a little guide to out-of-season seaside resorts (and the savouring thereof)

The first rule is to really make sure you’re in the off-season.  With hordes of idle pensioners roaming about the country, benign September or October days no longer qualify as out-of-season.  But a rough December day (before the X-mas holidays, mind you ) with 6 to 9 Beaufort will do nicely.

The  second rule is to come properly equipped : boots, coat, gloves, scarves for the outdoors and a choice selection  of  books for the indoors .    

 The third, most important, rule is to bring along  a minimum of melancholy imagination,  needed to imbue all those chilly empty boulevards and cafés with pathos and meaning.  

A  suitably melancholy disposition for off-season savouring can be developed either from nostalgia for happy childhood vacations past or from longings for romantic encounters or even from mid-life contemplativeness. 

 The combination of all three factors is a sure recipe for a memorable stay at a wind-swept, out-of-season seaside resort.     

Which definitely makes me eligible as the perfect out-of-season resort guest!  

While I’m not graced with childhood  memories of annual seaside vacations, I do fondly remember the annual family outing to the town of Spa. We always went to a creaky establishment near the woods, called “Annette & Lubin”, a certified Ardennes-resort of the Belgian National Railway Company (for which my grandfather worked all his life).  

Not sure though whether the off-season concept still applies to Spa.  Nowadays “wellness weekends” are all the rage,  catering to all-year-round overstressed middle class double income couples as the successors of the elegantly overwrought spa-going aristocrats of previous times.  Let it be clear that  “wellness weekends” are an altogether different category, having no place at all in a little guide to melancholy out-of-season resorts!

As to  longings for romantic encounters, I do have a long history of such longings and at an early age discovered the imaginative potential of the off-season seaside.  Many a daydreaming walk  have I taken along wintry boulevards. From many a glass of wine have I sipped, looking up from a book and staring out of the window to people struggling with their umbrellas in an autumn storm.  Romantic encounters did take place, but (come to think of it), never at resorts and never with any person I had imagined.  When at last I did find love (out-of-season, but not at the seaside), it turned out to have nothing to do with any of my a-priori longings.  

Now what about mid life contemplativeness,  as final savouring factor for the off-season connoisseur? No need for the mid-life. Contemplativeness alone will do... and that I  have been graced (or cursed) with all my life.      

Guide to a Refreshing Lunch Break Walk

Beyond a certain age (1), fantasies of escape into another life don’t work anymore.  The illusion of ultimate vindication has faded.    This psychological state of mind also has an economic counterpart: a dwindled bargaining power in the labour market.  Contrary to any lingering naive traditional belief, age does not command more, but rather less consideration in the work place.  Witness a manager’s apt words,  referring to a complaining staff-member of-a-certain-age :  “ I don’t give a damn.  At his age he can’t go anywhere”.   

May this bleak introduction help my dear blog-readers to  imagine the kind of claustrophobic office atmosphere  that, especially in times of economic crisis, weighs upon those who lack the unshakable belief  in the imminence & indispensability of their own skills.  And perhaps my thus primed blog-readers can now readily understand the supreme importance of a  Refreshing Lunch Break Walk.

“Walk, I definitely must, to invigorate myself and to maintain contact with the living world” (2)

From the moment the revolving doors spew me out on the busy sidewalk, tortuous brooding gives way to alert navigating amidst hectic pedestrian traffic .  So many people going so determinedly about their business – boarding buses,  going down metro stairs,  queuing at stationery counters,  buying sandwiches, sipping from steaming paper cups of coffee.  So many people conversing so earnestly with their live companions or on their mobile.  “I got myself super glue, and man, that works!” “No,  on Saturday I can’t, sorry”.  Heavy buses thunder past, nimble taxis speed by, all in swooshing sprays  of muddy water.  

