Just off the coast of Brittany, on a small island habitée by Groisillons and teeming with French tourists on wobbly bicyclettes, there is a quaint port called Locmaria, where The Drunk Boat overlooks the bay at high tide (and low, for that matter, but for the purpose of this conte the marée shall be high, high as the curious individual bathing in its shallow waters)....
"Ah, nature fresh and free. Yes, freeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
I can just hear his French words echoing across the sandy beach, translating themselves in midair before reaching The Drunk Boat bar on the boardwalk above, near to which a red-faced tourist stands hesitant. Red-faced, not because she is a native of the desert, which she is, but because her Frenchman (he who bathes in shallow waters) has been caught, once again, en flagrant délit with Dame Nature. Yes, caught red-handed (and mud-in-the-hand) as you will soon discover.
It isn't the first time he has been found courting La Dame; take him to the powdery depths of the canyon at Roussillon, and he'll brush red and yellow ochre across his stubbled face. "A tradition," he explains (the earth-smearing, not the stubble). Bring him to a crowded beach in his beloved Marseilles, and he will inhale the salty waters beyond (via a noisy nose gargle). "Good for the sinuses," he exclaims. Cart him off to the wild garrigue and he will begin chewing on the local herbs (good for the gums, I wonder?). Go where he may, and he will find a way to press the earth unto himself. He's Monsieur Nature.
Back at the bay in Locmaria, it is another day in Paradise for Monsieur Nature, who can be found applying mud—sloshing it on from neck to knee—only, he calls it vase (pronouncing it "vaz," as if a neat word would render his act less, well, filthy).
Standing knee-deep in the ocean, he scoops up the smelly vase, slops it on his arms and across his chest before a vigorous scrub-down, oblivious to the audience now gathering before him: there are the seagulls, beady eyes bulging, and the little crabs looking on, astonished, and even the mussels—clinging to a nearby rock—have opened their shells for a look-see. "Get a load of this," they clatter, their long, salmon-colored tongues wagging.
This, dear reader, is my mud-faced conjoint and that curious behavior of his, in a clamshell, is the difference between him and me; the difference, I now realize, between really living life and poetically lusting after it from the boardwalk above.
* * *
habitée (habiter) = inhabited
les Groisillons = inhabitants of the Island of Groix
la bicyclette = bicycle
The Drunk Boat (Le Bateau Ivre) = the name of a bar along the boardwalk
le conte = tale, story
la marée = tide
pris en flagrant délit = caught in the act
la Dame Nature = Mother Nature
la garrigue = wild Mediterranean scrubland
la vase = slime, mud, mire
le conjoint, la conjointe = spouse