La mer

18 Feb

Took the midday train to Royan, a coastal town erroneously bombed by Allied forces in the winter of 1945—an accident that razed the town and killed 1,200 people—and afterwards reconstructed as part of an “experiment” in urban infrastructure.  The restoration of Royan was deemed a huge success in terms of both functionality and aesthetics.  Personally found the town, though impressively surreal, just moche à pleurer (“ugly enough to cry”):  the church resembles a clunky spaceship; palm trees and cedars grow awkwardly and artifically side by side; the whole centre ville has this weird suburban 2001 Space Odyssey feel about it.  While pride in regeneration after catastrophe is right and beautiful, it’s just too bad that the regeneration had to occur in the 1950s.

Then there was the ocean, the thing that mattered.  Watched the tide come in, slow and brown and hulking, hunkered against the wind on a blue and white striped bench, listening to Georges Brassens’ gullet croon  “Les Copains d’Abord” on the radio.  It’s a song about men and boats, so it fit the day well.

You can’t eat the oysters or clams.  There are lots of things you can’t do on the many beaches in Royan, the small rocky coves and more generous swaths of sand spotting the long walkway along the water.  There is unsupervised swimming a little bit farther up.   Considered it, but swimming in the ocean in February is fun only with company.

A Martian landscape, gray and incomprehensible, unseasonably strewn with strange exercise machines placed in random spots along the path — wet balance beams, mounted wheels to spin in circles, and hilariously, ellipticals.  The houses, or maybe summer vacation retreats, had names like ‘La Lanterne’ and ‘Coupe Vente.’

Found a municipal memorial dedicated to the theme of humor:  savoir rire, c’est savoir vivre.  Knowing how to laugh is knowing how to live.  Noted for future reference.

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