BEACH BLUES

Sori, 16 July 2015

I’m not a beach person. I don’t much like spending time in places like these.

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My fair skin, which I inherited from my Anglo-Saxon progenitors, burns immediately. So I spend all my time wearing clothes, which readers will agree is not optimal behaviour on a beach, or sloshing on 30+ sun cream and darting fearful looks at the blazing sun. In any case, I don’t see the pleasure of spending time in a micro-environment whose closest cousin is the middle of the Sahara desert, where sun beats down pitilessly on sand and pebbles, with no sight of tree or bush to give a pool of shade (beach umbrellas don’t count), or of stream of merrily burbling fresh water to give the parched mouth relief (vendors of bottled water don’t count either).

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I should clarify that I’m talking here about the ecology of a Mediterranean beach in high summer; the UK or French Atlantic beaches of my youth are quite different micro-environments, closer to Arctic tundra – at least, my memories of these beaches are dominated by glacial seawater, howling winds, and driving rain.

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Back to the Mediterranean beaches. There is also the issue of the pebbles. We frequent a pebble beach.

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Nice to look at but agony for me to walk on as the pebbles drive into the arches of my feet – I have quite delicate feet, which is why, when in China, I had a foot massage only once, because after the masseuse’s vigorous manipulations I spent the rest of the week hobbling around in pain. The pebbles are also almost glowing they are so hot. Walking to the sea is like being one of those religious devotees who walk on burning coals to prove their devotion to whatever it is that they believe in.

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It doesn’t finish when I get to the sea. As I stand there, hesitating before the thermal shock that I know awaits me when I will plunge into the sea, the ebb and flow of the waves makes me stagger back and forth, stepping heavily on those damned pebbles.

As if all this were not enough, I get so BORED on beaches. I’m past the age of building sandcastles (although I did have fun helping the children make theirs when they were young)

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or looking for particularly smooth or beautifully coloured pebbles
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or throwing buckets of water on people
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or showing off beautifully sculpted pecs (and nowadays tattoos) to admiring girls and jealous boys (even assuming I had either).
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The best I can do is to read a book, but even this is difficult to do in the oppressive heat

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or find every excuse to escape the beach – cappuccino time, shopping for lunch and dinner, urgent need to pay parking fines in the municipal office … anything to get away from the beach.

I should clarify that I’m basing myself here mainly on my memories of spending summer holidays with the family at the seaside in Italy. Those holidays stopped some ten years ago, when the children, now grown up, were spending their summer holidays with their friends and later with their girl or boyfriend. My wife and I still came to the seaside, but not for the beach. We went for walks in the hills behind the sea

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we wandered around the village
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we went into Genova to admire the sites
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we dined out in the local restaurants

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Or we just looked at the view from our balcony.

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But we did not visit the beach. At maximum, one evening we would go down and dip a toe in the water.

Yet, as I write this, we are actually on that beach. This year, my wife and I have had the immense luck of having both kids with us at the same time for a week and a half during our and their summer breaks. In an advanced state of gratitude, I was therefore quite happy to tag along when it was suggested that we all go down to the beach and spend the afternoon there. After a dip in the sea, which was surprisingly warm (I am very picky about the temperature of the water), we are now lying in the shade of beach umbrellas, sipping water from a bottle we have just bought at the bar. And I’m feeling surprisingly mellow about it all; the beach seems quite a nice place really, don’t know what I had against it.
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All of which proves … what? I suppose that human beings can put up with anything as long as they are happy.

POST SCRIPTUM, 18 July 2015

The mellowness only lasted for another half day. After that, we let the children go to the beach without us.

