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…