April swimming and the end of the Odyssey

There has been a cold snap as we fall deeper into autumn but somehow I have still managed to swim every day. Yesterday I was suffering the third day of the worst headache ever (complete with nausea) and was quite unsure about whether to brave a cold swim but despite the odds it completely cleared out the aches and pains.

Still swimmable

Still swimmable but there weren’t many swimmers at Pt Chevalier beach on April 15 2015

I am particularly proud of the swim I had on Monday the 13th of April. When I arrived at the beach I discovered there was an incredibly strong wind blowing straight onshore and no one in the water so I decided not to swim but walked along the beach instead. My jacket was virtually useless in the strong cold wind. I was about to go home when a fellow swimmer arrived and encouraged me to give it a go. It was more difficult than usual to get into the sea but worth the effort. I was tossed about the waves in a manner that reminded me of a west coast surf beach but this felt a bit safer because there wasn’t a dangerous undertow pulling me out into deep water.

A stormy day with strident westerly onshore winds kept most swimmers away from Pt Chevalier beach on April 13th

A stormy day with strident onshore winds kept swimmers away from Pt Chevalier beach on April 13 2015

Prior to the cold snap from Monday to yesterday the weather has been surprisingly warm and calm for this time of the year. Here are a few photographs from the last couple of weeks.

Autumn paddle boarders at Pt Chevalier beach

Autumn paddle boarders at Pt Chevalier beach in early April 2015

Looking north west as the sun goes down.

Sun is about to set at Pt Chevalier beach

Sun is about to set at Pt Chevalier beach in early April 2015

The composition of the following photograph could be said to be somewhat boring as it is very static and based around the rule of thirds but I quite like how the sky/air sea/water and sand/earth contrast with each other and have different textures, and how the light/fire interacts with each part.

A very calm morning at Pt Chevalier beach

A very calm morning at Pt Chevalier beach in April 2015

The following photograph reminds me of pictures I have seen of the coast in England. It could make a lovely watercolour painting. The red and white sail seems to erase everything behind it and takes on the appearance of a (triangluar) door to another world.

Love the red and white sail on the small yacht.

Pt Chevalier beach in autumn 2015. Love the red and white sail on the tiny yacht.

Oh, and I finished reading Homer’s Odyssey. It is surprisingly cinematic. A beautifully written action movie. Odysseus is the (original) hero. The ultimate, prototypical hero. The parallel action sequences are quite striking and remind me of parallel editing in films showing two (or more) things occurring simultaneously building towards a climax. Plus there was the added tension of dramatic irony where the reader knows things that the characters in the story do not. ‘We’ know that the beggar is actually Odysseus, but the characters don’t know it for a while. And it totally amazes me that we can get inside the head of someone who was alive almost 3,000 years ago.

Swimming in the rain, the Odyssey continues.

Yes, it was raining when I went to the beach today, which seems to make swimming easier although not many other people seem to agree. And at Pt Chevalier beach it’s not too difficult to keep the towel dry.

A rainy afternoon at Pt Chevalier beach today

A rainy afternoon at Pt Chevalier beach today

After Odysseus was confronted by those awful female monsters Skylla and Charybdis as outlined in the last post, apparently he ended up trapped on an island with the goddess Calypso who offered to make him immortal – but he was pining for his wife Penelope so declined the offer. Poor Odysseus! He was virtually emasculated by Skylla and Charybdis then trapped by a goddess! Of course he hopped into bed with her quite a few times but then he wanted to go home. Typical. Then I bet he gave Penelope all the excuses. ‘Sorry Penelope, she trapped me! And I had to prove I was a man after meeting those mean and nasty monsters!’ Despite not knowing whether her husband was alive or dead for many many years, and being surrounded by ardent and persistent suitors, Penelope was required to remain chaste – despite being chased. So, Odysseus would rather be reunited with his true love than be immortal. Do I really believe that? I think that he would rather be mortal but powerful than immortal and less powerful as it is likely that the goddess Calypso would always trump him in any kind of power-stakes because she is truly immortal, rather than the ‘muggle-wizard’ hybrid he would be if she granted him immortality. Maybe.

I feel slightly connected to the events of Homer’s Odyssey when I’m swimming as there is only really one sea. Perhaps I feel slightly immortal as I’m immersing myself in an ocean that has been circling the earth for about 3.8 billion years. Mind you, the earth has been around for even longer so there goes that theory. But then again, we don’t immerse ourselves in the earth unless we are dead and buried, and then we don’t usually get to blog about it.

