At the Beach by Jean-Didier Urbain Summary
Around the world, when people think of vacation it's the beach they want--even when long distances must be traversed, the seashore is the place to escape the rigors of modern life. How did this come to be, and what does our ongoing love affair with the beach mean? How do shore vacations differ from traditional tourism, and what does this tell us about our fears and dreams? In At the Beach, Jean-Didier Urbain offers witty and insightful answers to these questions. Urbain traces the transformation of the beach from a place of mythological threats and a demanding workplace fraught with danger to a destination for medical treatment and the pursuit of pleasure. He looks to the emergence of the modern vacation in the nineteenth century, examines representations of beachgoing in literature and the arts, and shows the transgressive side of beach culture--from nudism to hedonism to various "scandals" about costume, behavior, and sexuality that make the beach the site of social spectacle as well as leisure. Urbain's ultimate focus is the paradoxical enterprise of the residential seaside vacationer, who travels in order to stay in one place and who leaves the everyday world behind to reconstruct an idealized version of it at the shore. He argues that unlike tourists, who move from place to place, beach vacationers are not seeking to explore nature, to discover other cultures, or even to "get away from it all"; rather, they are attempting to re-create their own identities through a simplified community they can no longer find elsewhere. Blending history with social observation, Urbain presents an original, incisive, and entertaining account of this enduring ritual of escape and recreation.