I wake with the sun, can feel the warmth and the promise of a new day ahead. Impatient, I leave first, walking from the apartment down the little hill towards the village. Bonjour Monsieur-dame, I greet an older couple coming towards me with bags of shopping. I can smell the baguette and see it too, peeping out as baguettes always do, refusing to fit in. She, Madame, appraises me, her eyes covering my body like a touch. She is, I know, looking for an inappropriate bare of skin. She won’t find it, for I know this old fashioned place and am respectful of its rules of thumb, its unwritten laws. She, naturally, is dressed for a winter’s day in Alaska, all in black and so buttoned up as to appear more like a seal than a woman. Her face, pinched into a critical catch tells me that her smiling Monsieur will be disappointed at my coverings and also that her life has not been an easy one.
The streets that wind through the village are cobbled, worn by thousands of feet over hundreds of years, smoother around the entrance to the cafes and bars where feet have scuffled and stopped, turned around or opened the door for refreshment and friendship. Picasso painted here, as did Matisse and Dali and it is to the painters I am bound. Through the archway and down to the rocky harbour I find them, placed like buskers and probably with their own pitches considered sacrosanct. Bonjour I say and more than once as I walk by with only a glance at their work. I know the rules. No artist wants to be gawped at and most certainly do not invite comment. as they apply oils to canvas, eyes on their subject. I look out to where the sun rises pinkly perfect over a calm and submissive sea. Around the curve of the natural harbour an old stone edifice stands sentry. Much of its face is gone but once it would have stood proud as Punch. This is the way in, it would have said to the fishermen and sailors seeking sanctuary.
On the edge of a spit of rock stands a woman in white. Her long dress floats a little in the warm morning breeze but nothing else of her moves. Her hand below a bonnet of white satin is shading her eyes as she looks out to sea. Searching for her husband, says a gruff smokers voice behind me. I am startled back to myself. How did he know I was English? Ah, Madame, he says, English always look English, no matter where they go. I am momentarily disappointed but concede he is probably right. She will not move all day, he continues. She is an art student and this is how she earns money for her studies. I smile and move closer to her. She doesn’t even blink. The heat, I think, the heat! Already, at 7.30 am it is 20 degrees and she has enough clothes on to kit up the whole cast of Hamlet.
I move towards my favourite cafe and sit outside beneath the shade of a tree, one I cannot identify. Cafe Madame? Our, mercie Monsieur. In moments he returns with a small coffee, black, thick and hot. Beside it he places a tiny shot glass of something and winks at me. For the heat, Madame, he says and swings away.
Later we swim. There is a storm gathering and the waves are restless and confused. Himself, snorkelled up, is ferreting about among the rocks whilst I sun myself on the stony beach. When he returns to me I can see something is wrong. He has lost his teeth, pulling them clean out along with the snorkel tube. Lost, he lisps at me. I roll my eyes and feel a small panic rise but the storm is closer now and the waves too high and mighty for a search. I resign myself to a toothless husband who doesn’t care one bit. For three days as the storm rages he orders omelette or scrambled eggs for dinner and thinks the whole thing hilarious. I smoulder across the table. It is, after all, one thing to lose all your teeth to the ocean and quite another to think it amusing, having no intention whatsoever of either organising a new set once we get home or to have any regard for the way I feel watching him lose food through floppy lips and talking like a drunk.
After the storm has moved away and the waves, their skirts still upskittled a bit, have calmed, I move into the water. Point at the place you lost them, I call back. He looks at me as he might a crazy woman and guides me. There! he says and turns back to his book. I duck beneath the water and there they are, sitting atop a rock, complete, waiting. Triumphant I lift them to the sky and call out to him. The whole beach looks up as if I had just found gold, which, in my opinion, I have.
We are the talk of our favourite restaurant. C’est impossible! They say and I am a Cheshire Cat. Pas pour moi, Monsieur, I reply. Pas pour moi.