Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Setting Out to Tour Southern France

I bought a motor-powered bicycle - it had a “clip-on: motor mounted over the front wheel. One pedaled to start and it would almost get up to 25 or 35 mph on flat land. Of course, one disconnected it when going downhill and I often had to get off and push going uphill. 1 liter would take me over 100 kilometers “clicks“ as we called them..
The best thing about this was how easy it was to work on. The down side was everything was in metric so none of the tools we used in the shop of US equipment worked. However, the ever-useful screwdriver, pliers and adjustable wrench solved most of the problems. Oh yeah! Don't forget the patch kit for the tires' inner tubes.
Royan is a village on the Gironde Estuary of the western coast of France. river near the sea. While the rest of France was old and drab - they seem to glory in their gray buildings that have not been upgraded since the middle ages - the town was almost completely new. Modern buildings and several nice beaches, although unlike California ones with lots of surf. The water sort of lapped the shore. I wondered how this unusual town came about and was told a story about typical Gallic ignorance or bravado or whatever.
Seems there were a couple of major Nazi installations nearby. The Allies were sent to bomb it. Using American and British aircraft, Free French air crews screwed up and bombed the town instead of the German targets they were sent after. Later, other raids took place in which huge loads of napalm were dropped to finish the job.
When the war ended, the French demanded the town be rebuilt due to the errors. The money came from American coffers and the town was rebuilt from the ground up. Even then, in 1958 when I was there, it had already started to transform to the drab Gallic color scheme, covered with coal soot.
As the land was flat, going to Royan on the bicycle was easy, I only had to pedal a few times. Once I got off restriction and had purchased the bike, it was summer time and I heard about the seaside resort. Being from Southern California, I wanted to see what French beaches looked like. Of course, I’d heard about the scandalous ones that were topless and even nude.
There was a number of villages between the camp and Royan. If I left early in the morning, it was the time when the bakeries had just taken their big, long loaves of bread - Baguette - out of the oven, I would stop to buy a half-load, then go next door to the butcher shop to buy goose-liver pâté de foie gras. One further stop would result in a nice bottle of red wine. Thank goodness I’d purchased a Swiss Army Knife in the Post Exchange as it had a corkscrew.

With all this in my backpack, I’d pull into Royan to find a nice bench under a shade tree.
The bikini had been around since the late 1940s but was rarely seen in the USA. 1958 was a time when girls wore big, wide pleated skirts with hemlines just below the knees and high necklines. Only gowns showed a hint of cleavage. So, it was really something else for a young American like me to sit overlooking the beach where women lay in the sun wearing such skimpy swim wear. Some topless!
The major problem was that French women, unlike the American counterparts, didn’t shave themselves! One might see a truly attractive female only to have her lift her arm to show a thick mass of hair. Legs, at a distance, were okay but up close left much to desire covered with hair.

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