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Sun holidays are these vacations that Irish people take to escape the damp gloom of winter. Which until recently seemed odd to this San Diegan native; after growing up in drought country, I love rain. That said, it's nice to break my increasingly unhealthy attachment to the space heater for a week.

Lanzarote ("the island of eternal spring"), where we are staying, is a favourite destination for Irish holidaymakers. It is in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the Moroccan coast, about a four-hour flight from Belfast. As far as I can tell, its dominant industry is facilitating the leisure of Europeans. Jose Saramago, one of my favourite authors, lived the last years of his life here.

From the airport the husband and I were bundled into a shuttle and driven through strange terrain: dark ochre hills surrounded by villages of white flat-roofed buildings bordered by gardens of cacti and black lava rock. Aside from the green doors and trimmings on the houses, there isn't much greenery so far.

As we arrive in Playa Blanca, it looks from the shuttle like it's just hotels and housing estates, woven together into the quare resemblance of a town by pedestrian-free roads. Situated on the Marina, our hotel is a byzantine complex of whitewashed rustic buildings, tiled courtyards, many pools and Canarian palm trees. You can see the roof of the main building from miles away, coated in volcanic rock and lit at night to look as if lava is running down the side.

Our balcony comes with its own calico cat, which licks its butthole on the ledge in the mornings. For hours I read and take notes here while the cat looks on, observing dragonflies on the wing and sunbathers like beached whales around the pools and, beyond the bristling masts of the Marina, white-sailed boats racing against the backdrop of the Isle de Lobos and the northern coast of Fuertaventura; I am answerable only to my whims and needs. The occasional fly lands on my knee or big toe, to test if I'm a corpse, I sit so still for so long. So time, like space, assumes an unreal character. Languid and light-filled until it is abruptly dark, speckled with stars and artificial lights.

J. G. Ballard wrote a great story set here called "Having A Wonderful Time", published in Myths of a Near Future, which intoduced me to the phenomenon of the sun holiday. Of course he takes a dystopian spin: holidaymakers from the UK discover their middle-class jobs back home have been made obsolete and themselves exiled from Britain, prisoners in their resorts, the whole island now a penal colony, consigned to live out their days in restive leisure, communicating with distant loved ones via postcards. *snort* Only fantastic, I fancy, by a hair's breadth.


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