Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Irish Sea

The promenade and sea were what first lured Paul and me here when we were house hunting 4+ years ago. We sat on one of its stone benches with their curlicue iron backs and imagined a life here. We have had more than we expected and have come to know and love being on the prom in all its seasons. One of our running jokes is George Costanza's 'the sea was angry that day' from Seinfeld. And my beloved Kristin had to eat crow for making fun of my use of the word 'sea' when she realized it is actually a sea and I wasn't being pretentious in calling it one.

I live 2 minutes from the promenade and can see the parallel of the horizon, sparkling green/grey water churning with foam or still and smooth as glass, from my bedroom window. It is ever-changing but constantly beautiful. And has the bizarre power to make me feel ok even on the saddest, most homesick, windblown and cold day.

The sea is Bray's natural Eastern border and Bray Head stands proudly at the Southern end of the mile long promenade. The Wicklow Mountains to the West form a jagged necklace surrounding the town as it lies beside the water.

In the summer it's warm and crowded with people from all over coming to enjoy the festival and carnival rides. They sit on grass up against the benches that form the promenade wall to shelter from the wind while sunning themselves. And they spread towels on the stony sand and plunge into the cold water, laughing and shouting to one another. It can be too busy at times and most people who live here try to stay away. Brown paper bags with the detritus of fish and chips litter the path and overflow from the black metal rubbish bins while magpies and black crows feast. Ice cream blobs and worse splatter the pavement. The town council's cleanup crew push past with their mobile wheelie bins sweeping and tidying as they go only to have to face it all again the next morning.

Autumn brings a slower pace and less of a crowd but the many Spanish and Italian students here to study English troll the promenade in clusters of skinny jeans, scarves, and Converse; most probably freezing in the fresh Irish air. Days grow shorter and the sun hangs lower in the sky while the sea moves through shades of grey. The locals return to walking their dogs, enjoying their exercise, and stopping for a chat or morning greeting. It might be my favorite of all times at the sea…not the buzz of summer or the bitter cold and dark of winter.

By 4 o'clock on a winter afternoon it is darker than dusk. The night sensor lights, very modern in their Victorian surroundings, come on to shed a bit of brightness onto the committed walkers, layered in fleece and windbreakers against the cold. The sea can barely be seen but you can hear it churning and crashing against the stones and boulders on the shore. It used to come right up to the promenade railings with their red balls atop blackish-blue posts, but they brought in loads of stones to hold it back and prevent flooding and erosion. There is a wild restlessness to the sea in winter. Maybe it is only me, wishing for warmth, feeling confined and cold in the freezing wind of this island.

Spring comes very slowly. I long for it and find this to be the hardest time of year. The St Patrick's festival plants itself along the prom and for two weeks surrounding March 17th, people flock back to ride the Crazy Mouse, the carousel, and inexplicably a water raft roller coaster where you are guaranteed to get soaked and frozen in 30F degree temperatures.

The kids love to climb around on the huge boulders jutting out into the water. They call it 'bouldering'. It is interesting to see how they've become more accomplished as they've aged. They jump from rock to rock singing and shouting, reveling in the freedom they feel unleashed on the boulders, water spraying up like the opening scene in Grease. We will miss it so much, all of us. It is the most accessible place, free to everyone, refreshing, beautiful and constant in its changeable permanence.

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