July 31, 2011
Swimming in this water, I came across a méduse. I watched her gush along and thought she was very beautiful.
So beautiful, I caught her in a plastic cup. I was worried about the tentacles trailing over to touch my fingers, but no problem, really - she stayed politely contained. I poured her out again, but not before a careful study.
July 28, 2011
July 27, 2011
The bell tower on the chapel in Ramatuelle is made of wire. I was rubbernecking it when the local gendarme (with his well-fitting uniform, stance and serious stare underneath his sunglasses) asked me if I needed help. No help, I told him, just wanted to know why the bell tower was a wire one. He replied in a hushed, insistent tone: "le mistral." After he said it, he looked at me like, where on earth does this girl come from not to know that. It was akin to not recognizing a very traditional symbol or icon of a religion in a town where there is no variance in faith, where there is not even the knowledge that other faiths exist. Le mistral is almost holy in this region of the South of France. Spoken about like the uncontrollable natural phenomenon it is, but also like a mystical force or body. It has a presence. And it changes things here in the south of France.
Le mistral is responsible for the light, the clarity of air, the self-willed sunshine that all grace this portion of France. The number of days of sunshine here is remarkable. And after a mistral, the mountains in the distance come into focus, as if they've suddenly jumped forward, a little closer across the sea. In these pictures, you can see them clearly when often they are just foggy outlines in the distance. Sometimes they hide completely, even on clear days. These photos were taken just after a mistral.
A mistral is a strange phenomenon. It is a gathering of winds that comes hurtling from the Alps south, over towns like St. Tropez, and then out to the sea. Anyone who has spent time in the south of France knows about it and knows the strange sensation of a perfectly clear sunny day mixed with winds that feel like a storm is brewing - no, like a storm has arrived, without any of its normal symptoms or signs - no clouds, no thunder, no rain. When a mistral is expected, people react. Boats don't leave the ports. Children do not swim. Every year there are children who, on their rubber rafts, are taken out to sea by the mistral. The winds are hurricane strong - sometimes 80 or 90 km per hour. It seems counter intuitive on some level, but le mistral determines the climate - those back-to-back sunny days are due to the winds that force the sun to shine and which clear the air. The mistral is powerful and feared, but it is also a porter of good health, believed by many in the south - taking away toxins and pollutants. Le mistral also makes water very cold for swimming. It blows away the warmed surface of the water and leaves just the colder depths. One weekend you will swim here and the next you will be shocked by the iciness as you dip a toe in.
July 25, 2011
Xavier came to St. Tropez for the weekend. It was sublime to have him here with me, even just a flick of him. I kept losing my breath, I wanted to show him and tell him so many things. We would get to a destination (after long scooter rides where he would pull stunts, like swinging the scooter back and forth in a swerving motion, which I did not like at all - it was like he was mocking my poor little lady. To be fair to him, my scooter's top speed is 50 km/h. Pathetic, but still) and Xavier, in his very French way, would remain unastonished. "Yeah, babe," he would say, gazing out at pristine, turquoise water: "C'est la mer méditerranée." Unastonished. Can you believe the sun, the sky, the wind, vineyards on the side of the road, the little village? "Yeah, babe." OK - so Xavier's family have a home two towns over and he did spend all his childhood summers here, even licking ice cream cones in the port of St. Tropez, but immune to all of this? I don't think so. Plus, I have discovered some things with which I know deep down he really was impressed (this, for example):
In any case, I was impressed with him on a number of occasions. By his baby pink shorts (and my hat, again, avec).
By his ability to explain what was going on here - said with a casual shrug, as if everyone had probably performed this undertaking at some point in their boy/girlhood. (The first scooter was out of order, so the guy behind just rode with one leg out, pushing his friend forward - this was not readily apparent. These two were teenage fools):
I was impressed when we pulled up to a parking area with clustered scooters that looked like they were in cahoots, making plans, they were so packed in, and Xavier's solution was to just to break them up. Break up the cliques. He just started moving scooters. No space to park, just rearrange. Very aggressive. Impressive. I was a little nervous that those who had just been scolded might take it out on my fair lady when we walked away - that we might find her tipped over when we returned (but there was no peer revenge in the end).
He shrugged at these flowers and the door behind them.
He did not, however, shrug at this puppy. He squatted down and pet it for a long time and made a pout-y face on top of it. We even walked past the little guy a second time on our way back from dinner to stop again.
