I went to Mousehole this evening – it is of course an enclave and playground for the rich, consisting now almost entirely of holiday and second homes, which I noticed more than ever before. Still, I’ve always loved it there – perhaps the way and reasons I do are part of the problem.
The atmosphere is all loveliness and lingering warmth. The ice cream shop is still open. It’s crowded but there’s no hurry. Doors and windows are left open – cars left parked in the middle of the street. It’s not full of any old tourists either (this isn’t Penzance we’re talking about) and as it was late many of them will have been staying there. Wealth and the ease that comes with it was everywhere. An endless leisurely parade passed by, whilst their manner and the cut of their clothes silently shouted at me.
I watched, in what felt like slow-motion, as a thin woman in the whitest white jeans (clearly so expensive they managed not to look tacky, a feat) hesitantly starts to lower herself onto the harbour steps before realising she has a blanket in the house – no don’t worry, it’s literally 30 seconds away. A balding man carries a full glass of red wine out of a house further down the cobbled street to better enjoy the view, another follows with the bottle.
And all at once I realised I was feeling a discomfort that wasn’t only coming from insecurity to jealousy or general misanthropy. I mean I expected all this, it’s bloody August and I took the bus to bloody Mousehole. I went because I thought it would be beautiful on a summer evening. And really – awful realities aside – how can I fault others for wanting to see beauty?
But – that beauty is somehow flattened and now it doesn’t stand up on its own.
(I had a similar feeling when I was young on holidays in France – some of the places we went to felt curiously empty, though full of people. I’d tell myself – this is so beautiful – you should be feeling something here, finding something here. But some substance or context had gone. And I felt a guilt I couldn’t define, as though I was the reason. It was like visiting a model town, a perfect replica in every way but still a replica. And we would think – what a lovely change, to travel, to go away – what might we learn from this place, how might it change us. Still, we have paid to be here, this room was built for us to stay in – so, how lovely is the view we see, how good is the food we eat. Was it disappointing or would you recommend it to a friend? And there again was the emptiness that we’d brought).
So, this evening in Mousehole that valuable sea-view felt like something that was owned and hollowed. And I was colluding in it, and had to look away.
I’d never felt more strongly a ghost of somewhere with an identity, with continuity, the ghosts of lives lived and shaped by place, of real homes and a strong landscape with a beauty that’s incidental, of a sea that defines and encloses rather than being set back and seen. I’ve never felt more intensely that the place I was visiting was not that – because of us it was something and somewhere else.
And all I could do was sit on a bench, wearing clothes that until then I’d thought were smart, eating a pasty in a manner that would make a dog excuse himself from the table – pausing only to angrily brush chunks of potato off my jumper – and stare inland. Thinking about a place that loses itself over and over again, a summer at a time – and wondering how long even a ghost would be able to stay.
( Post from I V-W with thanks)