Tanning on the Hudson

Tanning on the Hudson

  •  It would be wrong to say that I was researching this column while I spent the last two weeks in Italy. Were I to attempt to deduct the vacation from my taxes as a business expense, there would probably be black IRS helicopters circling my apartment building within hours, and government agents in full body armor trying to break down the door. Actually, I performed the voluminous legwork that girds these thousand or so words—taking a PATH train to Jersey City—before I left.

Nonetheless, I think comparisons can be drawn, some of them quite favorable, between the new urban beach open to the public at Newport, a mixed-use community (15,000 people live there, but there are also office buildings and stores) on the Jersey waterfront overlooking Manhattan, and some of the Italian beaches I visited during my break.

Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street JournalShabely Perez, 8 years old, and her sister Melanie, 12, on the new urban beach in Jersey City, with a view of Lower Manhattan visible in the background.

For example, the quality of the sand was better at Newport than it was in Sardinia—I found the latter somewhat coarse—though perhaps it wasn’t quite as fine as on the Lido di Venezia, one of the best sand beaches in the world.

“We did go through some sampling” of sand, confided David Thom, the vice president of design and development at the LeFrak Organization, Newport’s developer.

On to amenities. Newport’s urban beach has comfortable, Adirondack-style chairs and stationary, perforated-metal umbrellas that provide lots of shade on a first-come, first-served basis. The Lido has cabanas, where the likes of Diaghilev and Thomas Mann, as well as princes and movie stars, have lounged since the Belle Époque. But these can set you back several hundred bucks a day.

In Sardinia, our hotel provided us with chaises that came with cute little canopies you could position over your head. On Sardinia’s public beaches, you’re expected to provide your own umbrellas.

“We were saying a bar would be nice,” stated Zena, a Bayonne resident who was on her sixth visit to Newport and had brought along a couple of girlfriends, all three boasting tans comparable to the Costa Smeralda’s best.

Mr. Thom didn’t leap at the suggestion; nor was he able to offer much clarity when the question of open-container laws arose. “We tried very hard to balance having some rules and letting people have some freedom,” he explained, neatly shifting to the subject of pets. “We can’t allow dogs on the beach. It’s not a natural beach. We don’t have the ocean washing the sand.”

The women and I all concurred that banning dogs—probably pretty much from any beach—isn’t the worst thing in the world, though you have to admit there’s a peculiar charm to watching a dog fearlessly charge into the waves after a ball or a stick, or simply dog paddling about.

“I agree with that,” stated Danielle, Zena’s friend, and like her a school teacher. “You don’t have to walk and worry about poop.”

Shall we discuss the view? In Venice, it’s of the Adriatic Sea. With freighters and ocean liners on the horizon. In Sardinia, the view from our hotel was of Tavolara, an island of sheer cliffs that soars more than 1,600 feet into the air, looks like an evil villain’s fortress in a James Bond movie and, in fact, harbors a former NATO base on its eastern end that remains off-limits to boaters.

Ralph Gardner, Jr./The Wall Street JournalA view of Tavolara from Sardinia.

The vista from Newport is a dramatic one—of the New York City skyline. It’s approximately opposite the Christopher Street pier in Greenwich Village.

The biggest downside to Newport, and one I’ve resisted mentioning until now, is that you can’t go swimming. The water on the Lido can at times be sketchy, but I think stories about its pollution are overstated. Sardinia was, quite simply, stunning. Swimming in a hundred feet of deep-blue water you can see straight to the bottom. And plunging in feels even more delightful when the temperature has been hovering around 95 degrees for most of July and August.

I suspect we’re all sufficiently acquainted with the Hudson that I don’t need to address its liabilities as a swimming hole, even though its water quality has improved markedly in recent years. But the drawbacks include PCBs from an earlier, less environmentally enlightened era, sewage run-off, the occasional “floater,” as the cops quaintly refer to them, and some extremely treacherous currents and ocean tides.

However, the ladies didn’t seem to mind that they didn’t have access to the water. “If I don’t want to drive all the way down to the shore, this works out perfect,” Zena explained. “I’m not really about going into the water.”

Danielle agreed. “I can go without it,” she said. “Not even as a kid. I was too afraid of sharks. I don’t like getting sand stuck on me.”

I have to disagree. For me, it’s all about the water. I’m not big on tanning. Give me a rocky beach, or no beach at all, just so I can dive into the sea. I can’t even understand people who feel refreshed submerging their bodies but not their heads. Full immersion is where it’s at. Or to quote a poet (actually, it was a college girlfriend on a cross-country trip), who explained, slightly flummoxed, when she emerged from the Missouri River stone sober after entering it pleasantly intoxicated: “Water is its own kind of high.” Or words to that effect. It was a long time ago.

I wondered whether Mr. Thom might consider adding a water feature. “Maybe a misting tower,” he said.

By the way, while the beach itself is only 8,000 square feet; it’s part of a landscaped park that includes a playground that sports some pretty neat cooling-off opportunities. However, I don’t know how pleased Newport security would be were adults not escorted by children to run through the playground’s water-shooting rings and stand under its dump buckets—which, as their name suggests, fill up and then dump large quantities of water all at once onto the victims below.

“The concept of the urban beach started in Europe,” Mr. Thom explained. “Paris is the most famous. I don’t think you can swim at any urban beach in Europe. The whole idea is to bring a beach feeling that by natural geography would not be a beach. You still get the breeze, the ocean views.”

Or at least 1 World Trade Center rising majestically across the Hudson.

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