Along for the ride:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Letters in the Sand...

In the latter portion of my Franco-British tour of friends and relatives; having unpacked my suitcase for the 5th, and penultimate, time in a fortnight; I find the familiar guest bedroom in the open-plan house of Chantal and Olivier, who qualify as both friends and family.
When I first met Chantal three decades ago in Southern France, I was her father's English girlfriend. Now, she introduces me, with a smile, as her step-mother. Last March, her 53rd birthday preceded mine by four days and her subsequent birthdays will continue to do so. The official description of our relationship matters little. We have a mountain of shared interests and memories in common.

The house is set into a gentle rise and the floor to ceiling windows look out over the tops of two thousand olive trees, past the grape vines below and onward to the large purple smudge of the Island of Porquerolle, just beyond a blue slice of Mediterranean.
The sliding glass doors are left open day and night at this time of year, which is why a rope barrier has been looped across the the accessible edges of the big wooden deck, to keep Pegase (Pegasus), the 36 year old bay horse, out of the house.
When we sit to chat or dine at the big teak table on the deck, Pegase keeps us company, his big rustic head nodding to dislodge any annoying flies that his long swishing tail fails to sweep away. The rest of the time Pegase can be found snoozing beneath the shaded overhang down by the olive mill, or persistently bumping the branches of the fig tree until the soft plop of a ripe fruit hitting the ground sends him bee-lining over to snuffle around and claim his prize.
After lunch and story-swapping for a while, I asked if Chantal wanted to go for a walk. She suggested a hike along the coastal path which sounded good to me. There are numerous little bays and coves around this part of the Mediterranean. Small beaches, with patches of sand or round, wave-smoothed pebbles. These inlets provide tranquil moorings for small boats and inviting, warm end of season water for sun-worshippers unfettered by school age children.
Some effort is required as there are uphill portions of the trail and even downhill it's wise to concentrate as there are tree roots and uneven wooden steps and much of the path is single file between shrubby undergrowth and only wide enough for a goat.
A hazy afternoon light isn't the best but it's impossible to resist some blatant photo-ops. As we clambered down to the next little beach, a couple with a serious piece of camera equipment are discussing his next frame. I offer to include both of them in a souvenir shot and they are pleased to accept. He quickly whips out a small point and click digital that I cannot harm and I snap the two of them by the water's edge, with the private island-fortress of Bregancon behind them. Summer retreat of French Presidents, the chateau on the island is visible from shore.
Monsieur Photographer reciprocates with pictures using my camera. His, unlike mine, show deliberate composition.
As we continue up and over one more time my phone rings. "You'll never guess what just happened to me" is a familiar harbinger of trouble from The Artistic One, whom I have left to fend for himself in California. "My car was just stolen out of the driveway. I saw it go by the window while I was having breakfast, a few minutes ago."
7 am California time and I'm at least an hour's walk away from anything. How to find the number of the local Sheriff's Department back home? I try dialing 411, the information line, with the international prefix for the USA but that doesn't work. I tried Lovely Daughter and a couple of friends but it's too early. No one is answering their phones. Finally we call Olivier and he gets a number from his computer. Chantal scratches it onto a rock with a pebble and I dial. The recorder message says business hours don't start for another hour and gives a number to call for immediate help. I give Chantal some digits to memorize and try to retain the rest. When I finally get through to a Deputy to make a report, Chantal wanders away, strips down and takes a swim.  I'm standing by the edge of the path, afraid to move and lose my connection. It feels very inappropriate to be talking on the phone amid such serenity.
I start by explaining the complicating factor that I'm calling from Europe as my husband speaks French. I am able to describe the vehicle year, make and color and give the name of our insurance agent and the home address so that someone can go out and take a statement from the victim.  We don't have the license number, without accessing the files in my office or until I can get hold of my insurer, as soon as his day starts. I promise to call back with that information.
TAO is calling again. He's found a photo of his car that shows his license plate. He rattles off letters and numbers. Whoa there! I have nothing to write with, which he seems not to comprehend in his excitement. This beach is all pebbles. I use my finger to scribe the information but it's barely legible as the little rocks roll down and quickly blur the outlines. Chantal, who is done swimming and has dried in the sun and redressed, comes back over to help and once again, I call the Sheriff's Dept. This time I connect with a female dispatcher who doesn't appreciate that I don't have my full case number at hand and she keeps stopping me to complain about the background noises. I do my best not to lose patience as I repeatedly explain that I'm inches away from the waves, which are not only noisy, but every ripple threatens to erase the information I need to impart.
TAO is on the line once more, asking me to call an employee to collect him and get him to our place of business. I first remind him he's supposed to wait for someone to take his report and then start racking my brain for a source who might help me find the phone number I need. Funnily enough, I don't have any employee files with me here.
I leave a message with one person who's number I have, who has borrowed a helper from us once or twice. I ask him to text me when he gets my call. Finally, I think of a neighboring fork-lift repair business, whose number I know by heart and who start work early. They immediately promise to go over and pass along the message that TAO needs rescuing. I'm glad that I've bought them chocolate cakes a couple of times as I try hard never to exceed the goodwill quota of neighborliness.


