The time has come to shrug off the heavy jumpers of winter, dust off the passport and start planning a summer holiday. For many people, it's the only time of year they go away and they try to make it count. Regardless of the time of year though, that one fortnight holiday always strives to get as close as it can to the ideal; that's the whole point. To get as close as possible to paradise.
The problem is, paradise isn't a place, it's not on a map, Google can't find it and neither can hotels who promise it. White sand beaches, palm trees and clear water fill the covers of holiday leaflets and the backgrounds of travel websites but was are they except a colour of sand, a species of tree and seawater with little sediment in it? Why is this paradise?
Perhaps paradise is a comforting concept just by its existence as an idea. Life is bearable because out there, somewhere, it's better. Many people will never visit the typical places of paradise; the Caribbean, the Seychelles, the Maldives, any Pacific island chain....Bali, but they know they're there - they know they could. Tori Amos, in her song Me and a Gun about time she was raped, sings that she hadn't seen Barbados, so she must survive the ordeal. An extreme example, but still, is paradise, then, the concept of possibility?
Possibility is the ultimate seductive idea. We can remain content and happy for years just off the possibility of things. One day I'll do that, one day I'll learn this. So many people put off goals until New Year because that is the ultimate time for the fantasy of possibility. I know so many people who say they'll do this and that, go here and here and here and never do it - they don't need to, the possibility of such things sustains them.
Paradise is comforting because you know you'll go there one day. Be it on your honeymoon, a sabbatical, a holiday or in your retirement; one day, you'll be on that beach with a mojito. And then what? You'll lie on the beach until you realise how unpleasant heat stroke is, you get restless after you've finished a second novel because you need other stimulation, you're saddened by the poverty that frequently comes with such climate and you get an ear infection from swimming in warm seawater.
The problem with holiday brochure paradise is that holiday brochures are written by advertising professionals and designed by Photoshop. There are white sand beaches with palms and 'crystal clear water' - of course, but that's not all you need.
You can be lonely in paradise, you can get ill in paradise, you can get bored of beaches and you can be disappointed. Because, at the end of the day, these holiday paradises are just places. They're just beaches with 30 degree air and 28 degree water. But if human happiness was based on proximity to hot sand and warm sea, this world would be a very different place. Paradise then, must be at the culmination of the things required for happiness. People, perception and place.
If you're on a beach in Martinique but crushed by loneliness and a compulsion to spend all your time online chatting to your friends, you're hardly in paradise. If you're in a infinity pool in the most serene Balinese hotel but you're miserable because you just got fired and dumped on the same day, you're hardly in paradise.
'I'm in paradise,' is far more likely to be uttered to friends in a bar after the first sip of wine on a Friday evening. Think of the best times you've had in you're life and I'll show you your closest friends, your most relaxed attitude and not necessarily your ideal holiday destination. Tropical hotels love the palm tree paradise ideal because they can use it to convince you you'll be happy there as a result of it - but it's not the case, and that should be reassuring.
You don't have to wait for your fortnight holiday each year to desperately try to attain paradise only to be disappointed by exchange rates, lost belongings, sunburn, casual bribes and arguments with your partner. Paradise doesn't require a long haul flight. It's so much simpler than that. It's you, some people you love, a comfortable chair and a good view. A mojito doesn't hurt either.