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‘Last resort’ interrogates the beach while enjoying it


A chronicle of paradise, the benefit and the danger on the beach
By Sarah Stodola
illustrated. 341 pages. Here it is. $ 27.99.

Publishing a book about beaches during the “beach reading” season is a bold move and goal, like when Kramer made a book about coffee tables in “Seinfeld.”

Conventional wisdom is that readers want something light and unchallenged for their summer vacation, something they don’t mind staining with Coppertone and leaving behind in the rental house. Sarah Stodola’s “The Last Resort,” a title that echoes the Cleveland Amory classic about high society playgrounds, is definitely not that kind of book. In fact, it aims, in a well-intentioned, widely researched and somewhat scattered way, to make you deeply concerned about the very act of visiting the beach.

Why are you going there anyway? For much of human history, Stodola reminds us, the seashore was considered a deeply uncomfortable and dangerous place. In the 18th century, dubious “cures” of seawater were promoted in the West, such as washing one’s eyes or submerging oneself repeatedly. But the beaches were tolerated for a long time more than they were enjoyed, the resorts at a lower altitude parallel to the sanatorium type of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” They also appear in literature and film, probably more than in the mountains: Mann’s “Death in Venice” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” immediately before their eyes. “Splashed”. “Jaws”.

The beach, renamed by Hollywood and real estate developers as an adult playground, is a great setting for art and life, but it still has a vague sense of impending danger. Sharks may be circling. The relentless sun baptizes. The big wave could hit. And even before Covid, the tourist trade was vulnerable to outbreaks of disease and violence. “It’s one of the few industries,” writes Stodola, who demands that its consumers “present themselves in person at the manufacturing site.” And these consumers are fickle; his idea of ​​”paradise,” denoted by palm trees and cocktail paper umbrellas, too portable.

Credit …Micilin O’Donaghue

The biggest danger, Stodola sings darkly, releasing many statistics, is the humans themselves. They are overdeveloped, recklessly dumped in plastic, and commit major violence against delicate marine ecosystems. The earth is warming; sea ​​level is rising and established coasts are being reshaped when they are not completely gone. And yet many travelers persist in making handkerchiefs only on the immediate forecast. “There’s something about any extreme weather event that is ruled out as a weird fact,” Stodola writes, “and then there’s our current deluge of extreme weather events that make it harder to ignore that the center isn’t holding up. to borrow a phrase from Didion., who borrowed it from Yeats. “

There are many loans in “The Last Resort” and the bibliography can quickly divert you to the more focused stories Stodola consulted, such as “Making Monte Carlo” by Mark Braude. His raids on racial relations were reminiscent of Russ Rymer’s more substantive “American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth, and Memory.”

Stodola, whose previous book was “Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors,” and her own life as a writer includes some luxury travel (she founded and edited an online magazine called Flung). fruitfully a 1980 essay by a geographer. called RW Butler. In “The concept of the evolution of the cycle of a tourist area: implications for resource management,” Butler identified half a dozen Kübler-Ross-like stages in the life cycle of a complex, including stagnation, decline, and possibly rejuvenation. (“Tulum today is the stage for the consolidation of textbooks,” writes Stodola about Mexico City, which has been crammed with sargass and hipsters.) , has become an important destination while it is nearby. Nias has fought.

Still, you have to laugh when a girl from a group of children in the village asks for a picture of Stodola’s classmate, Scott, and one of the boys raises his middle finger just as he is taking the picture. This critic did not feel quite this level of hostility, but the disorienting number of places that Stodola illuminates, the number of vegan dishes and drinks he reports asking for, some in the poolside bars, a trendy past on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc d’Antibes, France. ; Absolute and juice at the Naviti Resort in Fiji; “a totally decent glass of wine in Cancun” (which she considers in the stagnation stage): it does make one scratch one’s head about what this book proposes to be, exactly; it tends to seem more like a last resort than a last resort. “A nuanced understanding of the beach resort industry where none currently exist,” is what Stodola is trying to do, though he acknowledges the carbon offsets he bought for all of his long-haul flights. “are not enough to streamline emissions.”

My Acapulco! (Where he enjoyed a frozen margarita that melts in El Mirador.)

Anyway, at least I didn’t go down without explaining myself first. We can do it here, now. “Read” (like “invite”) is better as a verb, and summer is precisely the season when readers should be “digging deep,” building castles in the air and also in the sand.


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