Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday's Traveler: The Storm

“It’s a shame I only made it to Paris four times…” I can’t believe those words came spilling out of my mouth. My good friend looked at me with “that” look and I shut it before I put my foot in any more. Right? Most people would kill to go even once, while I lived just over the border of France for nearly four years. It seemed common enough to me, yet I failed to tell the story. I may not be Elizabeth Gilbert, traveling solo through 3 countries in a year (at the publisher’s expense!) But I have had a “Pilgrim’s Heart” and have made a journey or two with a story to spare. So I say why not share? There’s always a discovery worth telling when one travels beyond the front gate….

In the South of France on the Mediterranean Sea there is a small town called Cassis…. seems like the logical place to begin would be Paris, but I’m not going to start with that story. I’m not even going to start with my move to Belgium. I’m going to tell you my high seas adventure. I wasn’t lost at sea, but there was a storm coming and it didn’t look good. I was traveling with my mom, the original “Pilgrim Heart,” to the center of where all good travel stories begin; Provence and the Cote D’Azur. We had a late start to the day and wanted to squeeze in time to see the Mediterranean before sunset. Specifically, we wanted to be out in the Mediterranean. Naturally we rented sea kayaks, signed no release forms, and were instructed with a typical “C’est La Vie” casual sunny, southern French attitude to be back before closing.

We began paddling into the blue. Into the waters that reached across the ocean to break on the beaches of Morocco and Spain and Tunis. We were in that sea; the one mentioned in history books and old movies, and now we were feeling part of something much bigger. Our eyes were set on a large cliff on the other side of the bay’s opening. We had plenty of time to reach our destination, enjoy the wonder of the moment and then make our way back to land before our time was up and the old boat owner was ready to close up shop. But we did not take into account that the heat and humidity was quickly turning into a raging thunderstorm; one that comes for a visit every summer afternoon. But when you are the visitor, the host looks daunting as you stare at it rolling over the foothills, into town, and assuming right out to sea; the very sea in which you were moments ago noting you were becoming one with.

Ah yes, my mother and I are risk takers, but not fools. Lightning and water don’t mix. And though we were given no formal warnings or wavers when we signed up to paddle our own boat, we were ready to haul it back to shore before the storm overtook us. At the time we thought we might have twenty minutes to make it back before the storm, but that meant some heavy rowing because it took more than twice that to get out to the point we were at. But we did just that. We paddled our little hearts all the way back to shore, breathless and exhilarated as we proudly hustled under the first big fat rain drops. Rushing past the topless women, finally pulling their things together as the rain splattered down around us all; laughing as we caught our breath and turned the corner to meet our robust and very bronzed shop owner. He shrugged and gave us that pouted lip, raised eyebrow French look and proclaimed, “But Madame, it is only a little rain. Why hurry so much?”

Why worry so much? Mom and I thought we had dodged a bullet, but it soon dawned on us that we were the only ones trying to get out of the storm. We made our way through the villa in the rivers of rain. Locals and tourist alike took shelter together and continued with their meals and shopping and long conversations. Gentlemen pulled out Champagne and a light supper and partook right there under the awning of their local business. Kids played in overflowing fountains. Life in Cassis did not stop for the rain. Life in Cassis just got started. And for us, the evening just got started, too, as we joined the crowds to eat and celebrate the moment. There is a good reason for the longevity associated with Mediterranean coastal living; every moment is tasted, savored, and enjoyed to the last drop even if the thunder is rolling in.