I lay on the sand, my head propped up by my beach bag, earbuds in so I didn’t have to listen to unwanted conversation, on a borrowed towel that had Snoopy grinning from ear to ear. I had my bathing suit on but felt self-conscious and didn’t take my sun dress off until I was sitting down and felt invisible amongst all the other beach goers. Two gorgeous young blonds of maybe twenty years old lay near me, topless, their breasts being the very definition of perky. In front of me, closer to the water, two Italian women were talking as one put up a sunbrella. I had picked my spot carefully as it seemed one of the few places where I wouldn’t be kicking sand into someone else’s belongings if I so much as moved an inch.
I was spending the week in Antibes on the Cote d’Azur. My friend, Meg, lives there and we like to trade apartments periodically so that she has time in Paris. I had no idea what to expect. In Paris, Barbara warned me away from the Riviera during the months of July and August knowing I hated crowds and might well be miserable.
“Posh” said Meg, “come down and see for yourself”.
And so I did, slightly intimidated by all the rumors, gossip, stories infamous and otherwise of life on the French Riviera.
It took me three days to find a real beach. Not because they didn’t exist but because I was slow to acknowledge that sand, sun and blue water were the true attractions along this pricey real estate that extended from Marseilles to Menton close to the Italian border. I put towel, book, iPhone and earbuds and a bottle of drinking water in my beach bag and found my way to the Quai. I walked 15 minutes east to the free beach. I passed a large cafe with at least one hundred chaise longues for those who wanted to be pampered with soft towels, coffee and sturdy umbrellas. I never learned the price of admission. The rest of us took our chances. Our chances were far better the earlier in the morning we got there. I’d arrived about 9:30am, stood looking out at the sea then at all the bodies that had already set themselves up for the day. And found my perfect spot. It seemed to have my name on it. A large empty area about half way between me and the small waves defining the edge of sand and water.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had just laid prone on sand lusciously soaking up sun feeling like some kind of lizard on a rock. I slowly relaxed, shed Paris and all my responsibilities, and literally was in the moment. That lasted about 60 seconds. A small voice urged me rather vociferously to get up and go into the water. Getting my very thick hair wet is an unexamined dislike of mine that often prevents me from enjoying swimming, swimming pools in general and other forms of sea and ocean play. I got up and went to the edge of the water. I stuck one foot in. It was cold, not freezing but cold. I started walking and found the bottom was full of stones. It hurt to walk on them. I couldn’t see how far the stones went. I forced myself to continue delicately trying to avoid the biggest stones. Then I just went for it. Splashed myself all over and jumped in up to my neck.
How to explain. I was swimming in the shallow blue sea. I looked to my left and could see what was still standing of the Antibes battlements from the Greek age. I looked in front of me and saw endless blue and boats bobbing on the blue. I looked to my right and saw Cap d’Antibes jutting out from the beach, green, foresty and what looked to be large villas peeking out of the trees. I was in love. I was immersed in a warmth that delicious doesn’t begin to describe. I felt about ten years old doing a doggy paddle, flipping over and doing a back stroke, dunking my head so that my hair was good and wet. I watched other beach goers step their way carefully though the stones and get wet. They were large people, small people, beautiful people and not so beautiful people. I loved them all. I took a deep breath turned over onto my back and floated.