Sharing a Holiday with Cows

Beach and casino at Trouville
The Trouville beach at low tide, not in summer.

Colorful Coast Near Paris Has Nearly Everything

Trouville:- Wednesday,14. August 1997:- 'Beach' has obviously been slumbering in my subconscious regions for some time now and you can see it too - in the recent issues of Metropole with features such as 'Paris-Plage' and 'On the Beach in the Tuileries.'

No matter how much sand there may be in Paris in the summer, it is no substitute for sand on the edge of a sea. Practically the minute after Paris was joined to Versailles by railway line in the 1850's, the next lines were pushed out to the closest coast - on the channel or on the Normandy coast.

At first these destinations were for the privileged - the new bourgeoisie - but with the introduction of paid holidays for all workers in the 1930's, democracy came to the coast.

Some people I know I bought themselves a farmhouse, just outside Honfleur, and they offered to rent it for an amount we could afford, so we took it for three weeks.

Hemingway was always going skiing in Austria, no matter how hard up he was. He knew three things though; there was real snow in Austria and the place he was going was really heated and had good food - and it was cheap for all this. He might have even saved money be going there; he was always going on about how much kindling cost to heat his flat. He wrote a lot in Paris cafés because they were heated.

In my case, I didn't know if it would be sunny or if the beaches would be like 'beaches.' Cheap food can be had from a supermarket and I hoped heating wouldn't be necessary, even though I didn't expect to write any superior novels.

The farm house turned out to be like a postcard view of a farm house in Normandy; with timbers and a steep, thatched roof - located in a sizeable rolling pasture, surrounded by other pastures filled with two-toned cows.

Neighboring houses were not far off, but they couldn't be seen, and the drive into the supermarket in a Honfleur suburb took about five minutes - so it was no trouble to run down to the village there to get fresh bread from the boulangerie every morning.

Mornings were bright but cool. Farmhouses with thick stone walls are even cooler; and we had breakfast outside on the east terrace to be warm. The wasps didn't show in the postcard view but they found the jam pots right away. There were 437 other sorts of bugs as well, and Beach at Deauville even a few friendly lizards to take care of some of them.

The beach in front of the Deauville casino.

After a day or so, we found that Honfleur has a beach, facing the petrochemical and cement works across the mouth of the Seine on the Harve side. There is a municipal pool in town for emergencies though.

Honfleur is a place that was famous 350 years ago when its sailors were making regular trips to the colonies in the new world, and it remains a working port with a small fishing fleet. The town is well-preserved, with many old buildings with much timbering, and it has an 'inner port' full of modern 'bourgeois' yachts, mostly sailboats.

Famous painters discovered it at the end of the last century and yuppies discovered it at the end of the '80's. As there are ferries running into Le Harve from Portsmouth and Southampton, a lot of these yuppies are British, because Honfleur land prices were once a lot lower than in southern England.

Naturally, a seaside town like Honfleur has always looked outward for its real prosperity, and the new householders are not unwelcome. A huge new bridge over the Seine has been built closer to town, so that the longer drive from Le Harve over the old Pont de Tancarville, has been reduced to a few minutes.

One can sunbathe on grass with cows for company, or cruise postcard and antique shops, and take drinks in 'tearooms' just for so long before getting out the maps. The nearest likely place seemed to be Trouville, about 10 km southwest along the coast - and much further away from the petrochemical smokestacks.

The coastal drive is wiggly and has its sights and the first inkling of reaching Trouville is a downhill traffic jam. The town is located on a slope leading the edge of the river Touques where it enters the sea. When the tide is in, the river in town is part of the harbor; when the tide is out, real fishing boats sit on the mud.

Trouville's main street parallels the river. Most of the town is built up the side of the slope, much of it in the whimsical style of the last century with many fantasy features of architecture.

Although there is a vast municipal parking lot all along the side of the river, it is often full before noon. French drivers are ever-optimists so they circle the main drag, loop around the casino and cruise the parking Trouville casino lot hoping for a magically appearing empty slot. This keeps Trouville's traffic circulation at a fairly high level throughout the day.

Entry to the more modest Trouville casino.

Once I figured it out, I went across the bridge to Deauville and parked somewhere around the boatyards beside the river on the south side. The bonus to this were the quiet and unfancy boatyard bars over there; where it is possible to actually hear the wind tingling the mostly metallic rigging of all the masts around.

In Trouville, once past the casino, the beach began - and it was huge and sandy. When the tide was out, it was even bigger.

Close to town, the beach was furnished with all the usual beach stuff: boardwalks to spare feet the hot sand, playgrounds for kids, cafés and bars and ice cream parlors for the adults, chair and parasol rental kiosks, a boules area without a gram of shade and a lot of garbage cans.

Near the casino, on the sand there is a fairly new recreation centre with a large and open swimming pool, with wind shades. Every day there is a time of low tide and in every summer there are days of no sun, so this pool is not quite the frivolous extravagance it first seems.

In this particular year, I had the bright idea of inviting some friends to share with us. The farmhouse had an dormer-windowed attic like a dormitory and there was plenty of room on the terrace.

It went well for about 48 hours and then it went stupid; completely and unforeseeably so. The weather was mostly fair to brilliant but the atmosphere was poison - and the reasons for it remain unclear.

Hitting the beach at Trouville got everybody separated enough to be civil - at a distance - so that is certainly a reason to remember it fondly. The actual water didn't interest me - these northern seas! - so I passed most of the time - at a distance - photographing the town and its surroundings.

One of the guests was a cook, so we got a lot of fresh fish direct from the fish marché on the Trouville quai and had a big feast one night and it was pretty good.

We could have done this every night and we could have done a lot of other things too; but the 'great plan' was off the rails long enough so there was no way to put it right. The guests all left before it was over and we perversely missed them a bit in the quiet days that followed.

These were ruined by the only topic of conversation available: wondering what had gone wrong and why.

This coast is in northern Europe and it is near Paris. One strike against it is its possibly dubious weather and the other is the fact that most of the vacationers are city-crazed Parisians, trying to unwind with the same people who wound them up in the first place.

But this is an unfair generalization. Trouville is more 'prolo' than Deauville and a lot less nouveau-riche than Honfleur, and other stations fishing boat, tide out down the line such as Houlgate are even more laid-back than Trouville and have their own particular eccentricities.

'Le Central' is a bar- café one could live in.

The countryside behind the beach is Calvados in Normandy and it is properly bucolic with its vast numbers of black and white cows and city halls made of cheese, apple cidre and occasionally, some bootleg firewater made from apples.

If you like being by the sea, it is not bad in winter. Places which remain open, probably have heat and if you appreciate space and a lot of sky, there is a lot of both on Deauville's empty beach.


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