The Sea, The Sea and the Sandwich

The Perfect Sandwich

No food tastes as good as when you eat it coming from an ocean swim or even while out breathing the sea salt air. Charles Arrowby, the protagonist of Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Sea, The Sea, knows this. A retired actor, Arrowby went off to Shruff End on the North Sea to write a memoir of his theater life and loves. He swims and eats and writes, but I cannot remember any of the events and loves he chronicles in Murdoch’s novel, only the multiple descriptions of the simple but eccentric meals he eats after his tide pool swims. I went back to the book recently to read that after swimming from the tower steps at high tide and lying naked on the grass next to the tower, Arrowby feels “exceedingly relaxed and happy.” He then goes on to tell us what he had for lunch, taking much pleasure in what he can concoct with a small “calor stove” and no refrigerator:

“I may say, I ate, and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, lemon juice, and olive oil (really good olive oil is essential, the kind with a taste, I have brought a supply from London)…Then bananas and cream with white sugar. (Bananas should be cut, never mashed, and the cream should be thin.) Then hard water-biscuits from with New Zealand butter and Wensleydale cheese…”

I love the opinionated asides, the attention to detail, and I recognize those precious moments of feeling “exceedingly relaxed and happy.” It’s what my sister Carol and I call our moments of “perfect happiness.”  I had so many of these moments this summer on short trips that combined swimming with good, simple food.

One of these was a seaside picnic the Chef and I enjoyed while visiting the Watch Hill lighthouse on Block Island Sound. We sat on flat rocks in the full sunlight, waves frothing almost at our feet and buoy bells tinkling in the distance. We had a brown paper bag of provisions at Sandy’s Fine Food Emporium in Waverly: baguette, ripe tomato, cucumber, a small plastic tub of lavender goat cheese, and a juicy pluot for dessert. We only had plastic knives (note to self: travel with a vegetable peeler and Opinel knife always), but like Charles Arrowby, we made do, ripping the baguette apart, peeling the cuke roughly with the serrated edge of the flimsy knife and cutting the tomatoes with same. For seasoning: only the salt air. A perfect, if ragged looking, sandwich and a moment of perfect happiness.