French summers

– Memories of holidays in France –

As a boy, dreaming of a wonderful purpose of my life and feeling the apparently so uniquely masculine fascination with problem solving in general and with science, physics, and machines in particular, I was convinced that science was the real search for truth. And if there was anyone who had the necessary pragmatism, the deeply humane common sense to apply science in order to save the world, it were engineers. I saw science as truth and engineering as an act of love and service. I thought of engineers as the ones who not only understood things but also could make things.

I thought that real scientists and engineers would never sell out such ideals to “The System”, to corporations, to profane inferior standards like profit, and if they had to, in order to make a living, they would be utterly unhappy. It soon became clear that the real world is far more complex, but I still always resisted to conform.

In my first (and last, and only) job, when it seemed I was just sailing along so effortlessly having a ball, I felt the tentacles of the gigantic octopus reach out for me, the nameless, faceless “System”, ready to devour and digest me. It would use my energy to grow stronger and stronger itself throughout my life, without ever consulting me, while I grew older and weaker until, in the end, it would simply excrete me and find another virgin soul full of energy to take my place and do the same thing all over again.

This System has its very own goals, entirely independent of us and often mercilessly opposed to our wellbeing. It is by no means a physical entity or a person, anything tangible at all, and yet it seems to rule our lives more than anything else as it consists of us, as it is what we are when we forget our true identity and confuse it with the forever doomed sensation of Self.

While I tried to figure all this out we escaped in the summers; not only to the mountains but to the fairy tale land of France:

 Summer in France

Somewhere in Normandy

 At the end of the rainbow…

 Lacanau Océan

 I started windsurfing on the Atlantique in France. This was in the early and mid 70s when it was just discovered. I enjoyed it immensely. I went through all the stages of figuring it out, getting pretty good at it, upgrading to new stuff, needing better conditions and still better stuff, and experiencing the fundamental, never-ending, hopeless phenomenon of Dukkha. The intrinsic unsatisfactoriness of how we typically experience reality, the “disquietude” with which we unfortunately meet the world in its non-judicable ever-changing flow. I learned something, got good at it, experienced happiness, grasped it, clung to it, and began to suffer when the same did not recur. I spent about as much time in bliss as I sat frustrated on the beach, waiting for more wind or resenting not having the right sail or anything else. It was a hard and wonderful lesson. I did this course, the fundamental study of dukkha, for many years. Finally, in Mexico, I let go (and gave it up before kite-boarding came along) and discovered the solution and the kind of happiness that is not dependent on anything, not attached to desire, and is totally free. I learned to windsurf well, but what I really learned was what I never intended to learn.

 I still feel the thrill, but I also feel the deeper thrill of letting go.

 In the early stages of windsurfing we also tried to do it on land.

 Noirmoutier, Bretagne. At low tide you can find clams everywhere. Here you can actually drive with your car far out on the sea floor without getting stuck.

 Roscoff. The difference between high and low tide is extreme in Normandy and Bretagne. At St Malo it averages 12 m = 40 feet. The sea is very rich with nutrients and seaweeds grow like crazy.

 Roscoff, Bretagne

 

 We learned to eat oysters = huitre in France, and we never found better ones anywhere else.

 The marché is where France is most alive.

 Fetching a baguette every morning is the national etiquette in France.

 Paella with big crevettes, huítresalad, and artichaut.

 Trout a la Parvin under the spell of Mont Saint Michel

 Mont Saint Michel. Photographed to death, and yet irresistible. The area where we are parked gets flooded at high tide, but not much; we stay and spend the night standing in the water. Sometimes the water doesn’t rise higher than 8 – 9 inches over the ground, and we love this boat-feeling; it’s only temporary.

 La Rochelle, a most picturesque harbor, it’s entrance between the towers gets closed off at night with a chain.

Fort la Latte not far from Cap Fréhel

Fort la Latte. Fear and the sense of separation has often ruled the world.

Port Blanc: A house between the rocks. It looks kind of frightened, doesn’t it? Looking fearfully out to the world, hoping the rocks and the wall may shelter it from harm.

 The woman who’s wonderful hair finally turned gray while she shared her life with me.

We often visited the historical stretch of the Normandy coast where the invasion took place in the Second World War. It is a spooky area where incredibly dramatic world-changing events came about. Somehow this whole historical phenomenon of violent and decisive confrontation has always fascinated me. I always felt the intense vibrations of massive bygone aggressive intention and human suffering there. There are other places also in France, like Verdun where even much more brutal catastrophes happened during the First World War, that still breathe this air of unimaginable suffering. In the Normandy it is the thrill of decisive, purposeful action that seems to linger on the beaches. In Verdun it is the horror of senseless, ultimately inconceivable suffering. Mystical places; there are many of them in Europe. I think we have to expose ourselves to these things occasionally. Seeing a movie is not enough and often extremely misleading. A movie, a book, these things are narrations, interpretations; in order to make your own story you need to expose your senses to the real thing. Objectively it may be nothing but ruins and rubble, but we should trust our senses rather than our minds and be open to their ‘facts‘ too.

In Arromanches the remains of the artificial temporary harbor made of concrete barges before the beach are still very visible.

This is how the landing bridges sat on these barges.  The harbor was built in the first days after D-day.

Arromanches: a tiny lovely beach town before and now again. History left its mark, however, it’s up to us to sense the message and live with our own conclusions.

Omaha Beach, Vierville s. Mer. A gun once stood here and wiped out hundreds and hundreds of soldiers coming in from the beach. I try to imagine the guy who pulled the trigger on and on, blinded by emotions, blinded perhaps by guiltless ignorance.

  * * *

These Piste Cyclable are quite unique for the Atlantic coast of France. They were built by the Germans during the Second World War and were patrol-trails for soldiers on motorcycles guarding the coast against an invasion. They connected a 200 km long chain of bunkers and gun structures. (Many of these massive concrete structures are also still there, by the way, half buried in the sand like sunken ships.) They are perfect bike trails now, mostly quite straight, leading through open, dry pines forests, very quiet, just the distant roar of the surf calling through the trees, with the wonderful fragrance of pine needles and salty air from the ocean wafting in the air. Almost everywhere it’s only a very short walk to the beach, and the beach, away from the few tourist places, is wild and free of people. You can ride through delightful solitude and stop for a swim whenever you feel like it. Check out this very simple little video that gives a great feeling of bicycling on those unique Piste Cyclable along the Atlantique coast, this is how these trails look like today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahHLfrVdcos

* * *

Parvin never really felt any existential crisis in these years. She found a wonderful way to expand her teaching career from physics to physical education and secretly discovered her calling. The kids, of course, loved her, and she told me: “I can’t believe they even pay me for this!”

                                                              Klaus  September 27. 2011

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3 Responses to French summers

  1. movita says:

    I’ve scrolled through these pictures half a dozen times, completely captivated! Thanks for sharing.

    (I will admit that the photo of Parvin and her class is made me giggle out loud…)

  2. firasz says:

    This is a superb post! Enjoyed reading through.
    The ’70s pictures makes me think they are valuable. There is no spanking-new shine on it but certainly it seems to be coated with sweetness of a great time passed before.

  3. Selma says:

    Fabulous. I don’t know where to begin. I love it all. You really should write a book about your experiences. That little house in Port Blanc would make a great setting for a film. What a treat to share in your travels!

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