by Eileen Le Guillou
After 15 years, I returned to one of the beaches where I grew up. My grandfather’s family came from Bretagne, in the Northwestern-most tip of France. My father and his 4 siblings spent every summer in a small boating village - as did I until I was 12 - along with our entire extended family. The village is somehow skipped over in the guide books to everyone’s delight, and they joke about it’s insulation. Summers are defined by tradition. On the second weekend in August, there is a competition between sailing teams of nuclear families. Boats hop from island to island and teams complete each other’s challenges that they have spent months planning and designing into fantasy tales. On August the 15th, each family sails to a pier for morning Mass where others less inclined are dressed in their Sunday best in chairs. The tradition afterwards is buckets of moules frites - the freshest you’ve ever tasted.
The first night of my return, fresh off of my train ride from Paris and flight from New York, we stopped by a barbecue in the sea cliffs. On the walk back the moon was the only light around and led us home. The smells are what I remembered most - fresh mint and rosemary and small white flowers, salt, topped with the slightest must and wrapped in heavy moisture. Days are defined by meals - breakfast upon waking, lunch at 2:30, apero at 8, dinner at 9 - and the sunset at 9:50. The backdrop of every scene, every memory is a purple hydrangea bush. Each day has clouds, peaks of sun, 2 minute showers. There is little wifi and no laptops - the days in August are endless and occupied only by the moment’s wishes.
Here on the beach reading my new favorite book ‘A Little Life’. Children in the background. It’s impossible to think about mundane stressors here. It’s impossible not to feel free.
I thought it would feel more strange to visit my grandparents’ old house. Memory is so funny that way. With distance it warps and expands. In reality nothing has changed that much. Or at all. We’re older.
Low sun on the sea as we sail. My brain for speech shuts off here, rocking through waves and getting splashed with waves.
Apero, a daily habit.
Our last gathering outside in the setting sun.