Tuesday, January 30, 2007

14 July 1956 (Part 1)

Dear Folks

The last three days have been a sort of star-spangled climax to my European tour. They have been more like a vacation; for two days I laid on the Riviera, soaking up the sunlight & swimming in the glass-clear water. But the best part of it happened like this….

Tom Dolan & I decided Thursday to go ashore & go swimming, just so we could say we’d been swimming on the Riviera. Neither of us wanted to go to the "Plages Public," where the sky is all umbrellas & the sand is all people, so we began walking up the half-moon seafront toward Nice.

We had seen, while bicycling, the ruins of a fort with extensions out into the water, & thought we’d stop off there. These ruins are about halfway up the crescent, just past the cement sea wall which sweeps along most of Cannes’ waterfront. At the end of the concrete pier, covered with flagstone, steps lead down to a landing, evidently used at one time for small boats. Four young guys were already there—all of them between twenty & twenty-three.

"Hello, boys—come on down" one called, & then began yodeling (he did it very well). We couldn’t figure out what they were (nationalities, that is), for they spoke two different languages & English.

We found out that two were Germans, & two were French. Since the French didn’t speak German, & the Germans didn’t speak French, they "conversed" in English, all of them knowing at least a little of it. One of the Germans (the one who yodeled) spoke quite good English; his name is Guntar (Goon-tar). The other’s German name is unspellable, but it is pronounced "YO-hah-kiem"; he looks typically Bavarian—blondish hair, blue eyes, & a fascinating way of speaking German. Tom also speaks German, so they got on well right from the start. The Frenchmen’s names are Marc ("Mahk") & Michel.

All of them were campers—Guntar & Yohakiem hitchhiking from Munich, Germany; Michel & Marc came the same way from Paris, where both work. Yohakiem likes Americans because "there are many American soldiers in Munich, & they fight a lot." Guntar was part Swiss (i.e. the yodels), & learned English from the American soldiers around Munich.

Marc is a bartender in Paris, & Michel works just outside Paris, though what he does I don’t know—he is the Junior Champion Skin-Diver of all France, as we soon discovered without anyone telling us.

We spent the afternoon talking (many gestures; "compre?", "understand?" & such), swimming & generally fooling around. The water beside the landing is about twelve to twenty feet deep, & you can see every rock on the bottom. One of Marc & Michel’s favorite games was throwing a water-filled bottle in, letting it sink to the bottom, & then diving down after it—they never missed. Another trick was to dive down, pick up a large white rock, & walk across the bottom with it.

Oh, I forgot to tell you how one changes into & out of a bathing suit on the Riviera! One carries along a towel, naturally. When wishing to change, sometimes in the middle of the beach, one wraps the towel around one’s middle, like an apron. The trick is in fixing it so it won’t fall off, which might prove embarrassing. Then simply remove your pants (or skirt) & slip on the bathing suit. Remove the towel, & Voila! Oh, these French are clever, I tell you

Guntar wandered off to pick up sea shells & look for crabs ("for souvenirs"); Yohakiem, in his plastic bathing suit, slept. Marc, Michel, Tom & I splashed around, jumping off the edge of the pier where it came out & covered the landing.

Marc & Michel wore identical red-&-blue male Bikinis; I wore the old pink boxer suit I bought in Pensacola.

About sundown we all went to supper at a little place miles away Tom had found a couple days before. Guntar was wearing Levi’s & cowboy boots, with a wide leather belt embellished with cows & brands. Yohakiem wore shorts—which made him look more Bavarian than ever—& sandals. Michel & Marc wore Levi’s & moccasins. Tom & I wore sailor suits.

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