If there were sharks near our Mediterranean beach, I'd want to swim with my sister-in-law. She's a superhero--Batwoman and Wonder Woman combined! Read on....
SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe)
: "without permanent home", homeless
Les personnes sans-abri, sans domicile fixe, sans logis ou itinérants, anciennement qualifiées de clochards ou vagabonds, à ne pas confondre avec les mendiants, sont des personnes qui résident et dorment dans des lieux non prévus pour l'habitation tels que cave, parking, voiture, entrepôt et bâtiment technique, parties communes d’un immeuble d’habitation, chantiers, métro, gare, rue, terrain vague, etc. -Wikipedia
Homeless people, people without permanent homes, people without lodging, or itinerants, formerly referred to as tramps or vagrants, not to be confused with beggars, are people who live and sleep in places not intended for housing such as a cellar, a car park, a car, a warehouse and a technical building, common parts of a residential building, a building site, a metro, a railway station, a street, a vacant lot, etc.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse
Last night, after helping my mother-in-law with her paperwork, my frangine came to visit us. At 9:30 pm, the heatwave was only beginning to lift, so Jean-Marc, Cécile, and I headed to the beach for a swim after dark.
We were very lucky to find parking in Les Lecques--a tourist hot-spot in August. Grabbing our towels we crossed over the one-way street that runs through the small town, and joined the throng along the boardwalk. Kids, dogs, lovers, grandmas...we folded into the lively lane of pedestrians and were carried down the beachfront until we reached some steps and exited la foule.
The light along the boardwalk faded out to the beach, where a few other groups of people could barely be seen. We dropped our towels, stepped out of our cutoffs and threw off our T-shirts to reveal a hairy chest (Jean-Marc), pale skin (me) and tattoos from biceps to knees (my sister-in-law, with the spiked, platinum hair).
"Remember Jaws?" I said to my belle-soeur, snickering as we waded out into the sea.
"Les Dents de la Mer..." my frangine remembered the film that scared the wits out of Americans--and Frenchies--alike. Knowing full well the biggest fish in the bay were dolphins (spotted from time to time off the coast of La Ciotat or Cassis or Marseilles) we were free to joke about sharks.
I've never swam in the sea at night and could not see past the water's surface to the fish swimming around my feet (a favorite sight during our morning baignades). So I turned my attention away from the murky depths and looked back to the lighted boardwalk, enjoying the sea's perspective on the lively flow of people, while hearing the boom boom boom of a band "the city probably got for free," according to Jean-Marc. "Eighties tunes," my sister-in-law remarked.
Fully cooled down, we swam back to the beach to dry off before heading for ice cream. I pulled on my shorts over my wet one-piece, while my sister-in-law took off her two-piece and put on dry sous-vêtements. When Cécile stepped into her culottes a metallic glimmer caught my eye and I turned to see her wearing Wonder Woman briefs.
She is the coolest.
On the way to get ice cream Cécile told me about a homeless woman and baby who she often encounters on the way to her workshop. "I sometimes give her money. Lately, especially along the cement sidewalk where she sits, it's been so hot. So I've given her water and fruit."
Recently, I asked if she was okay? Did she need social assistance? Where was it she was living? She indicated a nearby squat--a very dirty and horrible place which I have seen. I asked her which bus she took and she said 38. That was my bus! A few days later I saw her on the bus, sitting with her cousin who spoke less French than she (basically no French!). The baby was filthy.
I walked over to talk to her. Did she and her cousin want to come to my apartment to take a shower?
The young women and the baby took showers and when the cousin saw the mother walk out of the shower smelling like roses, she realized there was shampoo and feared she'd missed her chance. I told her to go ahead and take another shower! I don't know how long it had been since they last washed....
Listening to my frangine's story, I wondered if I would have had the reflex to inquire about a street beggar's well-being. It's easy to toss a coin into a cup, but would you go as far as to ask, Are things OK with you? How are you doing, really? Would I have had the courage to encourage two young strangers (three, not forgetting the baby) to come into my home for a shower?
While I do not know the answer, one thing is sure: those who have walked a mile in a squatter's shoes would have had the courage to reach out.
Postnote: I may have gotten the underwear wrong. Not wanting to stare at my sister-in-law, I only got a glimpse of what looked to be Wonder Woman's insignia--but those could have been bat wings. BatWoman or Wonderwoman--either way, my sister-in-law is a superhero.
Note: in the story I refer to my sister-in-law as ma frangine. But Cécile is really Jean-Marc's frangine (sister).
More about ma frangine, Cécile, here. And if ever you are in Aix-en-Provence, do stop in to the shop (address below) that has a sample of her handmade works.
la frangine = sister
la foule = the masses of people
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
la baignade = swimming
les sous-vêtements = underwear, underclothing
la culotte = panties
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi