Novelist and critic Nilanjana Roy has a nice essay about vacations and REST in the Financial Times. Normally I quote the parts that say really complimentary things about the book, but this piece is so different and colorful that I’m throwing aside my usual habit:
Behind our cottage, high up on the crest of the hill, a leopard saws into the night. It’s New Year’s Day. I listen to the big cat for a while, alert but deeply content. When I go back to sleep, my dreams are filled with forests, trails and all the large and small creatures that belong to the jungle.
We come back home not just refreshed but rebooted by our short holiday in Gwehri, above an Indian national park. My mind feels on fire; all of last year’s tiredness is blown away like clouds driven by the high mountain winds….
Could the art of rest be as important as the art of productivity?… [F]rom reading biographies of writers, architects, artists and others, I know that a lot of the truly great professionals seemed to plan leisure and creativity-boosting breaks. They viewed time off with the same seriousness and thought that they brought to their work, whether it was Georgia O’Keeffe, travelling in her later years, or Le Corbusier’s compact, kitchenless cabin in Roquebrune, where he spent time while working on some of his most important projects.
I should write something on these kinds of retreats: Wittgenstein spent several years in a little shack by a fjord, and plenty of other people have done great work on writers’ retreats and in similar spaces.
Driving back through the forests of Uttarakhand, stopping to let two elephants, a mother and her calf, have right of way, I’m thinking about the restaurateur Ferran Adrià’s practice of closing El Bulli down from mid-December to mid-June, so that he and his staff could work on the ideas that drove his food. He followed this innovation by taking a two-year sabbatical that stretched to three years. When he came back, he didn’t restart the restaurant; instead, he opened the El Bulli Foundation, a kitchen of ideas instead of food, which is still developing and taking form.
As well as taking time off, Adrià took on a bigger risk than most people might be willing to. The long goodbye from work is exhilarating but ushers in change, too. It might be that rest, more than work, is the ultimate source of big transformations, life-changing disruptions. The chatty leopard is, of course, optional.
I confess I’ll probably never get to Gwehri or any Indian national park, but I love the idea of the book going places without me. When I was an academic I was usually writing for an audience of about twelve people, or for a tribe whose members I could identify instantly; the great virtue of Rest, in contrast, is that people can make it their own, and (I hope) take it places I would never think to go.