Monday, 6 February 2012
Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 13. Christmas Beach
I always wave at trains.
People in trains nearly always wave back.
There’s a little red and yellow wagon, Le Trinighellu, which chugs up and down the coast between Calvi and Isle Rouse, like some continental cousin of Thomas the Tank Engine. We call it ‘Pierre the Put-Put’. On request it stops with a ‘parp’ at any beach en route to pick up and deliver folk to and from their chosen haven. As the engine slows to a stop, ghostly faces peering out to sea, reign themselves in and focus on the beach life. If you can catch an eye, the traveller always seems to relish the connection. Most are genial, some downright rude. I could compile a lexicon on international sign language. Italians and Germans are the easiest to spot, comedians and straight men. As the train pulls away they resume positions and refix their gaze; some leaning forward hopefully towards an uncertain future, others peering back wistfully from whence they came.
It was Christmas morning and, after a breakfast of croissants, coffee and chocolate, Di, Gregg, Suzie and I made our way down to a deserted Bodri, now re-christened ‘Christmas Beach’. With the sands to ourselves we set up on the decking of ‘Sinbad’s’ bar, which would be closed until the spring. Although nothing could compete with Sinbad’s legendary cheese and mushroom omelette, a festive spread of chacuterie, cheese and cheap champagne was laid out and we tucked in, occasionally pausing for a game of charades and a magic trick or two. The food brought forth a family of cats; four scruffy wide-eyed kittens with their protective parents, nervous but hungry. We fed them scraps and gave them names. As the pallid sun struggled to fuel a pale, empty sky, we juggled with ashen driftwood and later a boule tournament somehow descended into beach cricket, girls against boys. After taking a brilliantly athletic catch in the slips I was suddenly overcome with a desperate need to dump. Coffee and chocolate! Although we had packed three bottle openers and two lemons, not one piece of toilet paper was at hand. Napkins anyone? In increasing desperation I scoured the scrub for scrap. Where’s ‘The Sun’ when it’s needed? I was eventually blessed with a sun-bleached copy of ‘Corse Matin’ and retired to a convenient dune to crouch like a canine. On cue every dog walker in the Balagne descended for his or her Christmas constitutional. As I steadied for evacuation I found myself the focus of a sniffing Shitzu, closely attended by its scowling owner. Both man and dog looked at me down long noses that tested the air with an odd mixture of empathy and contempt. I eventually managed to disengage from these conspiratorial inquisitors by throwing a stick and moved higher up the dunes, away from the beach. Dropping my trousers I re-assumed that ‘L’ shaped position and pointed myself with great precision down hill towards the sea. Relief, short lived: I nearly re-shat myself as that red and yellow train rolled leisurely by not ten feet from where I strained. All passengers previously gazing out to sea, dutifully reigned themselves in and caught my eye. Registering their sympathy and horror I could think of nothing better to do but salute like a trainee squady. If my earlier Christmas charade had been ‘Sir John Mills Shitting like a Shivering Dog’ I’d have won hands down.
Moving away with an indecent lack of haste, ‘Pierre the Put-Put’ parped.
I parped back and my salute became a wave.
I always wave at trains.