An old Italian definition of good fortune is to have lots of money and the time to spend it. Having one in abundance without the other is of little value. In this spirit of good living, middle class life throughout much of the civilized world includes setting aside the month of August for relaxation, travel and the pursuit of hobbies and pastimes.

In countries where commerce takes a back seat in August, early summer is filled with preparations for spending those precious weeks in the best manner and in anticipation of a detachment from the continual demands of employment and the numbing routine so often associated with it. After all, one who can be bored with free time must either lack passion altogether or have passion for pursuits in which he cannot participate. Either way, a serious reevaluation of priorities is in order. For anyone who is denied significant time to pursue his passions misses one of the greatest pleasures of life.

Throughout France, Italy and Spain for example, the vacation is not a nine-day frantic rush of air travel and hotel hopping, nor is it defined by a resort getaway, although it may include such an escape. In that part of the world the vacation means an extended period of at least three consecutive weeks, to be spent among one's closest friends or family.

This time is taken usually in localities of some aesthetic beauty, like the mountains, the countryside or the coastline. Other destinations are chosen for their particular attributes, whether for nightlife, fine art and architecture or culinary delights. Passing time in such places in the simple enjoyments of food, drink, fun and fellowship is essential for most vacationers.

A few more ambitious travelers choose to dedicate such time exclusively to a particular expedition. Many mountain climbers spend four weeks a year with like-minded friends to climb a different peak each summer.

Adventure travelers plan and pull off a different stunt each summer, whether hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela or crossing the Sahara on camelback. They choose to push the limits of their minds, bodies and resources for the reward of an enriching experience and the satisfaction that comes with the completion of any grand endeavor.

The point of this Western tradition of vacation in all its forms is the renewal of the spirit, whether it be through the thrill of contrived accomplishment or the satisfaction of complete rest. What is less obvious is the depth of experience, the enhancement of relationships and the improved mental health that comes with 30 years or more of such accumulated time dedicated to these ends.

The law in most Western countries protects this tradition by mandating four to six weeks of vacation time to all employees, though there is little need to protect the month of August. The habit of taking this time off is so ingrained that it renders work in that month rather silly in some countries, since nothing can be accomplished anyway. Everything shuts down, including government offices, large corporations, shops and businesses of all kinds.

In the United States, even talk of such leisure is often viewed with disdain or contempt. However anyone who has experienced an adult life that includes such breaks can attest to their regenerating force. One returns from a recharge often bursting with an eagerness to attack even the most mundane tasks with new vigor and determination.

All too often, our younger years include such breaks, but as we take on the assets necessary for a decent family life, time off becomes an unattainable luxury viewed with greater and greater nostalgia. It should not be forgotten that the rest of the world does not imitate our leathery grind through the work year, and they are likely the better for it, mentally if not materially.

I was very lucky to travel a great deal in my youth, and if one is fortunate enough to have the time, I would highly recommend an extended stay in Italy. The great cities of Bologna, Florence, Rome and most of all Naples merit a serious visit.

Just don't plan to travel there during August. It will be difficult to find restaurants, shops, and museums open during that time, for no one with any sense will be working.

Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and a Forsyth County resident. His column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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