I've been linking up with Dreaming of France for the past fews posts, posting some newly recorded stories about a trip to France back in 1973. I was supposed to be backpacking around Europe with a boyfriend but since 'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' —and he was a two-faced lying schmuck—I'd ended up staying at my uncle's house in England intending to have a look around London, before heading to the continent with my younger sister. We'd been to Paris, and taken the night train to Marseilles, but by happy accident we ended up in Bandol.
After a rocky start we were settling into a rhythm in Bandol. Good morning we smiled at the proprietress of the pension, so cheerfully we almost curtsied. Bonsoir we greeted her, dipping our heads like novices in a convent, when we returned each afternoon to find the rows of tables newly set with fresh white linen tablecloths. Bonjour! we cried to the owner of the little stand where we bought our lunch every day, his hands reaching for the baguettes before we could get the clumsy 'jambon avec beurre' 'jambon sans beurre' out of our mouths.
Sandwiches, a litre of Coke in hand and beach mats tucked under our arms, we'd head for the Corniche Bonaparte, a tree-shaded avenue that led up the hill and around the point to the Plage Renecros, the beach at the quiet little cove we'd discovered on our first morning. We'd sit on the low rock wall flanking the road, gathering our breath for the climb, as beautiful boys and girls in bikinis came bouncing down the hill on their Vespas. Like my 16 year old sister Nancy, all the French girls seemed to have long glossy brown hair that flew in the wind when they passed. I deeply regretted chopping off my own hair like a Mia Farrow wannabe.
The Plage Renecros was where we fell into the habit of spending our days, floating in the sea, idly wishing we had the extra cash to rent a pedal boat. Lying in the sand, we tried to make sense of the chorus of French voices drifting by, the lilting tones, up and down, as irresistible as any top 40 hit blasting out of an AM radio back home on the beach in Santa Monica. While we'd heard all French women went topless, we didn't spot any at this family beach, but the men more than made up for it in their Speedo-esque swimsuits. The rule of thumb seemed to be the bigger the gut, the briefer the cut, as the European men let it all hang out.
Back home in California our beaches were covered with guys who preferred to cover up; floral trunks, surfer's baggies, cut-offs made from old Levis and jammers down to their knees. Those were the bathing suits we were used to. The idea of seeing le banane—just one of the many slang words the French have for penis—covered with a thin layer of stretchy fabric, was total culture shock. We'd be sitting there, innocently taking in the scene, the turquoise of the sea, those two cute guys on the pedal boat, the group of toddlers digging in the sand, when some grey-hairy-chested man would come loping by, his penis practically swinging in our faces. Glancing at each other, eyes wider with every occurrence, each 'banane' sighting sent us into fits of laughter. Prurient Americains that we were, we couldn't get over it.
We also idly wished we had the extra cash to stay at the Golf Hotel. While we sat cross-legged on our rush beach mats, unwrapping our ham and cheese sandwiches, careful to keep out the sand, the guests of the Golf gathered up their belongings at precisely the same time everyday and sauntered over to the hotel's beachside cafe. Everyday they pulled up chairs at tables under the shade of the hotel's outdoor umbrellas before commencing an elaborate ritual that involved a lot of cheek-to-cheek kissed greetings, the pouring of wine, the breaking of bread, the passing of multiple dishes back and forth, and intensely fascinating looking conversations. I didn't envy them their food; I wanted no part of their bouillabaisse, shells and fish heads swimming in a sea of oily broth, but I fell in love with their noisy communal chattering clatter, their cheek kissing, the way they sat back and smoked at the end of the meal, arms slung over their neighbors chair, their contented gut-patting air.
One day, I thought. One day.
Nancy and I talked about leaving, taking the train to Nice, Cannes or St. Tropez. Shouldn't we go to Monte Carlo? Maybe tomorrow, we thought, licking the crumbs from our lips, taking one last swig of warm Coke before stretching out like cats on our mats, in our own spot of sunshine. Maybe tomorrow.