Brighton Beach cures everything. Just an hour-plus subway ride or 14-mile bike ride from my apartment, in other ways it is a world away. Janet and I made a pilgrimage today to welcome the arrival of spring with an ambitious triple-dip swim program, the pool components of which I’ll post later in the week.
The beach was pretty overcast most of the time we were on it, although the sun shone warmly just a block away, so here’s a photo from the fall showing our little CIBBOWS crew meeting up for a swim. The abbreviation stands for Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers, which is correct but leaves out mention of our other main activities–eating and lounging. At this time of year, I like to change the name to CIBBCOWS, with the second c standing for “cold.” I haven’t been out to the beach since New Year’s Day, but there are dedicated folks who show up every weekend, and one person swam the full 5K loop out there last Saturday in water just 46 degrees! Come warmer weather, the numbers swell and people laze and graze on the beach all day, possibly taking breaks for some actual swimming. It’s a wonderful escape from whatever else is going on in life.
The neighborhood’s largely Russian population really appreciates the beach, too. They fill the boardwalk year round, and it’s not unusual to see other swimmers or dippers in the water, as we did today.
Busily fishing seagulls clued us in that the crab population was larger than the human population this afternoon. My goggles fogged enough that I wasn’t particularly bothered by the presence of sea life as I did a brief round-trip swim to the famed “white building” at the eastern end of the beach, visible in the distance in the photo above. That building and the pier at the opposite end of the beach are the two landmarks of our loop course. Poor Janet had better visibility to the crabs and consequently didn’t enjoy her swim very much. (She claims to have screamed when she saw a particularly large underwater gathering of crustaceans, but I didn’t hear that from the beach.) I’m not sure what kind of crabs they were–maybe spider crabs?–but they were brown with a rounded body a few inches in diameter (not flat like some kinds), and most of their legs were considerably longer but lacking big claws, meaning they looked kind of gangly and measured more than a foot overall. The seagulls seemed to find them quite delicious, and easy prey.
Just as the wildlife varies, so does the water. Today was flat as can be, without a noticeable current in either direction, and the tide was really far out. My main triumph was entering the water quickly as practice for the 250-meter open water swim race in the North Atlantic that will be part of my Iceland trip.
When visiting this neighborhood, I often go food shopping to take advantage of the low prices and great produce. Alas, none of my purchases made it home today. Getting off the subway, I stopped at a storefront food stand for a tasty, filling, $1.25 картофель, pronounced katorshka, a soft baked dough filled with mashed potatoes. At the end of the day, we walked a few extra blocks to pick up a Georgian delight known as khachapuri, also a soft baked dough but filled with cheese rather than potatoes. I brought some fig spread for this, and we enjoyed a subway picnic.
Back home in Manhattan, I always find myself thoroughly exhausted by the trip and the chilly swim. Just unpacking my bag takes a supreme effort–not least because of how much stuff is required for a triple-dip day–and results in a scattering of sand that will bring back Brighton Beach memories for days to come.