Before you ask, I should add that the travel editor does not only travel. He is genuinely taking a real holiday. The difference is an important one. For example he never normally writes this column sitting in a wet bathing costume. When travelling he does not normally hear the watery noises of diving contests five metres from where he is sitting, nor can he see geraniums and bougainvillaea blossoming against sun-white walls. He would not normally anticipate playing a game of tennis and jumping into a pool within minutes - indeed, seconds - of having finished this job.
So accustomed is he, in fact, to the French concept of travel as work - travailler - that he is finding it difficult to remind himself of the true nature of holiday. Personally, he has booked himself a little package by the Mediterranean (that's the closest you'll get to a clue as to his whereabouts by the way). And this kind of holiday is something he has secretly yearned to do for years but always foregone, in favour of workman- like journeys along the Silk Road to China or into the deserts of Arabia.
But all the same, he is still not entirely clear as to the true nature of Mediterranean holidays. From where he sits he can see men in briefs and women in bikinis determinedly soaking up the sun. Their brown backs, wet and sticky with oil and sweat, seem on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Surely this is some kind of work?
Then there is the difficulty posed by the Mediterranean in summer. It is horribly hot. It is arid. Tacitus might have whinged about Britain having "a disagreeable climate, with frequent mists and rains", but most people with any sense in summertime have pined for the balmy, beneficent climate of northern Europe. Ask any desert nomad.
Why then are northern Europeans reversing the tide of history, by moving south into the sun at the height of summer? Why is the travel editor joining them? No doubt his deeply felt insecurity in the face of Mediterranean food and style is at work. Britain's attitude to the Mediterranean matches America's attitude towards us - history has given them something that we haven't got. But what exactly? The rich smells of thyme and bitter weeds? The goats, the dry grass, the yellow fields, the silver-gray olive trees, the chattering crickets, the quivering blue skies? The juicy peaches next to-which British supermarket owners should commit ritual suicide? The crumbling grey marble of antiquity? Presumably, yes. Never under-estimate the historic hang-ups of people brought up in an anonymous sea like the Atlantic.
Perhaps this is why the activities of a holidaymaker in the Mediterranean can read like a role-call of tasks. Reaching the breakfast buffet before the melon runs out; securing a sun-chair before the Germans; swimming a decent number of lengths before lunch. Phew. Then there is the monumental number of relics which the Mediterranean secretes around its shores, ensuring that nobody gets home unscathed by history.
The classic tourist sites of this fantastic sea could not have been designed better by Disney. Here is the old Roman port, filled with expensive yachts. Around the port are the inevitable restaurants with menus chalked up in English. Just round the corner, overlooking the waters of the harbour, is the Historic Site: a few upended columns and unidentified bits of masonry placed with studied casualness in the shade of mimosa trees. scrawny cats patrol the walls. And lo, tables and chairs announce the presence of the Historic Cafe.
From the Straits of Gibraltar, to the Bosphorus, to the Suez Canal, such a perfect combination of facilities is providing work for holidaymakers even as these words are being written. The travel editor, though, bears no responsibility for this. He is on holiday.Reuse content