Saturday, August 27, 2005

By the Sea

Care for a dip? (Me neither.)

After visiting my long-lost cousin Judi in Sandwich, I went to Cliftonville, Margate, just a few miles away in distance but light years esthetically & socio-economically. I got there on an overcast Saturday afternoon, when a seaside resort shows its true colors. And they weren't pretty: a cacophony of screeching pastels, peeling paint and crumbling brick splayed over a mishmash of once-proud Edwardian villas and cheap 1960s-era boxes. One sad old house was covered in lurid purple stucco. Tatty signs proclaimed the faded attractions of "Dreamland," an amusement park so old that cousin Howard's great-grandfather, who died in 1947, worked there.

Howard's recently widowed mother, Enid, lives in a building of little flats for Jewish retirees, the last testament to what had been a thriving Jewish resort. Enid proudly told me that in 1946, there were 42 Jewish hotels in Cliftonville; her parents ran the Balmoral Guest Home. She pulled out one of her many photo albums to show me dozens of neatly arranged snapshots of herself, family & friends: all nattily dressed, smiling, swinging tennis rackets, romping by the pool or on the beach. What a sad contrast to what lies outside her front door now. When I announced after dinner that I was going to take a walk down to the waterfront, a mere 200 yards away, Howard sternly told me that it wasn't safe for me to walk anywhere, and to stay inside till morning. Arguments about having lived in New York City proved futile. I pouted, but ended up staying put.

I got choked up taking this photo of Enid with her parents' wedding photo, ca 1925. (Just learned they were cousins too. Oy.) She's holding her mother's headdress and veil.

My first honeymoon was in a little village on the Cornish coast. All my memories were visual (the scenery! the rainbows! the fluffy sheep! the snuffly cows peering in our car windows!). But the next morning at 4:30 I quickly I remembered how incessantly loud English seagulls are, and how infernally early they wake up. They're a lot bigger than American gulls too. (London pigeons are also much bigger than NYC ones.) I got to see any number of them up close and personal when Howard & Deborah fetched me a little after 8:00 for a brisk and extremely breezy walk along the coast.

Not surprising for a chilly & stormy Sunday morning, the only other people out were dog walkers. I remarked upon the profusion of what appeared to be little garden sheds along the waterfront. Howard told me they go for some $20,000--twice that in more popular and upscale resorts like Brighton--and people actually spend a lot of time in them. Go figure.

A cozy beachfront, Westgate:

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