Thursday, February 01, 2007

16 July 1956

Dear Folks

This morning, at 0115, the last liberty boat pulled away from the fleet landing at Cannes &, with a salute to Marc & Michel—who stood behind the Shore Patrol barricade waving, we left France.
As the Ti moved out, about 0800, I went topside to catch a last look at the ruins where we’d had so much fun. I really hated to leave Cannes, & will always remember it.

Going ashore yesterday afternoon, the water was so rough we were almost an hour late. When we got to the ruins, Michel was the only one there. The water, usually sheltered by the squared U formed by the jetties, was washing over the landing, while small geysers shot up from holes in the floor. We made our stand on a flight of bombed stairs, which led nowhere. Michel hadn’t been in the water, as there was quite a bit of debris floating around, & the usually clear water was milky-grey. He produced from under his folded bluejeans the bottle of champagne & a bottle of red wine, which he took & placed in a water-filled pothole in the landing floor.

Marc soon came along, as did Phil, Tom’s buddy. Guntar & Yoakeim (correct spelling—I asked Marc) never did show up. Michel was anxious to drink the champagne, & kept suggesting it every two minutes. Finally we gave in, & polished it off in a short time. Tom had brought a blanket, which we spread over a landing on the steps, & Phil brought a radio, but didn’t change into his swimming suit since he thought the water was too rough to swim. Every now & then an especially big wave would hit the other side of the jetty, & cold spray would fly all over us.

Phil left after awhile, & Michel & I walked six blocks (in our swimming suits) to a small delicatessen, where we bought some bread, small cakes, & dried apricots. When we returned, we opened the bottle of wine, & lay all curled up & overlapping (the stair landing wasn’t big enough for four people) like a bunch of snakes. We began singing songs ("C’est si Bon"; "Hi Lili," "Allez-vous-En," "Brigadoon," etc.)—Michel & Marc in French, Tom & I in English.

Tom got to feeling pretty well on the wine—he drank most of my share because I didn’t care much for it--& he & Marc bundled up in the blanket & tried to sleep. Michel & I sat on the steps, comparing feet & exchanging names of various parts of the body.

Later we decided to go swimming. As I’ve said, water was washing over the landing where we’d laid the previous two days, & out at the end, where the landing wound around the end of the jetty, the waves washed across two feet high. Nobody wanted to be the first one in so, holding hands, we all made a dash for it & jumped in. Either the water was warmer than it had been, or we were more accustomed to it, but anyway it was quite nice.

Michel wanted to go out to the end of the landing & lay down, letting the water run over him, which he did. I went with him, but Marc & Tom decided to stay farther down toward our stairs. Michel laid down, & I was standing over him, when a huge wave, about three & a half feet high, swept over the edge of the landing. I was knocked off my feet & washed over the side into the water, bruising my ankle & skinning my elbow. Anyway, it was fun.

We laid around the rest of the afternoon, & about six thirty decided we’d better go & eat. I suggested we go to the little bar we’d gone to the first night, so off we went, leaving our ruins while long shadows stretched off in front of us.

Since it was such a long walk, we thought we’d take a bus. In Cannes, the busses all leave from one place & do not, I don’t believe, stop at each & every corner.

We got off about two blocks past the bar & walked back, past a large orange apartment building where several little boys & girls waved at us from the walled front yard.

For supper, we had chicken soup again, salad, & steak, which Helen, the proprietess, went out and got for us. That, plus one bottle & six glasses of wine, a huge loaf of French bread & two lemonades (for me, since I didn’t like that wine either & was thirsty), & a desert made from fresh plums, came to a grand total cost of 3200 Francs ($6.00 for four of us).

We stayed there until about ten o’clock, drawing caricatures & joint-project sketches on the paper tablecloths.

When we left the restaurant, we walked down to the sea—the beaches were all deserted, & the moon spread across the water in a wide, silver path. The waves washed against the sand as they’ve done for millions of years, unseen & unheard. We walked along in the sand, while cars rushed by on the raised highway not half a block from the water. I wrote our names in the sand & a large wave came up & washed them away, getting my feet wet.

By the time we reached fleet landing, it was eleven o’clock. We were hoping boating might have been secured, but we could see a bunch of white-clad bodies & knew it hadn’t. Marc offered to buy us one last drink, so we hurried back into Cannes & up an alley to their favorite bar.

Behind the polished brown bar, which ran along the right-hand wall, a bar-room mirror reflected a large bunch of gladiolas, doubly bright because of their more colorless surroundings. In front of the gladiolas stood a woman who might just have stepped out of a French comedy—heavy set, with kept-in-check brown hair that looked like it would love to fly all over the place but didn’t have the nerve. Her cheeks had just enough rouge to heighten the effect; thin, penciled eyebrows which looked comfortably out of place on her large face. Her gestures, the way she talked, and her expressions as she described some hilarious episode to a customer in French, made it no less funny for us. She was fascinating.

Unfortunately, the mood at our table was not as festive as it might have been. Tom & I kept eyeing the clock on the wall as it edged closer & closer to 12 o’clock, when we must be back at the landing or turn into pumpkins.

We all exchanged addresses & promises to write, & Marc asked "How you say in English ‘Triste’?" Triste means sad.

We walked back to the Fleet Landing & stood around, not saying much. The French police came & rounded up a group of Algerians who were peddling rugs & scarves to the sailors.

Next year both Marc & Michel must go into the army, to be sent to fight in Algiers, to try & keep hold of France’s fast-dwindling empire.

Boat after boat came & went. We waited as long as we could, until at last everyone was gone but us. We shook hands all around, & got into the boat.

"…&, with a salute to Marc & Michel, who stood behind the Shore Patrol barricades waving, we left France…."

See you soon.



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