Monday, August 22, 2005

Just A Typical Summer's Day at the Beach

I really should have learned by now, but I haven't. In the spirit of testing last week's theory that good weather is in the eye of the beholder, I thought we'd venture down to the beach this past weekend.

Once again, I bought tickets a week in advance. (As you can probably tell, I really don't do well with spontaneity). And once again, it was a week of veritable sunniness that ground to a screeching halt the day we were due to be beach-bound, glumly holding our $60, non-refundable "cheap" day-return train tickets. So, up we were at the crack of dawn (well, at 9:00 anyway), and off we trudged to catch our train to Brighton--England's first seaside resort, dating back to the 1700's when sea bathing first became fashionable. Conveniently located just an hour south of here, I cheered myself up by picturing future summer weekends (or at least the sunny ones) making like the Victorians did and escaping to this nearby oasis to experience the delights of sea, surf and sun. Smugly, I envisioned everyone back home stuck in a three-hour traffic snarl on their way to the Hamptons or Jersey shore while we could be beach-bound every weekend with relative ease.

As we arrived in Brighton and made our way down to the seafront, my smugness quickly dissipated as did my foolish fantasies of ever cultivating a bronze-goddess glow while on English soil. While this was certainly an adorable beachside community evoking a bygone era (like a much cuter version of Atlantic City only reminiscent of the Victorian age instead of the 1970's), I discovered that the term "English Beaches" was an oxymoron of the highest order. At least to anyone who equates beaches to sand, sun, swimsuits and the achievement of a glowing tan. This beach was ROCKY, freezing and virtually deserted.

Determined once again to make the most of things, we resignedly rented two cheerful stripy beach chairs and joined the few hearty (and pale) English folk around us enjoying a typical summer day at the beach sporting pants, sweaters, and jackets. The next few hours were spent participating in a bizarre and synchronized group ritual involving the hasty removal of clothing items every time there was a break in the clouds that might signify a two-minute window of UVA rays for our pasty limbs.

Eventually tiring of this game of "Here Comes the Sun", we decided to hit one of the attractive seaside restaurants for a spot of lunch. Fortified by our fish and chips and bottle of rosé (an admittedly incongruous combination, but it helped fuel my new fantasy that we were soaking up rays in the south of France instead of wearing windbreakers at an overcast British beach), we went to go out check out the town's main attraction, the Royal Pavillion. (Note below how once we abandoned the beach and embarked on an indoor activity, the clouds miraculously started to disperse.)

Built by Prince George in the 1700s as a retreat where he could host wild parties and carry on his scandalous, Camilla-esque affair with an older, non-blue blooded femme fatale, this palace was unlike anything you might expect. A world away from its traditional, stuffy English counterparts like Buckingham, Windsor and Hampden Court, this palace was a fantastically bizarre white-domed Oriental structure straight out of Arabian nights. The inside was just as surprising, decorated not with portraits of pompous-looking dukes and earls, but instead in a lavish Chinoiserie motif dominated by dragons, bamboo and silk wall coverings of geisha girls. Transporting us back to a different time and place, the palace made us feel as far removed from the beaches of England as we possibly could be, which was a very rare gift indeed.

For next Saturday, I've officially abandoned any pretense that it might be nice here on our last summer weekend and we'll be avoiding all beaches, barbeques and outdoor movies. Instead, we're headed down to Canterbury where at least the rain will serve to complement to the town's foreboding medieval ambience.


Anonymous Nora said...

Isn't the Royal Pavillion a trip? I loved the kitchen. Walker has a book about the chef there with an old illustration of the kitchen on the cover, I recognized it immediately!

10:03 PM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

I absolutely LOVED the RP--it was the coolest, most incongruous thing I've seen in England to date--completely unexpected and totally out of place!! And I LOVED the kitchen too--you could just visualize all of the prince's minions running around that huge space, roasting pigs and chickens on the giant spit, preparing a feast for 100. It was my favorite room, I think, with the banquet hall a close second.

12:39 PM  

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