I’m coming up on my annual beach trip with friends – a chaotic week of sand-covered kids and steamed crabs and guacamole and margaritas. As part of my pre-beach ritual (along with tons of list-making and laundry), I’m rereading my favorite beach book ever, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.
The book opens on a summertime beach in southern France, where a young American starlet, Rosemary Hoyt, meets a glamorous and wealthy group of expatriates, including Dick and Nicole Diver, the book’s tragic hero and heroine. The story is based on the time Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent in the south of France with their notoriously fabulous friends Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Nicole Diver’s mental illness more than loosely resembles Zelda’s deterioration.
But back to the beach. In the very first chapter, Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of an emerging hot spot – the Cote d’Azur just as it became a fashionable summertime destination – with a beach covered in characters, including a lady in full evening dress (including a tiara) left over from the night before, and the ever-sophisticated Mrs. Diver, with, “her bathing suit pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls.”
Does this glamorous, exclusive beach exist today? It must, though it’s hard to imagine a spot that’s cosmopolitan but not yet overrun by development and tourists. And an internet search for “beach glamour” turns up with some suggestions that are more Playboy than “sophisticated expatriate.”
It seems that those in the business of branding today’s beaches value sexiness (and a possible mention on “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches”) over traditional glamour. While glamour and sexiness aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re not one and the same, either, a fact that’s especially obvious when bathing suits are involved.