Friday, 21 September 2012

Mediterranean beach culture

For Aussie beach goers, Mediterranean beaches hold a fascination, at least they do for this one. Some bits are obvious. Pebbles, rocks, black sand, red sand/dirt, gravel and what we’d consider regular sand … pretty much anything goes and people flock onto them in their thousands. Without soft white sand it makes sense that you sit on chairs and banana lounges, even if the idea of having to pay a couple of Euros to get off the beach and under an umbrella out of the sun seems a bit ironical.

But there have been two aspects of Mediterranean beach culture that I’ve been thinking about the last couple of days as we visited some of the best the Greek Islands have to offer on Naxos.

Firstly, they really know how to do beach side restaurants and cafes over here. The climate allows for outdoor dining, and the zoning clearly offers opportunities to get hospitality on the beachfront in ways we don’t see in Oz. We do kiosks and cafes across the road, and surf clubs have some great spots … but the endless rows of bars/restaurants/cafes that line the edge of the beach add a whole dimension to beach culture here that is pretty cool.

One of the reasons this works so well is my second observation about Mediterranean beach culture. Back home, we go to the beach for recreation. Mostly, when there is surf we splash around and play in the water. When the water is flat in rivers or bays we improvise by bringing everything from blow up water rings for kids or jet skis. We go to the beach to exercise, and we retreat from it to rest and eat. But here, everyone on the beach moves very slowly. The ocean is like a giant bath that people wander into very slowly, then slip into so as not to disturb the surface too much. Then they ‘bathe’. Quietly bobbing around and chatting. Even when people swim, they do so in virtually slow motion as if caressing the water.

In the many hours I’ve spent at the beach over the last week, I haven’t seen anyone run or even walk fast. As for diving and frolicking around … forget it. I did see one bloke doing some pretty aggressive splashing around yesterday, but alas, when he got out of the water and spoke to his two female companions I detected an Aussie drawl.

Johanna and I have played around, this afternoon at the pebbly Kamari beach on the eastern side of Santorini, we found white stones, lobbed them into the deep and raced to dive for them. People were looking at our energy and noise with bewildered amusement.

Not wrong just different.