Ostend: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, and the Summer Before the Dark

Prochnick-1George Prochnik at Jewish Review of Books:

The Belgian resort town of Ostend began serving up a beguiling mix of social pageantry and dreamy ocean reveries to cosmopolitan vacationers early in the 19thcentury. Elegant hotels and cafés sprang up to accommodate the many thousands of visitors who traveled there each year, primarily from Germany and other landlocked nations of Europe’s interior. Horse racing, casino gambling, splendid displays of fashion on the promenade, and a busy schedule of colorful festivals heightened the resort’s appeal. The sea itself gained renown for its mesmerizing luminosity, which some attributed to the presence of innumerable mollusks.

In 1902, when the Viennese author Stefan Zweig was only 21 years old, he wrote one of his first travel pieces about “the season” at Ostend. This affectionate caricature observes that while people typically visit watering places for “harmonious relaxation in the calm contemplation of nature,” Ostend’s clientele was different. Rather than an opportunity to switch off, its visitors sought “another shining link in the endless chain of society’s distractions.” The city had become

the unofficial rendezvous-location for the real and bogus aristocracy that one sees floating like a spume above the waves of capitals, everywhere encountering and recognizing itself, and for whom a home-town is merely a station in transit.

At season’s end, the town was returned to the fishermen and fell into a deep slumber until the “unique, unforgettable game of human fallibility, passions and distractions” began again.

more here.