‘After so many years, you’ve seen the beach’, the nice elderly lady told me a couple of years ago. The lady and her husband overheard us talking over big ice cream creations outside a Baden Baden Italian ice cream parlour. ‘You are from The Netherlands?’ they asked in Dutch. The German lady and her Dutch husband lived in Spain almost on the beach for many years. After running a successful travel agency in Spain, they settled down there to enjoy their retirement. ‘You know what?’ the lady aid. ‘Many of our foreign friends returned to their native countries. You loose your contacts. At the same time family and friends from Holland and Germany expect you to welcome them during the summer months. When you get older, that is not what you are waiting for. And with the years, you will be needing more health care, like physiotherapy. You are better off with that in Holland and Germany than you are in Spain.’ So the couple decided to leave Spain and migrated to Baden Baden. ‘We have everything here’, the husband said. ‘And most things we need are in walking distance, our car sometimes won’t lave the garage for days. In Spain, we had to rely on the car for everything’. But, I said, the beach? Didn’t you like the beach? ‘Oh, that gets the same after so many years’, the lady said. ‘I don’t miss it’.
Dutch beaches are great. Wide, shallow, soft. Better then most Mediterranean beaches for sure. I’ve spent one week on a Spanish beach near Torremolinos, and actually, it was rather pathetic compared to Katwijk’s beach. And the Romanian Black Sea beach near Constanta can better be forgotten. The bad weather did not help of course. But the nicest looking beach I’ve seen was not even a sea coast beach. Along the shores of Lake Michigan the beaches are perfect, white sand, blue water and a beautiful backdrop of dunes. But as beautiful as they are, they did not temp me to lie down and close my eyes, but an evening stroll along the shore was quite relaxing, I must admit.
Ludington beach, Lake Michigan
When I was young, during summer the beach was a way of life. When the weather was fine, you got on your bike and rode to the beach. There is always something to do when you are young. There were friends and family, the sea was always inviting and the summer was endless. When you grow up, things change. When I was studying, my friends in Leiden often called me to come over to Katwijk on a nice day. That was fine with me, on most occasions. But when you live on the beach, it does not have that magical appeal as it has to people who live in town. When you live near it, you go down to the beach when you feel like it. It is not a day out for you anymore. And it should not be an obligation. There was something else. When it is nice and warm in town, it can be windy and cool just 10 kilometres away on the beach. To this day I’m convinced my friends did not believe me when I said so over the phone…
Tybee Island beach, Georgia
I’m not claiming that my views on beaches are universal. Far from that. Sit down on the beach and look around you. Young and older people everywhere enjoying themselves. Packed with windscreens, beach chairs, cool boxes – I never forget that guy getting his herrings out of the box, and swallowing it under the burning sun on the hottest part of day. Just as I will never forget the odd sensation when you walk along the shoreline, and you feel something soft and warm beneath your foot, pressing up between your toes. If I ever found the dog responsible for that, he’d better run for his life. The older man and younger girl engaging in activities not suitable for public display is another image I have of the beach, but one I’d like to forget because of its grotesque nature – but somehow I can’t. You see a lot of things on the beach, and not all of them you want to see. But truth to be told, sometimes the mere image of a beach can be so beautiful, that you do not have to dive into the traditional beach activities. Just watching can be rewarding.
But for me? When I can’t hear the sound of the waves over the buzz on the beach, the fun is gone. When you fall asleep on the beach, you know it is time for you to turn your back on it. And enjoy the beach from a beachside café with a nicely chilled white wine. But the real defining moment that made me leave the beach, so to speak, was about ten years ago on a Sunday evening. The incident somehow killed my desire for seaside recreation ever since. Not having a computer at home back then, I decided to drive to the office one day after an afternoon on the beach, to check my email. What happened is still a bit unclear, but leaving my office suit to look for the bathroom I heard a loud ‘snap’, my left leg lost its power and I fell against the wall. My Achilles heel fractured, and there I was, alone in an office building, with the sand of the beach still all over my body. It was bizarre.