The shout above the crash of the surf combined with the water gradually draining out of my ears could have meant one of two things: either he said ‘pour’ or ‘pas’, to be frank, I had absolutely no fucking idea what he had said anyway, my grasp of the native tongue has progressed little since my GCSE’s. All I could do was nod my head and say ‘Pardon’ in my best accent and hope that I had not angered a local lad while I memorized the sentence to enter into Google translate later, the wonders of modern technology...
Thankfully my knowledge of the rules of etiquette when out surfing in the line-up are a little better than my linguistics, I had been pretty confident it was my wave, I was clearly closest to the peak and, as it turned out, whilst at the mercy of the internet later, I had been right: the Frenchman was merely saying “Call me, It was yours…”
I knew it, perhaps these Frenchies aren’t all that complicated after all?
With the fiancée designing clothes for a surf company based just outside the sleepy surf town of Hossegor (out of season at least), I have grown tired of having one foot in the Landes and the other in Sussex whilst my dangly bits bob about pointlessly in the murky waters of the channel. The time feels right to embrace the French culture and if anything…a little education should follow. I have always been a little skeptical towards the French, as I am sure many of my fellow Blightinians are too. But what is it that we, and particularly the Yanks, so envy about the French way of life? How is it that a country rife with infidelity, cruelty to geese and public urination has developed a lifestyle so many wish to emulate? Well there is only one way to find out, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, minus the three previously mentioned pastimes… I can only imagine that food & drink have an awful lot to do with it.
Hossegor is right on the cusp of an epic collision of culinary cultures: it lies on the southern border of the region of Aquitaine which encompasses the vineyards of Bordeaux, the heaviness of Armagnac and then Landes, which is the largest producer of duck and Foie Gras in France. Just to the south sits Bayonne (think ham) and Biarritz and then you are in the Pyrenees, this is Basque country, where seafood and Tapas rule supreme. Since I have been visiting the area on a regular basis it has always puzzled me that these two regions both get pounded by the mighty swells of the Atlantic yet only the Basque seem to be fond of the ocean harvest, whilst the Landes folk stick to protein from terra firma. Funnily enough Aquitaine used to be owned by the Brits, for a while at least back in the day: Eleanor of Aquitaine got hitched to Henry II of England in 1154 and the region fell into our possession, personally I believe he was after the wine, huge quantities of local grog were then exported to London and Southampton, we eventually lost it at the end of the 100 years war in 1453…bugger! But, thankfully the imports continue…
I have visited few places with a more varied landscape: mountains, sand dunes and the largest man made forest in Europe. Before the 19th century the region was heavily coated with marshland, so much so that the local inhabitants used to get about on stilts! No joke… during the 19th century vast tracts of pine forest where laid down to stabilize the sandy earth and the marshes where drained, leaving behind more pine forest than you could poke a stick at. Moving closer to the shore, Hossegor is renowned as the European centre for Surfing and we are talking monstrous surf at times- waves up to 25ft! The pro tour passes through each year most recently with the Quiksilver Pro, which I witnessed on my last visit. So on top of the old traditions and salt-of-the-earth characters there is also a healthy smattering of youth bouncing about the place and plenty of surf for this wave-starved Engerlander (see below- notice the water isn’t brown!).
By heading inland away from the relentless onslaught of the loud, garish colours of the surf industries lies the quiet, thoughtful resourcefulness of le species Aquitaine: a simple knowledge of what is around them and just how useful it all is. At the local Veg place on Tuesdays and Thursdays there was always a hoard of mushroom-hungry Frenchies haggling over the price of the recently foraged Ceps from the surrounding woodland. A couple of trestle tables laden with Ceps of various sizes priced from 22 euros/kg for the smaller, plumper specimens to 14 euros/kg for the largest and oldest which are guarded by a few old lads in woodland attire amid big calling cards with the words ‘Vente du Ceps’ by the roadside. Show me a scene like that in England and I will eat my hat, shotgun and fishing tackle in one gulp…the simple passion is relentless. You could just as easily pass by a bunch of French folk you thought were on the verge of kicking off big time, when they are just having a passionate conversation with each trying to out-shout the other and much gesticulation being used to enforce the point. This is France.
So what does an ex-tree dwelling hunter-gatherer with very little grounding do in such a place? Plomagieres (shooting hides) on lakes for shooting duck, wild boar in the woods, snails, frog’s legs, a vast marine larder, a huge pine forest…mountains!
The options are endless and the possibilities astounding. But where do we go from here?
Well become a Frenchman of course, in the hunter-gatherer sense at least. It is a firm belief that for the French and Italians, foraging and hunting are second nature: engrained into their very soul from birth, personally I am not so sure…we shall see. One thing I am intrigued to find out, from the locals at least (NOT going via the Google path) is why the hell they bake their bread in sticks instead of nice, plump loaves?! Best brush up on the language first rather than waving my passport in his face and shouting- “There must be a reason Jean-Pierre? Feel me knocking? Then let me in….”
There is a unique sense of helplessness when being in a country without a firm grasp of the language. Like a toddler with the ability to chew stuff, throw shit and make unintelligible noises, but nothing to convey what it is that you really want. I cant stand it when I pour my heart and soul into a French conversation, flying by the seat of my pants and hoping my limited vocab will come together to form some miraculously perfect sentence and I get answered in English…is it that obvious? Time to hit the books.
Moving to France will be daunting to begin with, but I think it is all down to linguistics. There is a wonderful bubble that is exists to those that choose to live outside the system (in this case Anglaterre), no Television is always a bonus: the news is often depressing, I could make better TV programs than all 5 channels put together with my eyes shut and my hands tied to my feet- they tend to be mostly shit…and as for newspapers: Murdoch ain’t seeing a shekel from me. As much as I do love the British countryside, it’s time to jump ship and explore places of a different nature. With any luck it will still be there when I come back!
Fortunately, someone has already paved the way for me to a certain degree, and I cannot think of a better reason to move out to France…
The rest is all down to me. So here goes an amateur, ignorant Englishman heading out to get stuck in snail side,could be a conversion or even a new improved treehouse, any suggestions?! A year in Providence begins…in January.