Update from Italy: Beach Vignette

Monday morning I rose early, before 7, and got dressed for a run. The beach was cool; the sand dark with dew. Waves roared in one after the other. I noted by the footprints that Asics were the clear runner of choice on the firm sand. My direction: south toward Populonia, that pre-Roman Etruscan dig chock-full of their beehive homes. I passed from our beach to a public beach, then an off-leash beach, population: one huffing collie I’d already seen around before, with its owner in tow. A red and orange tent was questionably pitched on the sand, and two hippie heads bobbed out from the unzipped flap, curly blonde and standard Italian. I picked up my pace but it wasn’t easy staying on the harder sand while simultaneously avoiding all waves. A tall man in red shorts passed me easily, barely breathing hard. I noted his shoes. Not wet.

I passed a fisherman in hip waders, tying a lure and casting into the surf, a net and a string bag trailing behind him, latched to his belt by carabiners, a cloth cap shielding his eyes. The rod was long. I wondered what silver booty he would pull out from the waves. The sun came up higher over the hills on the east.

A big waves surprised me coming up at least a meter further on shore than any other wave yet. My right shoe and sock were soaked. Squelch, squelch, squelch. I gave up on the job and tried walking, but even the slope of the shore made that a challenge. I quickly began disabusing myself of my prior fantasies of a serene beach jog. I turned around and headed north again, toward San Vincenzo and Livorno, wondering if the sea looked this way on the day Shelley drowned, when they brought his sodden body up from the water and burned it on the beach. (Debunked! But like all great Romantic epics, it is a superb yarn!)

The wind started to pick up. The waves were thrashing, boiling and churning, each crest topped with a head of foam. But what’s this? A gleam on the sand. I bent down to inspect it and saw it was a generously-sized jellyfish, clear with the faintest tint of lavender, its four chambers still pulsing through the transparence. I backed up, squelch, and continued back to our villetta – our cabin. I hadn’t reached anything like a cardio zone but I did feel very serene. Not for the jog, but for the brine in the air, the clear light, the thundering waves.

Waves are huge, I told Jason while changing. I’ve never seen it like that here. I told him about the beached jellyfish I’d seen. We’ve been coming to this same spot every summer for a week since 2017. The surf really was magnificent, felt like the Oaxacan coast or Torrey Pines or Waldport in Oregon.

Eleanor’s been trotting off to kid’s club for three hours once or twice per day. That afternoon, Jason and I took Vic into the surf to jump in the waves. A lot of people were in the water. The lifeguards all on high alert, looking out over the water like pointers on the hunt, red safety missile in hand, white nylon cord wrapped around their wrists. The one watching our segment of the beach repeatedly shouted at people to move away from the rough rocks, his eyebrows lifted up in supplication like one of the Madonnas tucked into a harbor shrine in Venice or Livorno. The outbound current grabbed our ankles with a whoosh of sand headed back out to sea. The receding waves colliding with inbound waves making massive new peaks. The water was full of debris – bits of sea grass, suspended sand, those funny little weeds that look like the love child from a tennis ball and a ping pong ball, dressed in neutral brown and ideal for pitching into the water. I started to feel jumpy. The water was angry, out of control. Too many little kids who obviously were not strong swimmers, my own included. Adults like me who can barely crawl or breast stroke, much less escape a riptide. Temporary signs explained with pictographs and arrows how to get out of a riptide current.

Suddenly Victor began shaking his hand.

What happened? I asked him.

A rock or something scratched me, he said. I squinted into the sunny horizon. It was possible that a shell or a small stone borne by a wave had struck his hand. He continued to shake it.

I want to get out of the water, he said.

On our chairs Jason and I peered at his left index finger, which now had a small dark hole that looked like someone had injected a miniature black pebble into it.

I’ll take him over to the Reception desk, Jason said, and off they trotted. Twenty minutes later they loped back and went straight back to our villetta. I gathered all our things and met them at the terrace. Victor was sitting down trying not to cry.

Jellyfish, they said, Jason told me. But a small one.

It didn’t feel small to me! Vic bit his lower lip. His hand was now puffy and red on the side of the pebble hole. Jason skated around consulting Dr. Google (no cortisone, no ice, yes ammonia, yes neosporin), and I went into rummage out our generously provisioned medical bag. Vic got a good-sized smear of neosporin with painkiller (yay kids’ version from the US). You can cry if you need to cry, Jason told him.

I don’t want to cry! Victor said angrily, trying not to cry. My philosophical comforts failed to find their mark. There was no sympathy for jellyfish on the terrace.

We swam in nature, it wasn’t a pool, I said. We love the ocean and share it with other creatures. That jellyfish was probably so lost and confused, getting bounced far away from his normal spot.

I don’t care! Vic shouted, glowering at me.

Eventually the swelling went down. Vic railed about off-leash jellyfish for the next two days and felt jumpy about getting in the water. Today we dove back in, with his new boogie board and the enormous inflatable unicorn that belongs to Eleanor. They’re still talking about jellyfish, but with a now-reduced frequency.

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