Vacation in France:
During August, France’s vacation month, I spent a delightful week in Biscarrosse-Plage, a beach town on the Atlantic Ocean in the Bordeaux region.
Biscarrosse-Plage resembled Santa Cruz, California, only ratcheted up a few notches. Besides beaches, giant dunes, and hiking in nearby forests, the town boasted dozens of sporting goods stores, a farmer’s market, restaurants, bars, and gift shops. A tall, dramatic Ferris wheel anchored the downtown area.
On my first visit to the fine, sandy beach, I waded out two hundred yards where the waves were still very gentle. I would have needed to go much further to reach the big waves and the surfers waiting to ride them.
Crashing surf has always terrified me, so I was content to stay where I was. (I decided long ago that surfing was a sport for others.)
The beach stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction. A green forest rimmed the outer edges of the town. Because of its expansiveness, the seaside town seemed lightly populated even in the middle of the day.
Daytime temperatures were warm enough for swimming but not hot, thanks to a constant ocean breeze. The nights were wonderful—just cool enough to require a light blanket. After the way-too-warm-for-me August temperatures in Montpellier, I found the weather in Biscarrosse-Plage absolutely perfect.
A Bit Too Much Togetherness
I don’t know if this is generally true for other French families, but mine seemed to spend the entire vacation in each other’s company. All that togetherness took some getting used to, especially since I could only catch snatches of meaning from conversations in French.
When desperate to escape the group and retreat to my room, I shamelessly played the old-age card and claimed that I needed to rest. I could get away with this because I was a foreigner; otherwise, my absence from group activities would be considered rude.
Although the constant togetherness sometimes bothered me, I never complained about joining everyone for family meals.
A typical day started around ten with breakfast, which included fresh baguettes with butter or some other spread, pastries like croissants or brioches, coffee, and tea. The kids sometimes had cereal too. I usually added a piece of fruit.
Lunches, usually served around 12:30 p.m., were gourmet meals by my standards but rather ordinary to my French family.
On a typical day, we’d have fresh baguettes from the bakery; a hard, chewy, salami-like sausage; cantaloupe; peaches; rosé wine; a big salad with tomatoes; a second salad of cucumbers and avocados dressed lightly in a balsamic vinaigrette; and the most extraordinary cheeses, including a walnut-flavored one with grain in it and another one with red pepper flakes.
After lunch, we often had coffee and small cookies filled with chocolate.
Dinners were even more elaborate affairs with five or six courses and always ended with a fabulous dessert. Since we were in the Bordeaux region, we drank red wine with our meals.
Learning How to Vacation
When I worked for a living, I dreaded vacations. I preferred the challenge of work to the terrifying challenge of leisure.
Thanks to my week in Biscarrosse-Plage, I have an emerging, if incomplete, sense of what vacations are meant to accomplish. Renewal of relationships, renewal of energy, renewal of playfulness, renewal of the joy of simply being alive—all of these and more are possible. Maybe vacations can work their magic even on me.