Thursday, August 5, 2010

Going to the Beach - Un saut à la plage

When you’ve an urge to go to the beach, and the desire to spend the night there, you are open to what the universe offers. Here in Provence we’ve quite a number of possibilities. Best known to me are Beauduc – the wild beaches that my former husband took me to the first week I knew him and where I’ve held two overnight parties for Leo’s June birthdays – and the Plage d’Arles just beyond Salins de Giraud, the site of many an evening’s dip and barbecue, grillade.

The former is the site of an old fishing village, and once held (till just a couple of years’ ago) a completely illegal squatters’ village of camping cars and proper hand-made cabins, all lacking plumbing, gas, and decent electricity. It was the romantic edge of the Earth to many. A place to completely get away from things. The route there went over a long dirt road with impressively deep pot-holes, past salt paddies, flocks of pink flamingoes, to the end of the European continent. Any further and you’d start pedaling to Africa.

Sad to say, the powers that be decided one fine day to raise all that had once been of the make-shift village of Beauduc. As such, you can still drive down there, camp for a few nights in your tent, even perhaps position your camper van for a few days, but the community is mostly gone, the great open air restaurants specializing in grilled fish have been displaced, and the sky and beaches are more likely to be filled with gliders and power-sailors than amateur fishermen.

The beach beyond Salins de Giraud is a bit more official. In any case the road to it tails off just twenty yards from the waves, so it is far easier to reach. To the left, a couple of hundred yards down the beach is the naturiste (nudist) scene. Camper vans with Dutch, German, British and the occasional French plate are settled there for the summer. Remember tales of seven weeks of vacation? They spend it all here.

To the right are the ‘textile” or suited folks. Here families play in the surf, people build make-shift barriers to define their summer gardens, i.e. the 10 square meters in front of their camping van. Mosquito netting in some cases, many barbecue grills, and a fare number of dogs puncture what in winter is a rather marvelously barren and majestic landscape.

But, I did not get to either of these destinations. When I suggested to my dear friend Martine that I wanted to spend a night at the beach she told me flat out that she doesn’t like sand. She also went into rather graffic, suggestive (can this be done?) detail as to why these first two options were not to her liking. Something about a lack of local outhouses was key to this... Imagine where everyone is at 8AM every morning when you’d like to have a quiet swim? There’s the dunes, and???

You get the picture.

No, her preferred get-away is a pebble beach in Martigues. It is a plage naturiste of old, a place she’s been going to for over twenty years. Where her son learned to swim, where she is at home. She listed its vices before its virtues: lots of old folks (though this goes both ways of course), a close-up view of the oil refineries of Fos Sur Mer (thus best to go when the wind is blowing in the right direction), dinky, small, a bit far away.

However it was the virtues that keep her coming back: right on deep water, one of the deepest bays in the Mediterranean and just at its entrance. Cleaner than Beauduc as it is a pebble beach and ‘ahem’ all the pollution that hits it also reaches the wishfully pristine (not) Camargue, so let’s not be a Camargue snob. And in fact, with the wind going the right way, though we had an uninhibited view of the refineries, they were materially affecting us less than the beaches down-wind. There was also a cafe on the beach run by someone she’s known forever who keeps an unofficial eye on the beach at night. It is a members’ only beach, and there are showers and toilets hooked up to the proper plumbing elements just off the beach.

And so, I found myself one morning not too long ago, lying in my (very pale) birthday suit, enjoying a number of dips into the great waters of the Mediterranean after having spent a quietish night in our tent. With the morning air came large bronzed bellies, deep mahogany tanned drooping breasts, shaven heads and privates, bleached hair, borrowed flippers and protruding body parts as long-time acquaintances came over to our little haven of beach pads and umbrellas to say hello.

Just to confirm a note about hygiene: when visiting the cafe you bring along a towel to sit upon. Though the rest is left open to the air as nature intended.

We stayed but the night and the morning. As it was, though I’d put lots of sun cream on, I did fry my back some (and my butt... underwear and bra straps both were a bit sensitive for the next few days). It was a great get-away. Completely other. We chatted, swam, read, ate our picnic lunch and reveled in the waters of our little corner of the world.

Never say never.

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