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A Perfect Sunday Afternoon

A beautiful Sunday begs for a trip to one of the delightful surrounding towns, or communes, as they are called. On such a fall Sunday, my new French friends invited me to join them for an outing at Palavas-les-Flots, a seacoast town about 35 minutes from home.

On the drive there, we passed miles of marshland and shallow lakes, home to hundreds of wild pink flamingos.

A few of the many flamingos (Photo by Clive Kim,

Flamingos Loaf a Lot

When flamingos are standing still, I wondered, why do they stand on one leg? According to Science Focus, they save energy that way. They can lock in the second leg and even sleep that way. Those same scientists refer to this phenomenon as “loafing.” Really!

We parked on the edge of town and walked into the central area. I was surprised to see that Palavas is bisected by the Lez River.

Although we visited late in the tourist season, the sidewalks on either side of the canal were still crowded. Restaurants, pizzerias, ice cream vendors, clothing stores, shoe stores, souvenir shops—dozens of businesses were still open and filled with customers.

Canal in Palavas (Photo by tichr,

We walked to the end of the shops and watched as a small cable car with one or two passengers crossed the canal. For 3 euro, tourists can ride to the other side.

We decided to continue to the end of the pier to view a statue that was easily 15 feet tall. The statue is dedicated to desperate castaways who came to the area.

Statue on the pier

Warm Enough to Swim

The beach stretched out ahead of us. With daytime temperatures in the eighties, the sea was warm enough for swimmers to venture into the water.

We worked our way back to Le Phare, a round tower about 150 feet tall. The rotating restaurant at the top and the bar on the second floor were closed for the season. Nonetheless, we took the elevator to the bar level and walked around to take advantage of the panoramic view of the sea, a marina with hundreds of boats, miles of beach, apartment buildings, Sunday kite-flyers, and a museum exhibit.

The elevator ride provides a scenic view (Photo by Assedrani Official,

We also spent time looking at the sculptures of Jean-Pierre Malka. While fighting in the trenches during World War I, he constructed metal sculptures from bullets, bombs, and scrap material.

Poilus, the Hairy Ones

The men who fought in World War I were referred to as poilus, which translates as “the hairy ones,” a term of endearment for the bushy-bearded infantrymen. Obviously, personal hygiene had to be sacrificed by those living for weeks in mud, waiting for the next battle and perhaps even waiting to die.

Over a million French men like Malka died in World War I.

A World War I poilu

To escape boredom during quiet times, French infantrymen were encouraged to make sculptures from whatever scrap metal they could find, including bomb shells. (The Germans, interestingly enough, were discouraged from doing so.) Malka’s sculptures were collected by his son for display.

As we walked around, looking at the sculptures, I also studied the furniture. Several dozen chairs, sofas, and coffee tables were arranged around the perimeter of the circular tower for the comfort of viewing guests. They appeared to be assembled from small pieces of wood bleached white by sun and salt water. I can only imagine the time and effort it took to assemble even a single chair.

Interesting-looking furniture made of driftwood

After the visit to Palavas, we drove several miles out to Maguelone, which is at the end of a spit. After parking, we walked through vineyards to the main area where an exceptional Catholic cathedral is located. We treated ourselves to a drink in the café before heading home. I also drank in the view of the brilliant blue sea and sky as well as the fluffy white clouds.

Endings and Beginnings

The sun was setting, turning the sky flamingo pink as we drove back to Castelnau-le-Lez. I started to feel a bit sad that the weekend outing was over so soon.

To comfort myself, I thought about how endings are a necessary part of beginnings. In fact, without endings, there could be no beginnings. By the time we arrived home, I was looking forward to beginning the week and another Sunday outing.