What a flexible and adaptive species we are,  I sigh with admiration, noting how appropriately dressed all these people are, in perfect tune with the intensely grey & chilly November drizzle.  Overcoats, boots, thick scarves, and umbrella’s! Many umbrellas!  I love umbrellas. 
I love to watch people with their umbrellas. There’s a truly s’ theatrical dancing quality to people walking with umbrella’s .  Perhaps it’s a prop that brings out latent acting qualities in people?   A widespread subconscious re-enacting of  ‘Singing in the rain”?  
In any case, the three ladies  in front of me do a great act, dressed in black tap-dancing boots, swirling umbrella’s in beige, red and pink.  Yeah, they make a splash, and they make my day.  I hurry behind them with my camera, following  them around this corner and the next.  Delighting in their choreography, thrilled by their cheerful chattering Spanish.  My three Autumn Graces ....

One last picture ....then I have to bid my Graces goodbye and must turn to walk back to work.  Walking bravely, and not lost in sombre apprehensions at all,  quite the contrary!  Because there’s still that lovely little square to cross, the small park with its black iron railings overgrown with moss.  I watch the leaves turning and falling and drifting against the railings.(3)  I permit myself visions of urban autumnal romance ... a park in foggy London ... 

 I conveniently forget the serious& utilitarian pedigree of this neighbourhood and deftly ignore the prominent statues of captains of industry.   Instead I turn my gaze to an angel up there, yes an angel! Shiny and gilded, floating, fleeing forward in the autumn haze ...  Daphne,  about to transform in turbulently turning leaves?
What a feat of civilisation past, so I stand there musing... railings with beautifully crafted ironwork, gleaming angels spreading out their wings, tenderly shaped flower beds ... As a token of my love and admiration I once again point my camera at the little park .... and then quickly conceal it, because I spot some colleagues coming my way.  And one cannot be seen swooning over black railings and gilded angels, now can one? 


accompanying notes to a refreshing walk

  1.   Do pick your own number, dear blog-reader.  In any case, an age already more advanced  than Swann’s at the moment of being described thus by Proust: “à l’âge déjà un peu désabusé dont approchait Swann”
  2. Robert Walser – The Walk
  3.  Janet Frame – “The envoy from mirror city” : “I said goodbye to London [...] I watched the leaves turning and falling and drifting against the black railings of the parks. I saw the sun change   to blood-red and stand on end upon the winterbeaten grass of the Common; I watched the people with a new urgency in their gait, hurrying to their homes
  4. Robert Walser – “The Walk” – “It really is shockingly vulgar the way people impede me here from making my elegant studies and from plunging into the most superb profundities. While I have grounds for indignation, I would rather be meek and endure with a good grace; thoughts of bygone beauty and loveliness, and the pale image of sunken nobility may well be sweet; but on the world around and on one’s fellow men one will not therefore have cause to turn one’s back. One cannot possibly talk oneself into believing that one is entitled to resent people and their contrivances because they disregard the state of mind of him whose desire it is to be absorbed in the realms of history and thought.” 

at last, the yearly autumn post

 Late November .... and I haven’t done an Autumn post yet!   How dare I so neglect Autumn ....this most mercifully murky of seasons ...

Ah, the tonal shifts of autumn....  the soft blending of light and dark.  Like that late October evening, when I was walking home from work via some quiet back-streets, far from the roaring traffic. The weather was mild, people still kept their windows open.   Some piano music came drifting out of a window – the Goldberg variations. 

And then comes November,  with its chilly foggy greyness. Its wet darkness, even in the middle of the day.  But when I step out of the office building, at lunch time, the head buzzing with worries, the stomach anxiously clenched - hey, look - I feel like cheering - what with this whimsical wind subversively blowing stray leaves  into the revolving door.   And how intensely, satisfyingly ,autumnal the street looks – the cars having their lights up, people hurrying with hunched shoulders, their heads bowed, struggling with fiery gusts of rain.  

Now don't think I'm an urban, gloomy autumn snob and that I  would shun nature's spectacular autumn colours. It's just that my humble compact camera is better suited to capture murky shades than exploding colours.  

No escape?

