Proust on holiday: Jacques Tati meets Johnny Vegas.
Proust might not be the first name that springs to mind when choosing holiday reading material, but by happy chance I took my half-read copy of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower with me to Lanzarote at New Year. As it turned out, it was the perfect choice. I’d just reached the part in the novel where the young Marcel goes on holiday to Balbec with his grandmother, so I was in the perfect setting to read about Marcel’s holiday rituals and activities, as well as seeing them reflected by other holiday-makers around me. It made me realise that there’s something universal about such holiday experiences. The promenade of Proust’s day may have expanded to include the beach, the poolside and the bar, and there’re a darn sight more flipflops and tropical prints than in Proust’s day, but the holiday constitutional stroll is still the same, providing an opportunity to people-watch and to be seen, revelling in our paradisiacal content.
There was a moment when Marcel’s grandmother causes chaos in the hotel that made me laugh out loud.
she surreptitiously opened one of the windows, which had the effect of blowing away the menus, newspapers, veils and caps of the other people having lunch, while she herself, invigorated by the bracing breath from heaven, was as unruffled and full of smiles as Saint Blandine, braving the abuse which increased my feelings of aloneness and dejection and united the other guests against us in contempt, outrage and dishevelment.
This, and the blunderings of Marcel put me in mind of the wonderful 1953 film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot by comedy genius, Jacques Tati. Cabourg, the seaside town upon which Balbec was based might be miles away in time and distance from St. Marc sur Mer, the location of Tati’s gentle but keenly observed satire, but there were elements of the social interactions, the faux pas, and the social awkwardness of the young Marcel that kept making me visualise Monsieur Hulot and totally cracked me up.
Since coming home, I’ve finally discovered the comedy series Benidorm written by Derren Litten (better late than never), and I’ve even found elements that echo the young Marcel’s floundering in that. His bumbling attempts to create nonchalent ‘chance’ encounters with Albertine and her friends, is exactly the kind of thing that the character Geoff Maltby played by Johnny Vegas would do. 32 year old Geoff, or ‘The Oracle’, as he likes to be called due to his extensive knowledge of trivia, always goes on holiday with his mother. While he is currently holidaying and being nursed by his grandmother, it’s not to much of a stretch to foresee a future in which Marcel would end up doing the same!
*If you haven’t seen Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a perfect gem of a film from start to finish. I particularly love the scene with the boat – it’s hilarious. Here’s the trailer as a taster.