Thursday, April 14, 2016

On the Beach

Praia do Forte, Bahia, Brazil
I’m in beach mode this month, living as I am in one of the great beach cities in the world, Rio de Janeiro.  It’s a pretty good place to be in your sixties or frankly at any age.  Who doesn’t like the beach?  As my daughter says: “[there is a …] joy in being on a beach, simple, stress less, magical, and sun kissed!”

In honor of the USA’s National Poetry Month, April, I share a beach poem I wrote.  It is called appropriately enough:

The Beach

We like to go to the beach
Our wicker baskets packed full
With thermos’s of tea and sandwiches
Crammed in plastic boxes.

Flippers, buckets, spades in tow
Folding chairs half rusted from winter rain
Their canvas seats stretched thin
Their colors faded from the summer sun.

The beach is where you can relax
The sun is burning your back
The air feels soft and sweet 
The surf rolls in forever.

The water tastes salty
You wait for the perfect wave
It breaks and pulls you to the shore.
Your swimsuit fills with coarse sand.

No matter where you find the beach
The best one and the place to be,
The one that takes your breath away,
Is the one you’re sitting on today.

Praia Toninhos, Ubatuba, São Paulo, Brazil
Beaches give all of us a feeling of peace and freedom: the off shore breezes, the swaying of palm trees or pine trees, the endlessly enthralling waves breaking along the shore.  Right now, I’m sitting by a beach in Rio.  I can hear the sound of surf rolling in.  There isn’t a beach in Brazil or any other country that I have visited that doesn’t delight me.  That is the glory of beaches.  Regardless of age, beaches are liberating.  Their beauty is universally appealing.

When I was a young child, my grandparents lived in a beach town in England.  Their town, Bournemouth, is on the southern coast of England, bordering the chilly English Channel.  We moved away from England to North America more than 60 years ago but I still remember that wonderful beach – Sandbanks.  My grandmother had a small cabana at the back of the beach in which she kept beach chairs, buckets and spades, teacups and other essentials.  In my memory there was a small propane stove on which Grandma boiled water for tea in the afternoon – thus beginning a family tradition of tea on the beach.  I remember sitting in the shallows on the golden sand with my mum and my older sister.  I remember my dad, my uncle and my older cousins digging deep holes in the sand, deep enough that if I got in, I couldn’t get out without help.  All I could see from the bottom of the hole was a square patch of bright blue sky.  I remember my mum telling my sister and me to change out of our wet swimsuits, sitting as we were, exposed on the beach.  As a little girl I was modest and horrified that someone might see me without my pants on!  My mum would say, “No one is interested.  Just get changed.” Of course she was right.  No one even noticed two small girls taking off their wet swimsuits and putting on dry shorts.  I gave the same advice to my kids when they were little.

Lopez Island beach, Washington, USA
Since going to that first beach, I have had the good fortune to spend time on so many beaches that I can hardly remember them all.  They blend into a collage of sun and surf.  Fresh water beaches; salt water beaches; cold temperate beaches; warm tropical beaches; ocean beaches on the northern and southern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and once, on the Bay of Bengal in Thailand; lake beaches and river beaches; sandy beaches and rocky beaches; beaches on manmade ponds, on reservoirs and beside acid bogs – the latter a beach on Cape Cod being unfortunately memorable for where I broke my nose at the age of 21.  Although I am not a real surfer I am a life long body surfer.  I am a strong swimmer but I treat large ocean waves with great deference.  I came too close to drowning in rough surf once when I got caught in an undertow in my early fifties.  Luckily a young man on his surf board saw me and rescued me, paddling me safely ashore – much to my and my family’s relief.  One of my favorite beaches in the world is a rocky beach on Lopez Island in Washington State – where we never swim.  The water is so cold your feet ache even if you walk briefly in the shallows.

Kids at play on the beach
When my own children were youngsters, we lived in Brazil and visited the beaches along the São Paulo coast – both our children learned to swim in the warm waters around Ubatuba and learned respect for the breaking waves.  Just as I did as a child, they played and dug in the fine sand.  They built castles, with moats and dams intended to preserve their structures. I 
remember my kids and their friends running back and forth in the water to stop the tide from melting their castles away.  Of course they could not succeed – the tide waits for no one.  When a castle collapsed into the sea, it only took a few minutes to build another one. 

Another favorite beach of mine is along the coast of France, on the Bay of Biscayne by the coastal town of Seignosse.  Seignosse is famous for its surf.  My English brother-in-law discovered it almost 30 years ago when he, a life long surfer, and my sister re-located from California to England.  Not wanting to give up surfing, he sought out the European surf capital.  It turned out to be the beach at Seignosse, just north of the Spanish border.  My sister’s family goes there virtually every summer.  My family joined them for several happy holidays and we hope to go again.  Seignosse is a dune beach, with high manmade sand dunes above the beach, built to protect the village from coastal storms.  To reach the beach proper you have to climb over the dunes, slipping and sliding delightfully in the warm sand.  This is the beach where my brother-in-law taught my son, now a proficient surfer, how to surf.

My parents moved to Los Angeles when I was in my twenties and we spent many a happy afternoon sitting on the Will Rogers beach drinking tea and eating tomato and feta cheese sandwiches.  Thinking about this now, the nostalgic taste of milky tea poured from the thermos, mixed with the sandy sandwiches brings back fond memories of times gone by.

In many countries coastal beaches are public property.  Everyone owns the beach and there is no such thing as private property along the marine coasts.  This is true in Brazil.  As a result everyone has access to the coastal beaches.  They are a shared natural resource.  However in much of the United States, including in my own state of Washington, coastal beaches can be owned privately.  There is something appealing about public ownership of beaches – shouldn’t beaches be there for everyone.  After all can anyone control a beach?  I don’t think so.

Pick up futebol on Copacabana beach
A beach is something you can enjoy regardless of your age and physical condition.  Along the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro I see people of every age and type – often I see very old men and women who are wheelchair-bound sitting and enjoying the beach.  I see young kids building sand castles; teenagers jumping in the waves and flirting with each other; surfers, or surfistas as they are called in Portuguese, catching the waves; folks of all ages playing beach games in the sand: beach tennis, futebol (the Brazilian name for soccer) and volleyball; and everyone looks remarkably relaxed and happy.  It is hard to be stressed on a beach.   The waves literally wash your worries away.   

Brigitte Bardot looks out at the beach 
This past weekend my husband and I went to a Brazilian beach that was new to us.  It is a beach made famous during the 1960’s by Brigitte Bardot, who went there and hid out with her Brazilian boyfriend.  The village of Búzios was a small fishing village when Bardot first went there – now it is a beach resort – and a favorite of people from Rio.  Along the shore is a bronze statue of Bardot, dressed appropriately in blue jeans and a blue and white striped t-shirt.  She looks forever out towards the sea, taking in the azure water and the fishing boats as they bob up and down.  Although Bardot is still very much alive and living in France, I suspect that she likes the idea that when her life ends, she will still sit forever, looking out across the Búzios beach. 

Next time you go to the beach, and I hope it is soon, don’t forget to stay for the sunset.  It will be worth your while.
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean

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