  1. Wow! Your life certainly is exciting. And the area you are visiting is gorgeous. It really makes me want to add 'the Mediterranean' to my bucket list. Beautiful beach photos and that horse, Pegasus, is great!

  2. Chocolate cake: the answer to everything.

    This is an outrageously amazing post! You had me at Pegase...

  3. Oh my! How could such an idyllic adventure be so tainted by crime at home. Once again AO's ill luck seems to follow you.

    I certainly hope things work out at home so you can enjoy the last few days of your trip. It is so beautiful there. Pegasus is adorable and definitely adds a special element to the whole place. He has to leave you smiling.

  4. Two things I could live without, in a location like that. A watch, and a mobile phone.

  5. I'd love to have Pegase for company at the table....
    And TAO is the very image of the (few) French intellectuals I have met.....

    I gather it was not you, then, who photographed the President's ladyfrend in her knickers while holidaying at Fort Bregancon....but I have my doubts about the couple you met....

  6. That place sounds wonderful.Olive trees and grapevines?.... it doesn't get much better.

  7. My phone doesn't work at times like those, lots of static, lost connections etc So sorry

  8. Rian, I lived there for five years. It is quite special to me.

    Kerry, I've known Pegase since he was a turbulent youngster.

    Jean, Pegase has certainly reached the stage of knowing he's part of a family. He has a couple of donkey friends but seems to prefer people.

    Stephen, it was a nice interlude.

    Martin, you are so right but then I'd have things to deal with once I got home.

  9. Fly, I missed all news for two weeks. I hadn't heard of unruly photographers. The couple did have a big lens:)

    Wally, should I rub it in by telling you we went to pick apples in an orchard the next day?

    Silliyak, do I believe you? Fun idea.

  10. More adventures for TAO ! I might have simulated a bad connection and then turned the phone off...

    Looks like a beautiful place down there, I can't believe you are back home in CA already, and I still can't believe we were able to catch up with each other in Paris... seems like a dream now... Hope your sleep isn't too disrupted with the time zone changes...

  11. Owen, I think it has been established that I was born to rescue. Problem-solving is second nature. La Londe is a lovely base when I visit. Sleep has been odd but I've caught up on laundry etc in my 3am wanderings.

  12. Pegase has a perfect retirement, how heart warming to see a horse his age enjoying life.

    Your story is so well written I could picture you struggling to scribble numbers on a pebbled beach :) The scenario is also worryingly familiar as I can totally imagine it happening with my other half ;) Except that he refuses to do a driving licence so it would unlikely be about a car.

    Happy rest of the travels!

  13. Wiola, The local equine vet is so impressed by Pegase that he takes him home and looks after him for free, whenever the family travels. Pegase is in fabulous condition mentally and physically.

  14. I have added you to my blog list. Your effing pony even has trouble going for a for the husband that only speaks French, I am of the opinion that he is worth keeping! Thank you for a lovely read!


  15. b, thanks for coming on board for the ride and for your kind comment.