It is beach weather, so I’m told, and I have no reason to disbelieve it. I probably won’t be testing it though. I am not much more than an hour’s drive (during off-peak traffic) from the Jersey Shore, but I don’t visit it much. The last time was last October, and, as the reader may have guessed from the month, my destination wasn’t the beach; it was a block away from the beach at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park to see the Russian surf band (yes, really) Messer Chups. That was close enough.
|Earliest photo I can find of myself|
on a beach: Islamorada Florida
1954 with my father and sister
I don’t actually hate the beach. It’s not entirely out of the question that my feet will walk on beach sand in NJ or elsewhere before 2018 expires, but I’d give modest odds against it. This indifference comes not from a lack of past exposure. My family went to the beach with some regularity when I was a child, and back then I enjoyed the sand, sun, and waves in the way that kids usually do. Crowds didn’t bother me. Not even the painful sting of a Portuguese man o' war (Physalia physalis) at age 10 at Miami Beach deterred me from splashing in the ocean. I’ve swum in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, by the time I was arranging my own vacations, beaches were well down my list of preferred destinations – not off the list altogether, but well down it. Oh, I’d be happy to give beaches in Tahiti or Thailand a try if someone handed me a free plane ticket, but anyplace less exotic offers little attraction. I get that beach sports (surfing, salt water fishing, beach volleyball, etc.) can be fun. I also get that tacky boardwalks next to beaches can be enjoyable. However, simply sitting in the sun on a towel is something I’d rather do (if at all) in my own backyard rather than on a public beach. De gustibus.
My lack of enthusiasm is more in keeping with the bulk of human history than is the modern popularity of sand and surf. Ancient peoples exploited littoral resources far into prehistory, of course, but that was for a livelihood. With the exception of the Polynesians, who invented surfing (and one might note that beaches are rather hard to avoid in Polynesia), few ancients seem to have enjoyed beaches recreationally. There are no Sumerian or Greek accounts of pleasant daytrips to the beach. On the contrary, ancient writers tended to look at the sea with fear and disquiet. In Roman times, it is true, the upper 1%, built villas overlooking the seashore, but “overlooking” is not quite the same as “on”; the sites were chosen for vistas and docks rather than frolicking on sand. Seaside villas were beyond the economic reach of ordinary folk anyway, as are seaside houses in most places today.
|Jersey Shore 1925: photo taken by my|
grandfather of his friends and my
great aunt (center back)
The British were the first really to popularize visits to the beach as recreation for average people. In the 1700s the mineral waters at Scarborough turned the city into the first modern seaside resort; visitors took to bathing in the sea as well as enjoying the spa waters. In the 19th century the number of seaside resorts multiplied as the idea took root that sea air and salt water bathing were healthful, as indeed they were compared to the cities choked with coal smoke and overflowing sewers. At the same time, rising wages and better transportation made resorts accessible to the middle classes. The fad spread from Britain to the Continent from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. The Americas weren’t far behind. By the 1860s Monet was painting scenes of people at the beach (scenes notably absent from earlier art). At the same time in the U.S. beaches had their first wave of popularity. Moralists complained about the (relatively) scanty attire and mixed company at beaches, but those complaints only made the beach more popular.
Whatever the health benefits of seaside spas, the shore has special hazards of its own. There are risks of rip currents, sun overexposure, and accidental drownings. The Jersey Shore did President Garfield no good in 1881 when he traveled there to recover from a gunshot wound. He died 12 days after his arrival. In fairness, the location probably didn’t do him in. His doctors deserve the credit for that. All the same, the seaside didn’t help. However, most daytrips and vacations at the shore are survivable. So, perhaps I’ll go at least once before the summer is out, if only to take a look around. Chances are that I’ll fare better than Garfield.
Messer Chups – Cemetery Beach