• Stephanie Brown

46. Les vacances


In the middle of July, in France, cities begin to empty. First a trickle, then a stream; by the middle of August, all but the tourists have emptied the frigo, closed the shutters, and headed to the countryside. Working in August, especially if you do not work with or for tourists, is almost unheard of. (And if your work is with the tourist trade, then your vacances simply happen after the tourists have been bundled back onto their airplanes.) Americans, when they talk about vacation, talk about it with apologetic pride, or sometimes prideful apology: how long it's been since they've taken a proper vacation, or how unnecessary more than a day or two off at a time is, or how long they have planned this special trip.

Gustave Fraipont, Chemin de fer..., about 1895


Lucien Lefèvre, Chemins de fer..., 1894

Not so the French. Larousse (think Merriam-Webster and the OED rolled into one) defines les vacances as: "a legally mandated and scheduled period of a break from work for schools and universities" as well as for "salaried workers," during which many people travel. The example that Larousse provides, in case anyone is confused, is "to have five weeks of vacation." Not a long weekend or two. Five weeks, unplugged.


On this side of the ocean, malheureusement, we have so such legal mandates. And this summer is particularly hectic for me. The middle of July, and much of August, will see a trickle and then a rush of events and deadlines. Family, students, dogs: my attention is in demand.


Auguste Roubille, Au Touriste...about 1900

The Disappearing Gauguin will be observing the French vacances this summer. Imagine Paul and Schuff, Vincent and Theo, all the petits peintres, even the mysterious Louis Roy himself, setting down their pallets and boarding trains for Cannes or Mont Blanc, Vichy or Enghien. I'll summon them in a few weeks, and they'll be back with their pipes and their absinthe. They'll bring new characters: a Dutch matzoh heir, a music engraver from Philadelphia, a wily Breton innkeeper, everyone full of inside jokes and fresh gossip. And I’ll have time to listen and to tell you all the best parts.


Until then, bonnes vacances à tous et à toutes!

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