Amidst fragrant parasol pine trees, see the charming blue umbrellas, lower right, in front of a highly sought-after restaurant and its terrace over the sea. Hiking down toward this turquoise paradise we had no idea it was a "no clothes" cove... Too late, there was no turning back--not when we'd reserved a table at Chez Jo a week in advance!
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TODAY’S WORD: "se rincer l'oeil" ("to rinse the eye")
: to get an eyeful, to see too much of something
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
Last week we traveled back to the area of Cavalaire, for our 29th lune de miel. Our destination was a little over an hour's drive from home, and we made it there by 11 a.m. Jean-Marc kept asking me if I recognized the surroundings, but it had been 20 years since we took the kids here. "Look, there’s Fort Brégançon. Maybe Bribri and Manu will invite us for lunch?" Jean-Marc smiled toward the Presidential vacation residence (and now I can vaguely remember him saying the same when Chirac was president).
La Plage de Cabasson (with a view of the medieval fortress out at sea) is beautiful at the end of September and its crystal clear waters were almost warm. We walked to the far end of the beach to spread out our towels and put up a large parasol. It felt so good to get into the Mediterranean and wade up and down the shoreline while Jean-Marc snorkled near the rocky outcrop. Drying off, we left our serviettes on the beach and enjoyed lunch at La Cabasse, where I toasted to Jean-Marc: so far this had been 20 sur 20--a top score for his well-planned itinerary. Bravo!
We'll skip talking about our quirky hotel but it may have been a herald for Day Two.... which was set to be the highlight of our trip. Our son Max insisted we go to La Plage du Layet to eat at the incontournable “Chez Jo”. We decided to again bring our towels and parasol for a “free” spot in the cove, and then splurge on lunch at the gourmet restaurant. But as we made our way down into the beach, any excitement about our plans quickly turned to panic when we passed a sign along the path that read "PLAGE NATURISTE"....
"A naturiste beach. Are you kidding me?"
"I had no idea," my husband swore.
"I can't believe this! The restaurant is part of une plage naturiste!"
"We can go somewhere else if you want!" Jean-Marc was as surprised as I was.
I was more annoyed than anything, and that energy made me stubborn: “No! I don't want to go somewhere else!” I wanted to be near the restaurant our son had raved about, where we had made reservations well in advance. There was no backing out now. We'd figure it out when we arrived!
Hiking around the last bend I saw the restaurant to the right, and to the left a blur of skin...de la peau à gogo.
"Bonjour," I said to the waiter. "We have reservations for lunch. But we'd like to go to the beach first. Do you rent matelas?" We had not planned on springing for lounge chairs, but this was an emergency! Designated chairs could be our ticket to more conventional digs in this unconventional cove.
"Yes," he smiled, pointing to the rental chair area. But none of the clients were dressed there either. Not a single thread anywhere to be seen.
"We'll take those two," I quickly decided, indicating the last two chairs nearest the restaurant. I dropped my bag on the sand and exhaled. I'd already decided I was not stripping down. I'd rather feel the embarrassment of being the only suit-wearing wuss at the beach (and what a suit--it was the same one I brought to Morocco, out of respect for the culture. It covered a lot of ground)!
Forming a human shield, Jean-Marc took the chair nearest the crowd and surprised me by keeping his swim trunks on. (In solidarity? I'll never know for sure.) Next, he grabbed his snorkel mask and confidently strode out to sea, disappearing into the water.
Alone, I fussed with our towels and pretended to be completely at ease as the odd one out. My eyes darted left, then right. Groups of unabashed senior citizens stood along the shoreline, casually chatting. I wanted to get into the water, too, but not if it meant The Walk of Humiliation. My paranoid side was certain the naturists were having a good laugh at my expense. Well then, let them. Qu'ils rigolent!
I shot up and walked with dignity across the shore, and fell quickly into the water. Swimming out far enough, I turned to look back at the beach and got quite an eyeful: sitting, lounging, reading, chatting, and strolling, there was the flock of nudes. And here, dans son maillot uni noir, ONE BLACK SHEEP.
And what is a black sheep if not a rebel? The thought was amusing enough to carry me confidently through the awkward experience--in time to bare all in a lively story for you today. So hats off (and almost everything else) to the unintended adventures Life brings us.
Post Note: What a relief to see everyone put on their clothes for lunch (up until the last minute I couldn't be sure about the restaurant's dress code). After lunch, one other bathing-suited couple showed up, thank God!, and quickly put down towels near ours. Finally, a family of four arrived, and they were quick to sit near us too.
As for any naturistes who may be reading this now...I hope you are laughing along with me. I leave you with a good address—La Plage du Layet in Cavalaire—for the next time you visit the south of France. Allez-y!
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Loved visiting the town of Lavandou, and the message on the door "Soyons heureux"--Be Happy. Do you think this one would make a good postcard for the La Carte Postale collection?
Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and me pronounce the vocabulary
se rincer l'oeil = to have an eyeful
la lune de miel = honeymoon
Bribri et Manu = Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron
le parasol = beach umbrella
la serviette = towel
l'incontournable = must see
la peau = skin
à gogo = galore
le matelas = lounge chair on the beach
Qu'ils rigolent = they can go ahead and laugh
le maillot uni noir = black one-piece
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Provence Wine Tour near Aix. The weather was spectacular for Jean-Marc's most recent vineyard visit to Chateau Ferry Lacomb in Trets-en-Provence. Many thanks, Louis, Janet, and John for reserving a specialized French wine tour with Jean-Marc. It was lovely to meet you!
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety