Pillar VI: The Place
French Forgiveness (A personal tribute)
The sun dips into a lush autumnal haze. A haze that warms the soul and paints the earth reddish gold. A dreaminess that only occurs on west-facing coasts. On east-facing coasts, sunlight is bright and harsh. Cold. It reminds witnesses of the mistakes they have made during the day and the depravity of their souls. On west-facing coasts, though, sunlight, and particularly sunset light, is always forgiving. It is a bath of goodwill. It is a shower of grace in California, in Western Australia, in Ecuador. In France.
And in France the forgiveness, goodwill and grace are ever more necessary because the shoreline from Capbreton to Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains to Bassin d’Archachon is filled with temptation.
There are the towns, some medieval, some Napoleonic, some modern, some postmodern. And these towns house winding roads that lead into cafés that serve the freshest wines from Bordeaux — freshest as in aged perfectly in oak barrels. Wine the color of lust. Wine isn’t fussy in France. It is part of everyday life, not a fetishized dinner companion, and, as such, is consumed with too much ease. Duck liver and snails slide down throats, chased by a cascade of wine. A waterfall. It tastes so good, but better, it feels so good. Nothing like a reddish gold earth, glowing, and a heart emboldened by the vine. Anything is possible when sitting outdoors in warmer months and drunk. Everything is possible.
And so, when enough wine is consumed, chairs are pushed away from tables and a stray glass is knocked to the ground, shattering, and the traveling man stands and stretches and ambles back onto the winding roads to find shops selling the freshest Dior — freshest as in hand-stitched mere kilometers up the train tracks in Paris. Fashion can be seen as an empty frivolity. A vain pursuit. And it certainly is, but then again, nothing feels better than looking good and nothing looks better than French fashion. I put Chanel (for women) and Dior (for all) and Yves St. Laurent (for all) up against any Italian house. There is something both simple and flamboyant about it. Something about the small flourishes that works just right. And thousand-euro price tags don’t sting, when drunk, the same way they do when sober. So jackets are purchased, and scarves, but not jeans because Americans and Australians and Japanese do denim better than all. But a Dior jacket and scarf paired with American or Australian or Japanese denim? Hot as pepper.
And, still drunk but now spicy, it is time to find women. French women, Gauls, have skin like no other. Something about the Germanic north collapsing in on the Holy Roman Empire that created an olive skin tone particular to France. And their eyes are bowls of smoke and their lips are almost the same color as the dinner’s Bordeaux and the things those lips utter: “Oh mon chéri, oh beau, bien habillés bébé…” Everything sounds better in French. These gorgeous women are danced with to the latest in European techno. And then they are taken into chalets and consumed. What a country, what a coast!
And when the next sun rises into the next autumnal haze any man is in need of forgiveness. Yes, he is, very likely, hung over and certainly poorer and also guilty of ravishing local talent. But he need not wait until the sun sets for his helping of west-facing coast grace. He can surf away his sins.
Waves in France are often viewed as a byproduct of an overall good time. Wine, shopping and women are the main features. Atlantic surf, a lucky addendum. But French beachbreaks provide the peakiest of fun and the best of adventures. Paddling to and fro, getting barreled, punting airs. Surfing is not an odd specter in France. It is good and right. It is the perfect way to spend the day and especially to spend autumn and winter days. The water is the right amount of crisp.
And when the sun dips, again, into the haze and the men have spent their hours in the water then they are forgiven the previous night’s sins and they can, again, head into the cafés and shops and clubs and be forgiven the next day too. Because surf in France is good and it is consistent.
Surfing always forgives the sins of travel.
Amen. —Chas Smith