Sometimes, I talk too much. “Talk” as in “write”, I mean. Learning to shut up (the keyboard) is my number two goal in life – number one being to master my hatred of ticks, of course. So I will try to shut up now, and ask you not to read but just to look. The pictures speak for themselves and the context has been blogged about very thoroughly on 66 Square Feet. Long, beautiful beaches, some waves, a hot day, a picnic, the best company. Peace.
Ok. That didn’t work. You see, between the time I wrote “Peace” and the moment I was going to start posting pictures, I started thinking about beaches. Wondering about them. About what makes them so special. And I began revisiting the beaches I’ve known, here and there, under different suns and at various latitudes. There really were so many but a few always come to mind first, winners of a mysterious contest of chemical and neurological associations…
For instance once upon a time, in the southeast of France, was La Salis beach. That was Antibes, Côte d’Azur… First and last and always an corner stone of my youth, la Salis was flanked by a beautiful little fishing harbour full of adorable pointus, typical Mediterranean open-deck fishing boats, and tucked right against le Cap d’Antibes which separates Antibes from Juan-les-Pins. East of Antibes, no other sandy beaches for a long way; pebbles take over and the water is rendered murkier by an exposed shoreline and the proximity of the Var river mouth. To the west, Juan has a famous beach, orangy sand and trendy waterfront. Then nothing but reddish rocks and cliffs until Cannes and the famous Croisette.
La Salis is where I learned to swim; at age 7, I took part in the Nice Matin-sponsored swimming event and got my Diplôme du jeune nageur for the kilometer swim in open water, starting from the largest of two patches of offshore rocks called la Grande Grenille. A zodiac would drive us to it so that we could swim back to the beach under escort, in breaststroke, peeking down once in a while at the blurrily unnerving blueish bed of see grass that lay some ten pristine meters below…
We spent pretty much every summer day at la Salis, after a 30 or 45 minutes walk from home. We’d cross our train track at la Badine, follow Avenue Foch to the sea, turn right and away from the old city, pass le Moulin des Pugets and its gigantic terracotta jars of olive oil, and eventually arrive at the rather crowded beach. We had our spot on the beach, right about in the middle, or maybe two thirds from the beginning, carefully chosen after close investigation and later returned to in the name of safety and familiarity – and because it was near the nicest of the three little food shacks that sold pan bagnas, mariettes, anis popcicles, Orangina and all kinds of candies. (It took years for Coke and Sprite to make it to the French market. Fanta was always there.) We would comb the beach in search of coins and other treasures in order to finance our expeditions to the shack.
The sea back then was still plentiful and, for lack of better knowledge, I admired my dad bringing back sea urchins which we cut open on the spot to eat the salty nail-size bite of orange matter inside, and octopy which he then had to flip inside out and beat to death on a rock to tenderize their flesh. My heart still bleeds at that thought and I have an unpaid, everlasting debt to the specie which I have tried to acquit partially by educating divers over many years of teaching diving. But the bottom line is, we just didn’t know any better. Just like today, still, many people and cultures don’t know any better and are jeopardizing the very survival of our planet.
Then followed so many others. I fell in love with the little beaches at the end of each of the coves in les Calanques de Cassis, near Marseille, where one could rest lazily after a morning of intense and spectacular rock climbing on the white limestone cliffs that plunged right into emerald waters. Then there were moody and foggy immense beaches on each side of the cold Atlantic Ocean, in Biarritz, France, Rockport, Mass. and Old Orchard, Maine. Later, it was the incredible little sandy pools surrounded by giant boulders in the Baths, Virgin Gorda. And the perfect stretches of pastel pinks and blues of San Salvador, Bahamas and Provo, Turks and Caicos or the magical shades of white to deep blue on the sand bar of the Tortuga Island, Venezuela. I had a thing for the black sand and powerful waves of a beach near Puerto Viejo, last village south on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, end of the dirt road, separated from Panama only by miles of impenetrable jungle. I walked for hours on an immense length of pure heat and sand on the Tangier waterfront only interrupted by the silhouettes of camels shimmering far away like mirages. I played rough on the crowded, windy urban beach of Noumea, New Caledonia and visited remote little pieces of sandy paradise near Gadji, Ile des Pins, in the same area. I was attracted by the all-too-famous beaches around the James Bond Rock in Thailand, overcrowded and touristic, yet so full of nostalgic memories and dramatic history. So to repent myself, I moved on to the isolated, untouched and simple Point of Sand on the eastern tip of Little Cayman…
So what made them all so special? Why do we feel different sitting on a beach? Is it the rhythmic, almost hypnotic sound of waves gently caressing it? Is it the comforting warm touch of the sand on our feet? Is it the shells, and the birds, and the ocean smell? Is it the constant temptation to jump in and swim to another world? How do we manage to block off the memories of jellyfish, tar, suntan lotion spread out on fat oily bodies, towels shaken and sand flying in our eyes, raging sunburn, scorching heat and maddening crowds?
Here’s my theory: we were once fish (hello Darwin)! We came out of the water. In all likeliness, we chose a beach to ease up the transition between such two radically different worlds. That’s where we became earthlings. That’s where we left weakness behind and turned into intelligent creatures (yeah, right.) It all happened on a beach. And deep inside, something in us remembers that. Always will. Now that I think of it, maybe we even learned our first lesson, right there on the sand, dripping wet and shedding gills as our lungs were formed. What lesson? The unavoidable fact that “It – just – doesn’t – bloody – matter!” ;-)
Back to South Africa. My most memorable beaches now lay near Cape Town and on the Garden Route. The charming company had everything to do with it. I am so incredibly biased. Here are a few examples of why.