The summer of 2023 was pretty awful weather-wise. It was rainy and cloudy the whole time and it made it impossible to go to the beach. The only break in the pattern of bad weather came at the very end of the season, in the first week of September. We immediately seized the opportunity and finally went to the beach - one we had visited before. It turned out that even if the sun was out and the temperatures were above 20 degrees, it was very windy. It was a workday on top of that, so the long strand of beach was mostly empty, safe for some locals walking their dogs. I had intended to go for a swim, regardless of the water temperature, but before that I went for a walk along the retreating shoreline.

Salvador Dali - study for 'Honey is sweeter than blood', 1926
Salvador Dalí - study for "Honey is sweeter than blood", 1926.

The shoreline is to me the most quintessentially surrealist landscape. Salvador Dalí understood this better than anyone else, which is why so many of his paintings are set against that backdrop. It is the literal edge between two worlds, each one the embodiment of a different state of matter. The liquid and the solid merge and create transient states of matter along that edge, inconsistent like a dream. Both the sands and the waters are flat and featureless, infinite landscapes that are mere backgrounds for something else that inhabits them. Only up close details emerge, innumerable in amount: the bubbles in the foam on the crest of the waves, the grains of sand in the dunes, the empty shells half-buried in them. It changes over multiple timescales: over the course of the day, it moves up and down along the beach following the tides and the winds; and over the course of mere seconds, the solid ground beneath your feet becomes soft like quicksands as the waves wash over it and then becomes solid again as they recede. Ever-changing features and details that appear out of thin air are fundamental dream properties, but these alone do not make a surrealist landscape. It is the life element - or more precisely, the death element - that provides the remaining ingredient that turns the shoreline into this prime oneiric environment. Every shoreline you ever walked on was littered with little dead creatures made unrecognisable by the action of the elements and the decay that accompanies death. Only on the shoreline you will find innumerable undecipherable masses of organic matter. Organic decay makes mysterious monsters that terrify the local populations. This phenomenon is well-known: look up "globsters". Incomprehensible blobs of organic mass wash ashore when nobody is there to witness it; they remain stranded at the shoreline, washed upon by wave after wave, until a lone walker comes across them in the morning; word spreads, a crowd gathers; panic ensues. Salvador Dalí understood this better than anyone else, which is why his best paintings often have the shoreline in their background.

Walking along the shoreline of Youghal beach that day I came across a little transparent mass. It was partially covered in sand and debris and I could not make out what it was, so I foraged a little stick from the surroundings (another gift from the sea) and used it to flip over the object. The sand remained stuck to the exposed side, but when it turned over the side that was originally in contact with the ground let go of all the sand and returned pristine, a smooth polished surface. What I had in front of me was a small transparent jellyfish, a little globe of glass flattened by its own diminutive weight. The sun shone right through this scant dying creature, its elliptical shape turning it into a makeshift magnifying glass. The sand and debris on the other side of the creature thus came into focus enlarged

Later I ventured into the water and started to get acclimated to the cold. I waded through the waves until the water was up to my stomach, and then I started to see them. Little jellyfish, the same kind I had found on the shore, were floating around me in every direction, separated from each other by few meters. I decided it was not a good idea to swim that day and left the water - I have been stung by jellyfish in the past, and it is not pleasant. We did not have any ammonia with us either and the lifeguard booth was closed on that day, so I was not going to risk having to ask my wife pee on me in case I got stung.

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