Burkini beach

Burkini beach banThe New York Times has called it ‘farcical’.

The Guardian has suggested there are many good reasons to wear the ‘wet suit with a hood’, and not just to annoy the French.

In Rio, burkini-clad athletes competed alongside others in skimpy bathing suits.

As our long, hot summer continues, the ban on the burkini by the mayors of several French towns has me hot under the collar. And this photo of police in Nice forcing a woman to remove her cover has me in a cold sweat.

What’s all the fuss about the burkini in France?

It’s about fear.

Fear of losing our national identity. An identity that has more to do with the freedom of topless sunbathing than it does with religion.

It’s about Islamophobia, another form of fear. Fear of terror attacks by those purporting to defend Islam, even while we understand that ISIS has nothing to do with Muslims.

It’s about the secular state, which is highly valued in France despite the fact that we march to the Christian calendar. It’s about fear of foreign ways and wanting to feel ‘chez nous’.

It’s about politics, plain and simple. In other words, when French prime minister Manuel Valls says he understands the mayors of several towns who have banned the burkini, it’s a smoke screen. It’s fear mongering, and it’s keeping the otherwise vocal French quiet.

To be fair, the French have always been somewhat hysterical about public swimming pools. Men: do not attempt to enter a public pool in France wearing swimming trunks or longer shorts. ‘Le caleçon’ is traditionally forbidden in pools here for so-called reasons of hygiene. The only acceptable swimwear for men in France is the ‘slip de bain’ aka the noodle bender.

So by extension, I can accept that, by the same logic, the burkini might be forbidden in public swimming pools. But on the beach? Alors là, non! It is just ridiculous. What does it mean for those who wear wet suits, people with sun allergies or those who are just plain shy? Can you imagine these cops asking a nun to remove her habit?

While I disagree with the fundamental principles that lead these women to cover their bodies, I will fight to the death for their right to do it. However misguidedly, and for whatever reason, religious or otherwise. The way we choose to dress is an essential right and freedom that should not be dictated by any government.

I love the fact that the French ban has sparked sales of the burkini. It is an innovative piece of clothing design by an Australian-Lebanese woman, one that enables an otherwise-excluded segment of the population to enjoy the pleasures of swimming. In her own words, it is meant to liberate women, not enslave them.

If weren’t so damned hot, I’d probably wear a burkini myself out of solidarity. I’m a shit disturber at heart, especially when I believe that something is full of it.

And the French, for all their dislike of political correctness and respect for private life, are just plain full of it on this one.

Et toi? What do you think about the burkini?

Les Amerlocs

Bonjour les amis,

I have been working on my memoir of late and completely forgot to write this week’s post. In the meantime I stumbled across this video – one of a series that spoofs the experiences of French tourists in the good ole U.S. of A. It’s called ‘Les Amerlocs’ which is a French slang term (not of endearment) for Americans.

I must admit it made me giggle. The couple try to behave in a way that is natural for the French but immediately run into American-style rules that are completely foreign to them. I experienced similar feelings when I first arrived in France and now as a sort of reverse culture shock when I go back to Canada.

If you don’t speak French you will probably get the gist of it from the gestures – and the American beach cop’s lines are in English. The ending is silly but probably reflects what a lot of tourists feel like doing in a foreign place.

Et toi? When was the last time you felt like a stranger in a strange land?

Trouver le courage

SUP‘Je ne suis pas très courageuse,’ as they say in French. I am no brave heart. I’ve shared before my challenges in coping with fear – in life and on the ski slopes. Rather than trying new things and going outside my comfort zone, holidays most often find me navigating between the bar and my beach chair, where I happily get lost in a good book between dips in and out of the water.

I do love the sea though, and was determined to try something new on this beach holiday. The resort program said ‘Introduction to Stand Up Paddle’. How hard could that be?

So I wandered down to the beach the other morning and joined a small group of people curious to find out what all this SUP fuss was about. It was a perfect day: blue sky, sunny and warm but not too hot, a light breeze.

Our bronzed surf instructor, a laid-back type of the beach-bum variety, coolly rhymed off a few instructions while showing us how to position ourselves in the middle of board, first on our knees, then in standing position. The paddling itself was old hat – any self-respecting Canadian knows their way around a canoe. Paddle left to go right; paddle right to go left. Back paddle to turn.

Then it was time to get into the water. We fastened our life jackets and secured the ankle straps to make sure we stayed with our boards. I stood at the water’s edge and looked out at the vast expanse of ocean, stretching to the horizon.

For a moment I pondered the unknown depths and breadth of that expanse. And then I felt it: a nudge of fear. Barely a ripple. Just the familiar fear of trying something new, a touch of agoraphobia at the unknown waters with vague shadows of fishes moving about near the bottom.

