Monday, November 22, 2010

Ugly Foamlets, Strange Beauty

Here's an ugly truth. Sometimes walking on the beach feels like a chore. Not every walk down at the beach produces sweetness and light. And not every vista one sees is beautiful, as last night's walk demonstrates.
The rain having stopped, Alma and I returned to the beach yesterday afternoon for our customary walk. We only made about 2/3 of our normal three-mile walk on the beach itself because, while the rain had stopped, the temperatures had also fallen by a good 20-25 degrees. Compounding the drop in temperatures, strong northwesterly winds off the ocean blew the entire time we walked. Neither of us had dressed warmly enough for the cold and windy conditions.

The day began like many of the others I have described heretofore, sun shining brighly through scattered clouds in the westernmost quadrant of the sky. We could find no parking near Strongs Rd, but managed to find a spot on Pacific Ave. close to Venice Boulevard (mid-way between Strongs Rd. and Abbot Kinney Boulevard). So we were ideally positioned about 2 blocks from the beach.

When we arrived at the beach, the first image I had was of a thin sheet of sand blowing across the surface of the beach, such was the effect of the wind. There was no place to hide from it and the strong winds yesterday were sustained and not occasional gusts. Even though we began by walking southward, the winds were coming equally out of the west as from the north and so, as Alma constantly reminds me, that "big cold wet thing" out there made for a cold walk even walking southward.

While we walked southward toward the Villa Marina jetty, Alma and I noticed little foamlets on the sand, almost as if the Pacific had held a giant bubble bath and the bubble patches on the shore remained. I almost want to say that these foamlets were unnatural, the scummy by-product of pollution. The foamlets seem to hang around inordinately long, almost as if they have some chemical component. And they appear slightly dis-colored with a slightly off-white tint. The wind would push these foamlets across the surf and, when I noticed them, I mentioned to Alma that I thought these foamlets were singularly ugly. Alma disagreed. 

Now I admit that watching these foamlets dance across the sand had a certain grace, a certain sprezzatura. And I'll grant that perhaps my aesthetic judgment was somewhat clouded by the cold winds that were blowing yesterday. But I think that the reason I saw these foamlets as ugly is that they diverged so radicallhy from my picture of what a beach should be, the Platonic essence of 'beach-dom,' if you will.

Ironically, Venice Beach usually comes nowhere close to matching that Platonic beach ideal under even the most idyllic of circumstances. The water at Venice Beach is not blue and is often too cold for swimming or even wading. Often you find black globules of tar washed up on the beach from the offshore tar vents the area is famous for. And, as often as not, rotting kelp dots the shore. So asking Venice Beach to meet some Platonic ideal is asking a bit much. Even so, in no Platonic vision of beachiness do I find little commas of foam that stay on the beach long enough for the wind to push them around.

Alma said that the foamlets reflected what was going on in the sky and their blowing across the sand reflected the clouds blowing across the sky. Not literally, of course. To Alma, though, it looked like the clouds blowing across the sky were "a reiteration of what was occurring in Nature." And, it's true as Alma noticed, that in the wet sand itself, you could see reflections of the actual clouds themselves.

Alma took several pictures and so I will let you decide for yourself whether these foamlets are beautiful or ugly:

The sun sets at 5 p.m. or even earlier now. We finished our southward leg and arrived at the Villa Marina jetty at about 4:40 p.m. and had only about five minutes of direct sunshine left before the sun finally dipped beneath the western horizon. The wind continued to blow harshly but now, with no direct sunshine, the temperature and effort required began to feel unbearable to Alma and to me. So, after about 15 minutes of trudging northward back towards the Washington Boulevard Pier, we decided to get off the sand quickly and did so, returning to the car via surface streets.


  1. I do wish you would quote me a little better. The best quote I made you didn't quote and it didn't really need explanation you could have said 'Alma said the fluffy white clouds blowing across the sky were reflected in the fluffy white foam blowing across the wet sand both literally and figuratively.' This is as picturesque as my speech gets and as good as it gets. You missed out on the ripened fruit of my artistic vision when it's not properly expressed. I like it when you quote me but I think from now on you need to decide to quote me as you hear it, (I'll repeat it as best as I can remember) but when you ask me to explain what I ment and you try to explain the art in what I orginally said is lost. Know what I mean?

  2. I like the bubbles in one of the pics i saw what looked like me a person running.