End of the Season

‘VIE DE NATURE AU BORD DE LA MER. MODERN INN.’ This sign, painted on canvas with blue paint, still decorates the front of a wooden shack on the beach of Kamakura. Within, the blue-painted chairs and tables, once of the Latin Quarter, with checked red and white tablecloths, are piled ignominiously upside down in complete confusion. Sand has drifted deep over the wooden floor, although this, the smartest teahouse on the beach, is raised on six-foot piles.

This Modern Inn is deserted. The few remaining banners hang tattered and lifeless. The kitchen is empty. There is a worse disaster. The inn, which was a bit of Old France, was decorated with a mural in which nude pink ladies and gentlemen struck attitudes against a baby-blue sea after the best tradition of the Picasso period. They were all drinking Karpis, which is the most popular Japanese summer drink, a scientific blend of sour milk and lemon. These pictured people were making the most of it, although in somewhat tortured poses. The painting had been done by a young artist employed by the Karpis company, which pays him a salary and sends him about to decorate its teahouses. He obviously got his technique on the boulevards. But it was an admirable work, and I bargained with the shopkeeper for it.

What I should do with it I had not worked out, as the ladies were more than life-size and the whole thing covered a wall space six and one-half feet by twenty.

This morning, in the interval between showers on the fifth day of rain following a typhoon that ripped the roofs off the less substantial beach houses, I ran down to see if the mural was safe. It had been taken down in the midst of the storm for protection, and now, although the place was deserted, it was back again on the wall. I took a long breath of relief and, righting one of the blue chairs, sat down before it to permit art to restore an equilibrium badly disturbed by the protracted rain. The panels of the painting were in place, uninjured by the storm. But whoever had replaced them had evidently been bewildered by so many pink limbs. There were five panels in all and they had been put up helter-skelter, so that a Botticellian head was sprouting from an oval breast like some enameled Brancusi, a gentleman’s thigh had become a lady’s shoulder blade, and glasses of Karpis, completely disembodied, quenched imagined thirsts in a mirage without hope. It was a surrealist’s vision so complete that thereafter all chaos would seem sensible.

There is no sadder thing than a seaside resort at the enforced early conclusion of a season. All the summer folk have sensibly accepted the approach of autumn and fled back to the crowded comfort of city life. But the vendors of tea or entertainment, taken unaware, unwilling to admit defeat, hang on, yet half-heartedly, not really even keeping up appearances. The sand is not swept away. Beach umbrellas folded in canvas cases make untidy piles; charcoal braziers give small cheer. A few lingering visitors sadly walk the beach looking for small shellfish, A solitary bather battles through the heavy surf. The last banners, soggy and torn, hang with the limpness of a soiled dishcloth. The sand is dirty; the Horywood Belt deserted. It is very melancholy. All you can hope for is a good typhoon to sweep it all clean, leaving the beach to the fishermen whose late boats are there, disappearing in the mist.

We will go too. The fleas will die. The radios are silenced; no longer will the Major summon us at 6 A.M. to join our neighbors on the beach for morning calisthenics. No longer will the continual repetition of ‘Mary’ drive us to denounce Japanese taste in, music. The West is vanquished. The wooden shacks, weather-beaten, half demolished, acquiesce to the passing of another summer. Now is the time to enjoy Kamakura, to let its quiet charm, its peaceful temples, its ruined monuments, give us the message of the eternal East.

It is painfully quiet. The melancholy is overwhelming. We will go too. Back to Tokyo, where crowds make a kaleidoscopic turmoil on the streets, and the radios clamor at six o’clock in the morning.