For some reason, my family and friends seem to believe that my health would greatly benefit from sea air. This translates in endless cajoling/pushing to go to the sea, followed by berating because I didn’t go, and then we start again.
And mostly I don’t go, because… well. You see, in theory, I love the sea.
I love to read nautical fiction, love seaside towns and cities, love the sight of a tall ship, love sea storms, love the scent of salt in the wind, love nautical museums, love the notion of writing weeks by the sea…
In fact, I get seasick with ludicrous ease, hate beach-life, and my actual experiences with the sea proved to be rather disappointing. I suppose it doesn’t help that most of them took place on the Italian side of the Adriatic Sea – as flat and dull a coast as can be…
We used to spend two or three weeks there every summer during my childhood. Endless times that I mostly spent cringing away from the noisy crowd, reading in the shade, and making up tales of underwater archeologists. And this, I suppose, is part of the trouble: from a young age, I went to the seaside with expectations formed from reading too many sea adventures: how could a crowded beach on the flat, dull, gray Adriatic compare?
Still, I went on loving the notion of the sea, hazily sure that any sea other than the wretched Adriatic would match my book-fed imaginings. Except that, of course, none did. The Tyrrhenian, on the other side of Italy, has better colours, but is dreadfully cold, and its beaches are just beaches again, just smaller. And my few experiences of the Atlantic Ocean are of a flat, grey, dull, very cold thing.
And I know there are many other places I could try, places where the sea is lovely and warm, and there are no crowded beaches – but I don’t go. And it’s very, very possible that I don’t go to keep these other places in what Conrad calls a hazy splendour. If I don’t go there, I can still imagine that I like the sea in more than theory and ink, right?
I’ll say it again: I blame this squarely on books. On the one hand, the adventures, on the other Conrad and his sea-disappointed characters. And in the middle… oh, in the middle lies John Masefield, he of the Salt-Water Ballads, who had a very short (and rather traumatic) sea career as a teenager, then literally jumped ship, never went to sea again, and kept writing about it, and yearning from ashore.
Well, all of that and seasickness, of course.*
None of which is enough to appease my well-wishers, and for some reason staying in seaside cities – which I love – doesn’t strike them as a reasonable alternative. Isn’t the air in, say, Genoa or La Valletta or Lisbon, sea air by definition? But no, they say it’s not the same. They want me on beaches. They want me by the real sea.
Seas of ink, it seems, are not good enough for one’s health. Isn’t it a pity?
* I have this friend who keeps trying to take me sailing – fortnight-long affairs in all kinds of weather – because she is sure I’d love it. No matter how I assure her that I’d soon die, and spoil the cruise for everyone – not to mention myself… “Nonsense,” is the invariable answer. “I’d give you a shot twice a day.” And she’s a doctor, so she’s supposed to know – but somehow this doesn’t make it terribly inviting…
Davide Mana said:
My father was a sea-lover. He actually ran away from home as a kid to join the Navy… very C.S. Forester, isn’t it?
His idea of vacation was beach life and long swims, and he was deeply ashamed of having a son that not only spent his time reading and looking for seashells instead of sunbathing, but that actually could not swim.
And yet here I am, flirting with Oceanography and with a degree about ancient sea ecology. I love the sea but not being inside of it.
And I don’t share your opinion of Atlantic beaches, and strongly suggest the Scottish beaches in the Scourie area.
And as I am here giving away suggestions for free, if you liked Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us”, check out her “The Edge of the Sea”. It might reconcile you with Atlantic shores and beach walks.
And please avoid the Adriatic coast from April to October.
(and all this gave me a great idea for a post or three… thank you!)
la Clarina said:
Your dad ran away to join the Navy? How very novel-like! Conrad did the same, back when he was still Konradek Korzseniovskij – and was caught and brought home, and then pined away until he was granted his wish, and grew very much disillusioned… So perhaps your dad got to keep his romantic notions about a life at sea.
Too bad it ended in beach-torment for you, though.
And the Scottish coast – all of it, and its islands – is one of those sea places I’m wary of – lest they prove another disappointment. Stevenson’s The Merry Men, you know…
And I’m off to read your post!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Somewhere, beyond the sea… | Karavansara
Victoria Blake said:
Oh the cold! Both my parents were brought up in Norfolk and we spent the summers there and that’s where I learned to swim or I should say rush in, jump about and then run screaming out again. I like walking by it but I can’t lie in the sun – it makes me feel ill so it’s all a disaster really. Some of my early images of the sea were set by Alistair Maclean novels much more downmarket than Conrad. Maclean had, I think, been involved in the Arctic convoys to Russia during the Second World War and in his book HMS Ulysses he gives a vivid description of how horrendous it was.
la Clarina said:
Oh yes, Maclean! I think I’ve read HMS Ulysses, too – and something else… Perhaps Ice Station Zebra? I can’t say I found his portrayal of life at sea terribly encouraging.
As for the cold… brrr! The one really good thing about the Adriatic (beside perhaps being within easy reach) is that it’s reasonably warm – so I actually did enjoy swimming. Flat, grey, dull… and lukewarm.
LikeLiked by 1 person