In the ’90s, I was a champion sea floater. I would lay on the water that made up the beautiful but sometimes polluted Gulf of Naples for what felt like hours, my ears half-filled with the muffled sounds of adult conversation, half-filled with the whispers of the waves. I liked being there: submerged, but still a part of both worlds. The waves rocked me as they pleased and so I would relax as if preparing to fall asleep, closing my eyes against the sun.
The sound, the feel, the sense of the sea float is almost like bathtub float, but also totally unlike it for so many reasons. The hum of water in your ears has a depth of sound that is somehow both alarmingly quiet and distinctly loud, the warmth of the sun steadily pulses against your eyelids to remind you of its presence. You can stretch your body for miles and — instead of strands and limbs bunched in the confines of white porcelain — the water turns your hair into tentacles and your body into algae. Most importantly, the distinction of the sea float contained the icon of my childhood summers: sea salt.
Before it became a popular rival to kosher, sea salt used to regularly invade and burn my nostrils during accidental underwater inhales. It dried white and grainy in my hair, in the curve of my ear, on my brown skin, on my lips. Unannounced waves made the swallowing of salty water a requisite appetizer for the beach snacks that would follow: sparkling Lete water, strawberry Calippo popsicles, soggy mozzarella and basil sandwiches, pistachio gelato, an omelet made from leftover spaghetti.
I loved everything about salt. Its tanginess on my tongue, how its residue remained with me even after I got home, exhausted. It made my eczema melt away and disinfected the ocean enough to make peeing in it a forgivable sin. I used to dip my fingers in the water as we floated away from the coast of a Southern Italian island in our small boat. Dip, lick. Dip, lick. An endless supply.
Even now, as an adult, what I crave every summer — more than the smell of coconut suntan lotion, the rocking of the sea under my relaxed body or the taste of peaches soaking in a glass of red wine — is salt. The crook of my elbow dried with it, my hair tangled with it, my lips burning from it, the promise of summer stretched before me.
Photograph by George Steinmetz via Getty Images.