France is warm honeysuckle streets, the bitter breath of the sea, fierce sweat on my eyebrows, the brazen scream of the sun on the tops of apartments and expensive boutiques. I know the South of France very well. I come here with my mother, with my family, and the quaint, quiet lyric of the region has become familiar. The colors of the French Riviera are muted peach and strawberry satin.
At lunchtime, the drowsy clink of wine glasses sweating cold rosé, sharp-nosed laughter, French I can't understand and scrupulous looks at my messy clothes I can. I do not fit in, not in the midst of simplicity, elegance, pastel minimalist dreamlight and freshly prepared seafood. I wear tired black overalls and a red tee shirt. I am not a local, that much is painfully clear. My camera, inconspicuous as I may try to make it, draws a subtle distaste, not unpolite, exactly, but something I too can understand. In my city, afternoons on Abbot Kinney elicit those strained lips and narrowed eyes from me, too- fanny packs, an assaulting herd of I Love LA tee-shirts, selfie-sticks that remind me more of jousting matches, in their abundance. I hold that same impersonal contempt for those unacquainted with what I know so terribly well. It's stupid, I know it is. But nonetheless, it is not uncommon.
Then there are cold-tile, shiny mornings soaked in the warming, idle pleasure of being utterly alone with nothing to do and a city barely awake, gentle and cool at this time of day. I take the elevator down and I smile at the concierge. I walk. I tie my hair back, blink a bit, and slow my pace. There are cafes already steaming fresh cafe au laits, preparing for the day, chairs and tables carefully placed on the crowded sidewalks. The farmer's market, the vendors relaxed in their efforts. There are boys, sometimes, who glance at me with smart half-smirks and twinkling eyes, and I flush ferociously despite my most ardent intentions to remain unaffected by the male gaze. They are pretty, and French, with messy hair and sleepy hellos. They are not hurling intimidation and employing their maleness to whistle and scream me into quiet, trembling tears, the way it is in America. It is not perfect here, but I notice these little things. I buy fresh coffee and six hot chocolate croissants. Here, cuddled into the corner of this open shop, I smell comfort. I smell bread baking and eggs crackling on the stove and coffee-stained fingertips. There is a peace in all of this that is so oddly hard to recover once I'm back home.
The sea is another world. It shudders and sleeps, wails and murmurs. It is unignorable but it is subtle, patient. I study the rushing blue, crassly beating the sand down and down. Then it all changes. The gentleness of the water returns, and I could bathe in it, I sink into the waves and think nothing. My sister and I play for hours, dipping each other under the warm foaming ocean, laughter bubbling in our stomachs and our cheeks, tiny silver slivers of fish grazing our ankles. We race one another to the rocks. I feel her small fingers plunge into my arm and I see her mouth opening to let out a brilliant, brutal screech. She has stepped on a sea urchin, in all its pokey, painful beauty, so I carry her out of the water and onto the beach. We are doused in sand and rock. She cries and cries. It is a lot, but the lifeguard rushes straight to us, tends to her swelling foot, reassures us in a language I cannot translate but I understand anyways.
France in the summer glistens with seawater and exhaustion. I love it. It takes me away from the gruesome mundaneness of my own everyday. It delivers independence. It delivers absentmindedness. I am all too present in this head of mine every other moment. I hate the beach, the heat, the eye contact here, but there, it is calming. I exit my mind and float about sleepily and contentedly.