Ah, the ocean. Many have fond memories of going to the beach as a child, frolicking in the sand, building sandcastles, getting tossed around in the waves.
I remember going to Atlantic City with my grandmother once when I was small, but we didn't actually get near the water as it was too cold. And yes, for those in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US, I'm talking about "going to the shore" here. Cheesesteaks optional but advised.
So my first time near a large body of water was in college when some friends and I went to Morehead City (accent on the first syllable; make your own jokes please), North Carolina. Is that possible? Nearly 20 years of my life without knowing the ocean?
Entirely. From the middle of Pennsylvania, where I am from, the ocean is several hours away; those from the Midwest may have even more dramatic horror stories. Add to that a family that was never, say, enamored with the water or vacations, and it's not too hard to understand. Of course it is a bit strange if you consider that I now live minutes from the crystal clear Ionian Sea, a northern Italian and European holiday hotspot.
So when I was 19 years old, I got thrown around by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Scary at the start, but then simply glorious. Being flipped and turned beyond your control really puts the world into perspective for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old college kid.
I remember feeling so small, insignificant, powerless. And happy. Deliriously happy.
It was the perfect time to feel and understand that I was just a tiny piece of the larger puzzle of the world. At the time, I was attending an ultra-competitive university with students who often fit every stereotype you could imagine; it was easy to get suckered into thinking that every decision, including actually eating dinner instead of having half of a plain baked potato, would affect my Entire Future.
Should I continue with German? Should I double major? Should I break down and take a math course? Can I fit in another part-time job? This was critical stuff!
Having nothing to do but lie on the beach, read some novels, and frolic, yes frolic, in the water was the perfect wind-down to another physically and emotionally draining school year; as it turned out, my introduction to the ocean happened exactly when I needed it and, perhaps more importantly, when I was ready to accept it.
I think that when you haven't grown up with something, your adult years can either find you strangely drawn toward it or still keeping your distance.
With the ocean, I'm somewhere in between. I'm not afraid of the water, although I'll admit I'm not entirely comfortable on a boat where I can no longer see land. If you haven't guessed, I've never been on a cruise, but I'd welcome the chance if, you know, I won one or something.
On the other hand, I'm definitely not addicted to the sea either--a minor sin here, in fact, where I'm asked nearly every day in the summer if I had gone "al mare," to the sea. Thank goodness I found P, who isn't appassionato either, proving one of P's (and now my) favorite sayings: "Dio li fa e poi li accoppia." This is the equivalent of our "birds of a feather flock together," but literally (and much prettier, I think): "God makes them and then matches them up."
So while not al mare every day, I do enjoy quiet times at the beach when there are few others around. Lucky for me, Italians are quite rigid on when they go to the beach, so those early March and late September days? The beach and the moist, salty air? Pretty much all mine.
I imagine this might change a bit if I have children, though, because I would want them to be comfortable with the water and have all those sweet, frolicky memories that so many others have--although building sandcastles probably isn't going to happen on our beaches here.
And so, I am at peace with the fact that the ocean and I have a bit of a strained relationship. I wouldn't die if I wasn't near it, but then again, that crisp, fresh air and cool water feels oh so good when the sun is warming my cheeks and shoulders (properly covered in sunscreen, of course).
But for now I'll continue to take it in small doses until the Ionian, which surely knows more than I, pulls me to know it a little better.
And then I will open myself up to whatever it has to offer.
P.S. You can find more images of the sea here.