________________

Ligurian beach: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/02/1a/a5/46/spiaggia-beach.jpg (in http://www.tripadvisor.it/Hotel_Review-g194849-d1933333-Reviews-Camping_dei_Fiori-Pietra_Ligure_Italian_Riviera_Liguria.html)
Desert: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Travel/Pix/pictures/2007/10/20/escape.oman460.jpg (in http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2007/oct/21/oman.yemen)
English beach: http://img.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2008/05_02/bmouthrainL0505_468x337.jpg (in http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.it/2012/06/oh-i-do-like-to-be-beside-seaside-in.html)
Pebble beach: my picture
Walking on coals: http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/life/explainer/2012/07/120723_EXP_hotcoalsEX.png.CROP.rectangle3-large.png (in http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/explainer/2012/07/tony_robbins_firewalking_injuries_why_doesn_t_everyone_who_walks_on_hot_coals_get_burned_.html)
Sandcastle: http://www.vitadamamma.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/castello-di-sabbia.jpg (in http://www.lecivettesulsouffle.it/forum/index.php?topic=11341.15)
Looking for pebbles: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-IH2N5FaEr9k/T2mr8Pzd_II/AAAAAAAAAhw/joKptZ4mRK8/s1600/Siria+676_ipiccy.jpg (in http://moto-perpetuo.blogspot.it/2012_03_01_archive.html)
Throwing water: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2011/07/20/article-0-0D144F4000000578-229_634x421.jpg (in http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2016716/Kendra-Wilkinson-Hank-Baskett-playful-beach-outing-son.html)
Muscled and tattooed man on the beach: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/fa/d0/8c/fad08ce895f6a109914fe85059149dc5.jpg (in https://www.pinterest.com/pin/463448617878375391/
Asleep with book: http://38.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6ptoftxGM1r2dx74.jpg (in http://lindyandcaitcoffeedates.tumblr.com)
Walking in the hills: http://www.caisezionedirho.it/public/upload/latest/DSCN3681_2.jpg (in http://www.caisezionedirho.it/sito/images.asp?cat=25&id=146)
Village: http://www.iliguria.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/iliguria_francesco_robbiano_sori_51.jpg (in http://www.iliguria.net/sori-genova-im-sori-concerto-per-archi/)
Duomo Genova: http://www.chiesadigenova.it/genova/allegati/362159/arte_genova_001_cattedrale_san_lorenzo.jpg (in http://www.chiesadigenova.it/home_page/itinerari/00362159_Cattedrale.html)
Restaurant: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/07/50/92/62/edo-bar-trattoria-pizzeria.jpg (in http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1807548-d1173493-Reviews-Edobar-Sori_Italian_Riviera_Liguria.html)
The beach: http://www.lamargheritaditeriasca.it/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/sori.jpg (in http://www.lamargheritaditeriasca.it/sori/)

DOG DAYS IN BEIJING

Beijing, 27 July 2013

It’s already dog days in Beijing, with the mercury climbing into the high 30s Centigrade. This weather brings out these strange extraterrestrial beings onto the roads

Hot Weather Lands In Nanjing

which on closer inspection turn out to be women riding cycles while wearing special UV-protective sun visors and covering every bit of exposed skin.

sun visor-1

As for the pavements, they host the somewhat odd spectacle of women sheltering below umbrellas under cloudless skies.

chinese women umbrellas-1

The reason is the same in all cases: the desire to protect delicately pale skins from suntan. Chinese women have a fetish for pale skins, not only shunning the sun but also spending large sums on products which claim to whiten their complexion.

skin whitener-2

The purpose, of course, even if these women don’t realize it, is to distinguish themselves from their sisters toiling in the fields under the broiling sun and getting a tough, leathery skin for their pains – the peasants, in a word. Despite communist-era claims to the contrary

propaganda poster-3

every Chinese knows that life as a peasant is not particularly pleasant

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which is why China’s rural people escape to the cities the moment they have half a chance, and why city folk look down on their rural cousins.

We who come from cultures which have been worshipping the sun for at least sixty years and have proclaimed far and wide the beauty of a tanned skin

sun tan lotion ad-1

can titter at this Chinese phobia of a darkened skin, which sometimes really goes to extraordinary lengths

facekini

But we should remember that before this sun-loving period of ours our genteel women also avoided the sun, for much the same reason. I am indebted to the blog “It’s About Time”, in a section devoted to parasols in Western art (from which I also got some of the photos below), for the following quote from Randle Cotgrave’s 1614 Dictionary of the French and English Tongues, where the French word ombrelle is translated “An umbrello; a (fashion of) round and broad fanne, wherewith the Indians (and from them our great ones) preserve themselves from the heat of a scorching sunne; and hence any little shadow, fanne, or thing, wherewith women hide their faces from the sunne.” Like the Chinese women I see on the Beijing streets today, for centuries our great ladies liked to walk outside screened from the sun, as these paintings from different periods attest:

