Veraneio (translated from Portuguese): the act of spending the summer holidays in a pleasant location, different to the usual, generally close to the sea.
Raised in the endless, relentless summer of tropical living, snapshots of summer swamp my memories of childhood – beachside days, aching sunburns, blond locks tainted unflatteringly green by chlorinated pools.
It is not about a perfectly radiant sun, nor the fragile equilibrium of heatwaves soothingly diluted by the sea breeze, nor beaches worthy of glossy postcards. Above all else, summer is condensed within a few distinct sensations.
Nothing quite summons the mind back to such afternoons like the slippery scent of SPF 100 clogging the wind. A stifling summer afternoon existed only if bogged down by overly sunblocked bodies moving through dense air as if through syrup. A single greasy waft revives the string of summers past.
Your over-eager legs dip into the pool. Swirls of sunblock melt away from your skin as if it is dissolving into the water, and the distinct scent of sunscreen blends into a thicker soup of odours. The vague sting of chlorine in children’s eyes insists upon the pool’s cleanliness, but it cannot erase the traces of toddler’s urine in the water – it cannot block the rest of your messy sensations.
There is a saltiness you discern almost like a taste on your tongue. Perhaps it is the brine carried by the sea breeze? Perhaps it is the gallons of sea water flooding your lungs after your last ocean dip?
Perhaps it is all the sweat? Yours, stinging little scratches and cuts you didn’t know you had. Others’, blended into the sunblock running off their skin into the cloudy pool-water. The sunblock which at this point everyone’s skin seems to secrete. Never mind. The child only tastes the saltiness – its origin is ignored for the sake of the summer afternoon.
The pink viscosity of a kid’s ice cream drips into the pool unnoticed. Drops of artificial strawberry stain the water’s vague greenness and then disappear. The kid gives it a single lick and before another can follow it, the popsicle has dissolved into a sticky candy coat on his hands. Never mind. The kid dips the dirty arm into the water, gets rid of his problem, makes it everyone else’s.
There is always the fried fish. The revolting yet enticing smell of frizzling oil. If you turn your head in the right direction it breaks on you like a wave. Once again, salty. You can taste the satisfying crunch it will make when you bite into it.
And the sand. Grating against your yielding skin when the tide launches you back against the shore. Entangled in your sun-stained hair. Wedged uncomfortably under your nails. Finding its way into places it should not. Occasional splintered seashells puncture your little soft feet and every time you walk into the ocean the seawater does you the unwarranted favour of sharply disinfecting the wound.
The damp afternoon deepens into evening and you are finally ready to go home, knotted hair, sticky skin, sunburnt shoulders peeling away along with the tip of your nose. Satisfyingly exhausted.
My father’s retirement dream has always consisted of endless summer. Chasing the searing season, dodging the barrenness of winters to come. His sun-wary complexion and loyalty to the beach’s single quadrangle of shade suggest it is not the blazing sun that entices him. I dare say he misses the clammy summer afternoons of our childhood. The messiness. The salt.
Illustration by Sasha LaCômbe