We went to visit friends in Royan this past weekend. It’s a great-looking French town on the Atlantic. Badly bombed at the end of World War II, they rebuilt it in the 50’s and it’s got the best mod white buildings.
I feel like I’ve spent plenty of time on the beach in France, but it’s all through films. And God Created Woman, Pierrot le Fou, Rohmer’s The Green Ray & Pauline at the Beach, Betty Blue. But people on the beach in real life France don’t look like the ones in movies. In a way it’s a letdown and in another way it’s a relief.
I realized when we were packing for the trip that my bathing suit is now ten years old. A red & white striped sixties-style bikini, I bought it on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. It made the move to Nashville, where I retired it for a while after gaining ten or twenty pounds. But somewhere along the way I started wearing it again. Coney Island, Fire Island, countless hotel swimming pools, the Gulf in Florida, Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz and Santa Monica and Yuma Beach, the freezing North Norfolk coast (I didn’t go in) and now the Atlantic from the other side.
But the suit is looking pretty shabby. I went shopping for a new one last summer and it was my first experience with trying to buy clothes in France. On that excursion I realized that what is your average female clothing size in America is almost XL by French clothing standards. Then there was the lack of choice. And the prices were absurd. I thought it was maybe just to do with bathing suits but I’ve come to accept it’s just the way here. The benefit is I buy way less. In fact I barely bother looking at all.
Another issue has been the two-piece debate. I’ll be fifty in a few months. Maybe that means it’s time to resign myself to wearing a one piece bathing suit. So I’ve been clinging to the old suit, because that means not having to make some sad, decisive step like that. To cut myself off from my youthful wasted summers is something I’m just not ready to do yet.
Which was why the beach at Royan was a revelation. Here were all kinds of women, young and old, and everyone was looking very human. Not like Arielle Dombasle (of Pauline At The Beach who these days, I’m sad to say, most closely resembles that scary lion lady you’d see in the papers in NY all the time, the one who couldn’t stop with the plastic surgery?) or Anna Karina. Some were in better shape than others but it was heartening to see that a lot of the older women were sporting bikinis.
It might sound like a cliche but I get a sense of people enjoying themselves here (when they’re not being miserable like the woman at our last show who sat there glowering at us but I’ve already talked about her way more than she deserves). Just as when we had the big meal with our neighbors and all the women seemed to get such a kick out of singing “Un itsi bitsi tini ouini, tout petit, petit, bikini”, so the ladies of any age enjoy wearing them.
As do some of the men, but maybe that’s another post?
*see Chuck Prophet