Xavier also told off people in lines. It was really refreshing to watch him at work with the very same people in the line at the boulangerie who had made me growl softly a few mornings by just squeezing in front of me at the moment the woman working behind the counter switched to the next person and before I could say, mais, they had already placed their order. Xavier, by contrast, saw their tricks straightaway, turned to them unabashedly and ordered, "la queue c'est par la!", banishing them to the end. One person tried to explain, saying he had thought there was a separate line where one orders patisseries and where one orders things from the boulangerie. Xavier: "Did you also think there was a separate line for drinks and for the bread too?" (followed by the classic French pfff blowing noise out of skeptical cheeks). He is not one who will ever be walked on. He may be unastonished, but he is really hilarious at it.
July 20, 2011
Does this little girl have any idea how much style she has? There she was, leaping up and down from the window frame, chatting and taunting and singing to her friend, who had already been relegated inside (it was about the time for the sun to set). Her parents definitely afford this one some delicious freedom. They were no where to be seen. Little sequestered's father promptly appeared at the mint-colored bars with a pointing finger (ostensibly in the direction of leaping's window down the street). She sauntered off in the opposite direction.
July 18, 2011
July 17, 2011
There is a run I like to do after work because it is very close and very stunning. It also involves the Sentier du Littoral (great promise) - a different stretch. This time, you start at la Plage de la Moutte (near des Salins in St. Tropez). Instead of turning right to go the beach there, you turn left and follow the sea path all the way around the mass of land upon which sit Les Parcs de St. Tropez. Les Parcs de St. Tropez are filled with mansions/villas like this one:
(As an aside, in order to take this photograph, I rode my scooter to the gated entrance of this very ritzy and clannish community and used my charm to convince the gateman I just wanted to do a quick ride around those streets - you know, just a Sunday evening stroll on the scooter. He hesitated, but with a few extra pleading smiles he caved, with one provision: "pas de photo," said he. Well, this is the only photograph I took, so I broke the rule only once. I became somewhat paranoid because once I started noticing, there were video cameras at every entrance and turn in the road. These people were serious about their privacy/hideout houses.)
Back to the path. It stands to reason that if each of these houses abuts the sea and these houses were built on the best land in St. Tropez, the trail here is bound to be special. Plus, since all the villa owners have boats and this is their portal to the sea, the path is often crafted into specially built staircases, stretches of path. You pass by dock after charming dock snaking out into the ocean. Nice that the rich so generously ameliorated this length of the way.
There is an ideal time to do this run: right when the setting sun strikes its match.
July 14, 2011
My colleague, Candy, who is sweet enough to live up to her name, gave me this hat today. She is from Madagascar and brought it all the way back to St. Tropez for me after she spent the winter there this year. So delighted. A really good, wide-brimmed hat in St. Tropez gives a girl so much staying power. When the sun is beating down, it is like an on-your-head umbrella. This brim is so wide, I can curl up and be almost completely under its shade. Like a mushroom. This post is really just shameless vanity - it is a good hat, though - maybe worth it.
July 13, 2011
If you want to go to a splendid restaurant in St. Tropez - head to La Plage des Salins restaurant. Whole grilled fish - swooped from the water, staring up at you minutes later from your plate. Feet in the sand of the beach - water lapping your toes. White moon rising over a lavender sky and a restful sea. The restaurant is at the end of the Route des Salins - where St. Tropez meets the sea at its final stopping point. The setting for the restaurant is worlds away from anywhere else you could eat in this town.
July 12, 2011
In the hillsides hanging over St. Tropez rests Ramatuelle - perhaps the most picturesque and quaint of all French villages (a very big assertion indeed). If the town of St. Tropez can be tacky in its dripping wealth and gold and glitz, Ramatuelle is its unfailingly sophisticated and understated cousin. Even the plants in Ramatuelle are labeled to acculturate its residents and the tourists who dip in. Ramatuelle is also the much classier address for a July/August summer home if you are French. Both give way to fabulous beaches and restaurants, but the beaches near Ramatuelle (where I've been venturing) are like the village, sparser (no pot-bellied Russians with big cigars surrounded by 20-something yacht dolls, blessedly), rugged, pristine - unsullied.
I rode my lovely little scooter up the steep grade to reach the town, whose streets turn inward on themselves like an escargot. Walking through the folds of the tiny cobbelstone paths, you peek around each corner breathless that the next street could be any more convincing than the one you've just tiptoed down. From the color of the shutters and doors to the sound of people humming in the shower (this town is calm) and a guy dressed in white linen whistling, puckered lips to the heavens, calling up to his cherie in a window above (note the lack of any car/scooter sounds - the interior streets are perambulator only), you want to breathe, hear and witness Ramatuelle, I promise.
And, of course, blessing the land just below the hilltop of Ramatuelle are glowing green vineyards and lavender-studded chapels.