Fragonard:

00 Fragonard with parasol

Copley:

00 Copley with parasol

Goya:

00 Goya with parasol

Manet:

00 Manet with Parasol 1881

Monet:

00 Monet with-a-Parasol

Renoir (I had the luck to see this particular painting at the Met in New York a few months ago):

00 Renoir-2 with-parasol

Seurat:

00 Seurat with parasol

Valloton:

00 Vallotton with parasol

the American painter Mars:

00 Mars-twenties-with parasols

Are we so right to love a tan? Of course, the snobbish element of having a pale complexion is to be abhorred, but I’m not sure tanning is such a wonderful idea either. I must admit to being biased on this topic; I have a fair skin which burns rather than tans and I’ve always disliked being in the sun. But the rise in skin cancer incidences and deaths is vertiginous in many of those countries where people routinely cook themselves on a beach all summer. It is made that much worse by the thinning of the ozone layer, which is allowing in far more harmful UV than used to be the case. Which explains this public health ad from Australia, one of the hardest-hit countries: many people with fair skin, a strong outdoors culture, and located far south where the ozone layer is thinnest.

australian ad-1

The Slip Slop Slap campaign is another attempt by the Australian government to combat skin cancer:

australian ad-3

Looking at that, it seems to me that maybe our Chinese sisters aren’t so wrong in their sun shunning antics after all.

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woman with sun visor-1: http://s1.djyimg.com/i6/5100409191528.jpg
woman with sun visor-2: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/123/cache/fashion-shanghai-motorcycle_12361_600x450.jpg
Chinese women under umbrellas: http://blog.chinatraveldepot.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/103-1024×768.jpg
Skin whitener ad: http://gaia.adage.com/images/bin/image/large/Nivea91008b.jpg?1221045176
Propaganda poster: http://chineseposters.net/images/e11-992.jpg
Rural woman: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/13china01-6501.jpg
Sun tan lotion ad: http://file.vintageadbrowser.com/l-2sxa9y5hxoogx7.jpg
Facekini: http://www.ecouterre.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/qingdao-china-sun-protection-mask-facekini-2-537×402.jpg
Fragonard: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2475/4438032996_d685b495fb.jpg
Copley: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7FFaKUq3lgs/Th6koRKMutI/AAAAAAAArNs/2WRM4y4ZwUs/s640/p%2B1763%2Bc%2BJohn%2BSingleton%2BCopley%2B1738-1815%2BMary%2BTappan%2BMrs%2BBenjamin%2BPickman%2BYale%2B%25282%2529.jpg
Goya: http://www.aparences.net/wp-content/uploads/goya-parasol-vert.jpg
Manet: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TGlqCaT0tMI/AAAAAAAAWls/cEdFU0kuto4/s1600/p+%C3%89douard+Manet+%281832-1883%29+Woman+with+a+Parasol+1881..jpg
Monet: http://www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com/oilpainting/Claude-Monet/The-Walk-Woman-with-a-Parasol.jpg
Renoir: http://www.renoirgallery.com/paintings/large/renoir-lise-with-parasol.jpg
Seurat: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4037/4367819565_d255f31c2d_z.jpg?zz=1
Vallotton: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TH8YPdMzVyI/AAAAAAAAXno/iOmadhyVbOI/s1600/F%C3%A9lix+Vallotton.+%281865+-+1925%29.+On+the+Beach+Sur+la+plage.+1899..jpg
Mars: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TJezx5Y-UgI/AAAAAAAAY1g/HY7j9dPmqIg/s1600/Ethel+Mars+%281876+%E2%80%93+1956%29+Nice.jpg
Australian ad-1: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200812/r320709_1428893.jpg
Australian ad-2: http://lavaleandherworld.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/slip-slop-slap-legenda.jpg?w=600