And I thought for an instant of what it must take for someone to take that giant leap into the unknown. To risk life and loved ones for a chance to make the great escape. Someone who may not be able to swim, who doesn’t even have a life jacket. Someone who risks it all on a rickety boat ride to foreign shores.

That is courage. Courage born of desperation. The kind of courage I will likely never know. There I was, on my stand-up paddle board, a privileged tourist just steps from safety, comfort – even luxury. And I dared to feel afraid?

Propelled by irony, in a sort of guilt-edged dream, I pushed out from the shore and took my first shaky steps on the stand up paddle. It wasn’t very hard. In fact, I barely even got wet.

Guilt is a fairly useless emotion, unless it spurs us on to do something good, to be better people. The refugee crisis is all around us in Europe, yet we blithely go on holiday and, when confronted with the all-too-human drama taking place on our shores, feel powerless to do anything about it. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between the way we as citizens feel about the refugees and our government’s response. I don’t have the answer, but I am thinking about the question. That’s a step forward. How about you?

All Crete to me

All Crete to me

After a week on the beautiful isle of Crete, I’ve revised the expression ‘It’s all Greek to me’ to mean something completely different. And I simply must share a few of the things that are all Crete to me.

One of the things I love about living in Europe is how close you are to so many amazing destinations. Crete was a bit far for Easyjet: it’s fine for a quick hop but the seats aren’t all that comfortable for a flight of almost 3 hours. But the low-cost airfares make this an affordable destination for French travelers.

There are just so many things to love about Crete. Here are my favorites:

IMG_2426The weather.  We were worried that mid-October might be a bit late for the beach. We need not have feared. It was mostly in the mid-20s, although there were a few clouds and windy days with cooler temps. That did not keep me out of the water. I love the salt water of the sea, and there were waves enough for a bit of body surfing.

I am fair skinned and usually have difficulty staying put in the sun. But as the sun was weaker at this time of year, I was able to stick it out and have actually got a nice tan on my legs. Too bad it’s just in time to cover them up for winter back home!

 

IMG_2507The beaches. The sand on Crete is like brown sugar, and there is very little else underfoot. You can walk out a long way in the crystal clear water before it gets deep.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2456Under the changing skies, the sea has more shades of cerulean than I ever imagined. The crashing of waves and cooling sea breezes were wonderfully relaxing.

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The food. This is Cretan health food: Feta that fêtes the sheep, tomatoes so ripe they taste like sauce off the vine. Ubiquitous olives and honey and thyme.

 

 

 

Yummy yoghurt thick as whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

Pastries of fine phyllo filled with spinach and cheese.

 

 

 

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The drinks. Some very nice wines: Crisp whites, round rosés and reds of surprising depth. And damn good beer – Mythos – for me, the only drink on the beach.

 

 

 

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The fauna. Everywhere, cats. Feral, feline and offering hours of free entertainment. And kri-kri, the little mountain goats that give us such beautiful goat’s cheese.

 

 

 

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The fishing. Harbors filled with fishing boats of every color. Who bring back the wonders of the sea.

Tiny fish in a marinade. Savoury sardines. Fresh sea bass. Squid and calamari…

 

 

 

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The Flora. Surprising in its colour and variety. Red earth and porous rock. Forests of tamaris trees. Dried golden stems and deep purple petals, sage green and yellow stars.

 

 

 

 

I returned from Crete restored and replenished, feeling like this plante grasse (succulent) that grows wild on Crete – plump little green stems all rosy on the tips.

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Have you ever been to the Greek islands? Do you have a favorite holiday spot?

Death by insouciance

red-flagI’d like to raise a red flag.

The French word for carefree – insouciant – literally means no worries. To live the carefree life. Free and easy. Sans soucis.

The French are inherently insouciant. Cool and easygoing. Especially in the summer. They don’t like to live by the rules. And at the height of the carefree summer mood, I am at my most uncool. Because I am just one of those people who worries. And it seems that in France, there is reason to worry.

One in five people in France doesn’t know how to swim. But when you go on a boat there is no sign of life-jackets.

It is not cool to be the one who worries about such things. But it’s also not cool to live the carefree life to the point where you jeopardize your own. And others. By ignoring the rules. Driving too fast. Not wearing a seat-belt. Cycling without a helmet. Passing when you can’t see what’s coming.

It is not cool to defy the health warnings by refusing to wear sunscreen. And it’s especially uncool to expose your infant child to the sun on the beach at noon.

It is not cool to ignore the danger signs and go swimming when the red flag is flying.

It is not cool to drown, as 91 people in France have so far this summer.

It is so uncool to be cool.

So please pay attention to the red flags.

Merci.