Bathing with Austen: Saltwater

Bacon sandwiches always taste better after a quasi-swim; they also make me feel meditative, whether I want to or not. This defies the overwhelming claims that processed meats are the cause of “brain fog”. Or maybe not—after all, being in a meditative state is a little like experiencing a brain fog. Virginia Woolf had referred to Jane Austen as the “mistress of a much deeper emotion than appears on the surface.” Those deeper emotions are made intelligible near shallow waters as I enjoy my bacon sandwich.

Sea bathing, or heliotherapy, is still a popular concept today. The relaxing properties of salt water can now be experienced away from the sea—or so a woman at a health store tells me— as she (successfully) sells me a lamp apparently made of rock salt extracted from the Himalayas. I buy a small one for my room: it weighs 2kgs and costs $18. If the air in my room is being ionized I do not feel it. And I would much rather be eating a bacon sandwich by the sea than on my bed, in front of a computer screen watching episodes of Downton Abbey.

Beach visits are a novelty. So should be bacon sandwiches. I cross my heart and swear that I’ll begin my alkaline diet tomorrow. I google what might happen if I were to subsist on a diet of kale, and kale alone—the goal being to acquire a figure just like Lady Mary Crawley’s. I then google what Michelle Dockery eats. Marie Claire tells me sushi, wine, and Nespresso pods. I don’t drink, and I can’t afford a Nespresso machine. I decide that as long as I’m swimming I may as well allow myself some bacon on white bread slathered with butter. This summer, I’ll visit the beach often.


Bathing with Austen: The Beach

I once read that Jane Austen had multiple lovers. She had written a letter to her sister Cassandra—in which she complained that Tom Lefroy’s morning coat was too light, and of how they only managed to (conveniently for him) hook up at dances. For me it is something akin to the sort of man you sleep with no more than twice in your life. He is the sort of man who refuses to go down on you for longer than two minutes— after he’d already spent a good twenty minutes or so holding your head down onto his crotch so that you’ll swallow him whole. He is also the sort of man who does not offer you a cup of coffee the morning after, and will allow you to leave without first taking a shower. I have been with several Tom Lefroys, and I slept with all of them more than once, and no more than twice. But unlike poor Jane, I was never attached to them.

I am supposed to have multiple lovers; I am in what you would call an “open relationship.” I haven’t fucked anyone else since meeting my boyfriend—it appears that I don’t have the capacity for it. ‘To be fond of dancing is the first step toward falling in love.’ I am not fond of dancing in the manner that Austen would have danced; I was trained in classical ballet and worked with one pas de deux partner. It is like having a large and insatiable appetite for one type of food. I put off masturbating the night before I see my boyfriend so I can fuck him multiple times.

I often think with my body. It starts off craving specific body parts of certain people: the dishevelled brows of one; the veiny and pulsating neck of another. My taste buds swell up as if they have tasted the intoxicating vigour of French wine. This passes quickly and I come to my senses. Emotions precede thought. Desire precedes sensibility. Sensibilities prevail every time.

I recently experienced something similar to what Emily Blunt’s character—Prudie—encounters in The Jane Austen Book Club. Prudie uses her book club meeting at the beach (which she’d cancelled) as a cover-up to meet up and have sex with one of her students at a motel. He waits for her to cross the road, but Prudie—doused in sunscreen, remains frozen. The traffic lights turn from red to green to the orange capital letters which spell out “WHAT WOULD JANE DO?”. For me, this epiphany happened one rainy Thursday. The young man in question had romanced me with the promise of home-made pasta, and potent sex with a twenty-one year old to Tchaikovsky’s 5th on a vintage record-player. We were due to meet at Sappho’s Café and Wine bar at 4.00pm. I had spent the entire morning waxing my vulva raw. By 1.30pm I was ‘half agony, half hope.’ I never went through with it.

It wasn’t until the following Tuesday that I realised what had happened—this new realization aptly triggered by the smell of cheap, thick sunscreen lathered on my skin. My boyfriend held me up high each time the waves crashed in on us. It is important that I keep my left ear dry so as not to irritate the fistula which inhabits the tract that ascends close to my brain. My body being pressed up against his body was not felt wholly—or at least I could not feel it in the physical sense. The sensation of salt water mixed with sweat seemed somehow separate from my skin; my thoughts now disembodied. In my state of nonentity I saw a vision of myself surrounded by the immensity of sea water; I was floating on an inflatable pink flamingo, and by my side was the very man who was by my side at the present moment. It was around 11.00am when I understood that what I was feeling was contentment.