Oh, so Giotto too...  It was with some disappointment that I read about Giotto’s “extensive business activities”. (1)
I have of course always been aware of the artist as an entrepreneurial workshop-owner,  or as a business man  competing for commissions   but somehow pre-renaissance art  had retained for me a blissful aura of purity and transcendence. (2)

The role of the wealthy establishment as patrons of art has never much annoyed me – the idea of the very rich redeeming their money-making by investing in art may even have enhanced, for an innocent mind such as mine, the status of art as ‘something better’ (3) (4) .
But ah, how to reconcile the artist-as-a-shrewd-businessman (5) with  the need for art as an escape from utilitarianism?   The Kantian disinterestedness of art,  you know, the “free play of understanding and imagination”. 

Not to speak of the humble art lover’s need for at least some sort of poetic justice:  let the self-interested philistines and parvenus have their worldly success,  “we” (6) at least have taste, meaning &  beauty on our side.   And then, being confronted with evidence that  the go-getters and the commercially gifted of this world are capable too of producing great art? Please allow us a soupcon of regret. 
But not all is lost, since, unlike the other worldly spoils of society,  art at least is not reserved  for the wealthy & well-connected of this world.  So art has been able to retain some of its status as a refuge, where taste, insight, intrinsic worth and study  count  more than social standing.  Therefore, also those who ( for either social or political or even psychological reasons) do not feel at home in society, can and will confidently roam about in the realm of high art.   This may be an essentially  19thC-early 20th C humanist myth – untrue perhaps, as  all myths go, but founded nonetheless in genuine longings.

the pariah of the nineteenth century had found escape [...][in] an overwhelming preoccupation with the world of beauty, [...] the realm of art where everyone was welcome who could appreciate eternal genius. [...] a department of life which was proof against social [...] assault; and the pariah therefore retreated to them as to a world  where he might dwell unmolested. 
Old cities, reared in beauty and hallowed by tradition, began to attract him with their imposing buildings and spacious plazas. 

Projected, as it were, from the past into the present, aloof from contemporary rages and passions, they seemed in their timelessness to extend a universal welcome. The gates of the old palaces, built by kings for their own courts, seemed now to be flung open to all, and even unbelievers might pace the great cathedrals of Christ. In such a setting the despised pariah Jew, dismissed by contemporary society as a nobody, could at least share in the glories of the past, for which he often showed a more appreciative eye than the esteemed  and full-fledged members of society”.    (7)         


  1. John White;  "Art and Architecture in Italy 1250-1400" :  “In 1314 six notaries were pursuing  debtors in the courts on his [Giotto's]  behalf. Various dealings in land are recorded of him, and he also hired out looms. The latter was a standard way of putting money to work without infringing the ecclesiastical prohibition of usury, and work it certainly did, at a rate of about 120 per cent a year!”
  2. This perception is apparently not just unworldly wishful thinking of mine - few pre-renaissance artists seem to be have left records as business men  :  Giotto is one of the earliest artists to have left his documentary mark, not as a craftsman, but as a man of affairs manipulating capital in the then nascent world of industry and commerce. " 
  3. Fittingly enough [Giotto’s] his major surviving commission came from Enrico Scrovegni, heir to the greatest fortune in Padua, and the Arena chapel may well have been built to atone for the usury , still officially condemned yet unofficially condoned , by which Scrovegni’s father made his money.” 
  4. or the status of art as the ultimate way to subvert the power and value of money – think of the unreality of the millions of Euros/Dollars which Sheikha’s or Russian tycoons or other super rich splash out at art auctions ...     
  5. or “artist-as-a-shrewd-businesswoman”, of course --- one can only speculate how many (male or female) artists never “made” it, not for lack of artistic talent, but for lack of business and marketing acumen ...   
  6. “we” =  well, um:  the contemplative?  the sensitive? the highly-strung?    
  7. Hannah Arendt, "The Jew as pariah: A Hidden Tradition".   Nobody has written with such poignancy about the status of the society-less Jew as either parvenu or pariah. Nobody has written so insightful  about the” hidden pariah tradition” of Heine, Rahel Varnhagen , Kafka .  Nobody has written so beautifully about the pariah qualities of “humanity, humor, disinterested intelligence” or  about the “life of the mind”. And yet nobody has been so acutely aware also of the (political) dangers of total worldlessness, about how  lacking a realistic political understanding of the world” can bring on catastrophe. Arendt’s ‘Amor Mundi’  sprung from 20th C political necessity?