The Odyssey

Writing about these previous beach visits is a bit of an odyssey, a mission, an ongoing quest. Actually, (warning, a not particularly subtle segue follows) I am reading the Odyssey. Not in ancient Greek, but a translated version.

I’m about halfway through Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus has just related several stories about how he managed to deal with a mean and nasty Cyclops; a many headed female man eating monster called Skylla (who lives in a cave in a rockface on the edge of the sea) and another female monster (who lives near Skylla) in the shape of a whirlpool called Charybdis among other things.

He tells the story of how he had to get past Skylla and Charydbis a second time (I think, if I’ve got this whole thing sorted) in a partially broken vessel (sailing ship). This is what he says:

‘But I went on my way through the vessel, to where the high seas had worked the keel free out of the hull, and the bare keel floated on the swell, which had broken the mast off at the keel; yet still there was a backstay made out of oxhide fastened to it. With this I lashed together both keel and mast, then rode the two of them, while the deadly stormwinds carried me.

‘After this the West Wind ceased from its stormy blowing, and the South Wind came swiftly on, bringing to my spirit grief that I must measure the whole way back to Charybdis. All that night I was carried along, and with the sun rising I came to the sea rock of Skylla, and dreaded Charybdis. At this time Charybdis sucked down the sea’s salt water, but I reached high in the air above me, to where the tall fig tree grew, and caught hold of it and clung like a bat; there was no place where I could firmly brace my feet, or climb up it, for the roots of it were far from me, and the branches hung out far, big and long branches that overshadowed Charybdis. Inexorably I hung on, waiting for her to vomit the keel and mast back up again. I longed for them, and they came late; at the time when a man leaves the law court, for dinner, after judging the many disputes brought him by litigious young men; that was the time it took the timbers to appear from Charybdis. Then I let go my hold with hands and feet, and dropped off, and came crashing down between and missing the two long timbers, but I mounted these, and with both hands I paddled my way out. Both the Father of Gods and men did not let Skylla see me again, or I could not have escaped from sheer destruction.’ (end of Book XII)

I haven’t read any secondary literature, but it strikes me that Homer’s Odyssey is a lot like an action movie. It was written sometime during the 8th Century BC, so, nearly 3,000 years ago, and its setting is at the time of the Trojan war, about 1250 BC. It is a retelling of how Odysseus had an arduous and long journey home after being one of the people who wrecked Troy by hiding inside a wooden horse. The written document we know as Homer’s Odyssey has come about after many generations of people telling and retelling the story of Odysseus. I can’t help thinking about how the fish that was caught gets bigger every time the tale is told.

But anyway, one of the things that interests me about the passage quoted above – apart from the cinematic nature of the action – is how he describes his ‘waiting time’ in relation to legal proceedings brought about by ‘litigious young men’. Imagine Odysseus, hanging from a (fig) tree, for quite some time, in a perilous situation, while his vessel is sucked down into the deep sea by a (female) whirlpool sea monster, thinking about lawsuits. Perhaps he was thinking something like… ‘Imma really gonna take that Charybdis to court for her time-wasting shenanigans’.

Interesting, too, that Skylla (the many-headed monster who had previously reached down from her cave to grab, then eat, several of Odysseus’s male companions) is female. And living in a cave. This brings back memories of when I studied all that Freudian psychoanalysis in relation to film theory – in particular, monstrous feminine and the vagina dentata. Furthermore, Charybdis is a whirlpool. As such, she creates a canal that, well, emasculates Odysseus by taking his broken vessel off him – he is helpless without it, and hanging from a fig tree, the tree that saved Adam and Eve from the shame of being naked – the shame of being sexual. Basically, there seem to be a myriad of sexual undertones to this part of the story. Fascinating!

And, so, back to my Odyssey where I tell the extraordinarily lame tales of my swims. There aren’t any sea monsters, only a few human ones that lurk at the back of my mind.

There is photographic evidence that I attended Pt Chevalier beach on April 1 2014, at low tide which means there wasn’t a swim, merely a walk. No caves were found, no whirlpools, no lawsuits. Apparently there could be a more benign explanation for the whirlpool monster known as Charybdis, as she is probably the Goddess of the tides. If this is the case, she is out.

Low tide at Pt Chevalier beach

Low tide at Pt Chevalier beach