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David Bouchier: On The Beach

StockSnap from Pixabay

It is the symbolic start of summer, and thousands of people will be heading to the beaches this week, restrictions or no restrictions. There's something magnetic about the seashore. Seventy-five percent of Americans choose to live within fifty miles of the coast. We are especially lucky on Long Island because the whole place is basically nothing but a beach, a narrow finger of sand, getting narrower every year. So we are never far from the sea just as we are never far from a pizza place. We scarcely ever see the sea, because so much of the shoreline is private property. But it's nice to know that the sea is there for those who can afford it, and that the occasional public beach provides some access to it.

I never enjoyed the beach when I was a kid. I vividly remember our family vacations by the sea, including the peculiarly nasty texture of wet sand, and our picnics in the car or the bus shelter with the rain sheeting down outside. When we did manage to picnic on the beach the food was heavily seasoned with sand and wasps. My sand castles were washed away by the tide or stomped by older children. I remember being tormented by sinister eels hiding under rocks, stinging jellyfish, freezing waves, sharp stones, clinging, foul-smelling seaweed, folding beach chairs that folded by themselves and trapped your fingers, and boredom. We might have got sunburned in the blaze of the noonday sun, but there was never any sun at noon. When I think about having a good time, a beach is not the first place that comes to mind. But those were the beaches of southern England – the English Riviera as they like to call it, demonstrating the famous British sense of humor.

But age has brought wisdom. Beaches aren’t about kids. They are an outdoor dating and mating service for teenagers and ex-teenagers to show off their young and beautiful bodies, and to admire the aesthetic qualities of other young and beautiful bodies, and get closer to them than six feet if possible. Children are the result rather than the cause of all this fun in the sun.

City dwellers have been escaping to the beach since the overheated citizens of ancient Rome discovered Ostia more than two thousand years ago, and modern Italians rushed back to their beaches the moment they were released from quarantine last month, they couldn’t wait. For the rest of the summer I’m sure, our beaches will be packed with people sunbathing in groups, as though they had never heard of COVID-19, or dermatology.

The beach is a great place for doing nothing. It’s a big beautiful sandbox where you can take your shoes off, maybe take everything off, and play. But really it’s not about the sand, it’s about the sea, the sight and sound and clarity of the ocean. When you look away from the land you are on the edge of something quite different, all your troubles are literally behind you. The sea can lead to anything and everything. If I sailed out from Long Island I could get to Tahiti eventually, and become another Gauguin; or maybe to the Greek Islands, and become another Henry Miller, or anywhere, to become anything. From the edge of the sea you can imagine the whole world. A woman I heard being interviewed on the beach said what a lot of people obviously feel: “This is freedom.” What better place, then, to celebrate Independence Day?

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.
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