Gravière

  43° 50' 08'' N - 1° 23' 47'' W  

 

I’d managed to get get hold of my Dad’s old car, which he never took out in case it broke down and he got involved in all kinds of impossible mechanical head scratching about it. The springs in the seats squeaked and it smelled of good old fashioned leather. I made a beeline for the coast. Recently, life had seemed to be flying by. Without me.

 

I needed to get away from all that, to have a break. Just me and the sea. Basta.

Several kilometers and a few panic attacks later, caused by the loud coughing noises coming from the engine, I arrive in the Landes region, my promised land. Nature is amazing here, little groups of trees stick up here and there over broad expanses of unbroken land as if determined to huddle together whatever.

 

Further on, I skirt an impenetrable forest. I’m getting close.

There’s sand on the sides of the road, invasive. I park on a wasted esplanade, near some dunes which obscure the view. There’s an old petrol station it’s paint faded by the sun and the spray.

 

There’s no one around at this time of year, it’s like being in one of those old German films, all grey tones and heavy suits.

I emerge onto a huge beach which is already populated in spite of the season. Lots of people. Kids squabbling as exasperated parents stand by, a dog comes snuffling up to me barking at an inoffensive bit of wood. Children running about everywhere, shouting, radios blaring out in a cacophony of music.

 

I listen for the sound of the waves breaking.

Anyway the sea will wait. It’s late and I’m hungry. I continue and finally fetch up at a couple of sleepy snack bars near the water. They’re simple but quite exotic, their stripy colored wooden walls adorned with a few surf boards. I should be able to find something to keep me going.

Later I drop into a bar, still going from the summer season. The interior is all in bamboo and the green spot lamps create a surreal atmosphere in contrast to the candy pink neon strip lighting Aloha. I spot a guy in the corner who’s a little bit different from the four kids in there sipping mojitos. He’s sitting alone at a table with just a shaggy old dog at his feet.

 

The pair of them would be favorites in the « no style » stakes. He’s around fifty with blue eyes and a few wisps of blond hair straying from his threadbare cap. I buy him one of the cans of beer that already clutter his table and sit down beside him. I learn that he has lived in the Landes since he was a child and has never left the coast.

 

He’s bummed around from North to South, never far from the sea. Taking seasonal work, simple pleasures, he’s always drawn strength from these wild lands.

The drink makes him poetic and very likable but I can’t identify with the exalting nature of what he talks about. However, a few questions reveal the existence of a treasure hidden in the dunes. A beach with no name, unknown to most people and a closely guarded secret known only to a few locals. 

- a gift from nature for those who know how to disappear off the beaten track he said with the beginnings of a smile.

 

But through the mists of alcohol I’m no longer sure that any of this makes any sense. I wander back and crash out on the comforting leather seats of the parents Volvo.

Awoken from my short night by the first rays of sunshine reflecting through the streamed up windows of the car the grandiose memories of this improbable encounter come back to me.

 

I go to look for the spot which he vaguely indicated to me. It’s a no man’s land. Deep in a forest.

I look around for a sign. For a strange path or an odd tree, something which sparks an interest in me. But nothing comes.

 

I continue my walk nonchalantly, carefree. Above my head, the tall pine trees of the Landes brush against each other with a slight rustling sound. It’s soothing, a sort of calm invades me.

For a moment I walk barefoot to feel the cool sand between my toes, my pumps tied round my neck. The ground is covered with pine needles which make me wince at each step. I feel everything around me, something which hasn’t happened to me for a long time.

 

I realise that there is no longer any clear path, the ferns are more dense and I often have to clear the way with the aid of a stick.

 

I’m lost.

Anyway, I feel good and continue without any real aim. Just the desire to experience the moment and to savor it.

 

Later, tying my shoes up, I notice a shimmering through the branches. I let myself be guided by this saving light. 

One last sand dune to be climbed like a final sacrifice and the beach appears. A wild sweep of sand, looking as if it has never been trodden by man. A gift from nature...

 Gravière

  43° 50' 08'' N - 1° 23' 47'' W