- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Red: Kayaking on the Gulf
Red. The color of my face as I arrive to work one Thursday in March. People comment on how much sun I took on seemingly overnight, the direct result of a kayaking trip the previous day on the Gulf of Morbihan. When one of the restaurant service teachers at the vocational high school where I work invited me to join him on a leisurely paddle through this scenic gulf, I readily accepted. While I have become accustomed to the French notion of days off, which are anything but few and far between, I still recognized the unique opportunity before me. I know that my time as an English teaching assistant in France is drawing to its close, and therefore, my work schedule, with its days off on both Wednesday and Friday, will soon become a happy memory. Moreover, the weather could not be more perfect for a few hours of kayaking. While I have been told that March is normally a nasty month in Brittany, filled with cold winds and violent storms, this year has been the exception that proves the rule. With temperatures soaring over seventy degrees, a blue, cloudless sky beaming down at us, and a light breeze playing in the air, I know that this is one chance I will not miss. So despite my desire to sleep in on my day off, I find myself waking up on Wednesday morning to catch a bus to my friend and colleague’s house.
Red. The color of my kayak, barely used and prepped for its first outing of the season. We load the two beautiful sea kayaks on top of the van and take off for the boat ramp. We arrive at our destination, change into our boat clothes and sandals, and remove the kayaks from the roof of the van. As we lower the boats to the ground, my partner cuts his finger on the roof rack. Being the good Eagle Scout that I am, I of course never even thought of bringing any first-aid supplies with me. As we scour the car for anything that can be used to stem the flow of blood, we settle on an old dirty rag sitting in the trunk. Knowing this will not suffice, my friend searches out the owner of the boat ramp, who thankfully has a spare bandage. With the crisis averted, we put our boats in the water and begin our voyage. The gulf is calm today, and the water is like glass. The sun shines overhead, and we paddle our way across the channel toward a narrow arm of water that extends as far as the eye can see. We pass sailboats, small fish farms, and oyster farmers checking their oyster beds. Up on the hills surrounding the gulf are magnificent vacation houses, built to maximize their beautiful view of the water. The coastline here is special, for it remains vastly undeveloped. In place of the massive high-rise condominiums one often encounters on the ocean are large expanses of untouched forest. Birds circle overhead, and some children jump from a dock into the water on our right. A sense of peace, quiet, and calm emanating from the waters enters my kayak and settles upon me. I know already that this is the best Wednesday I will spend in France.
Red. The blood seeps from my partner’s finger. We have just climbed out of our kayaks onto a small dock after paddling for over an hour. It is past lunch time, and with our stomachs craving the ham, butter, and pickle baguette sandwiches he has prepared, we pull out of the water. Unfortunately, in the struggle to tie up our boats, his bandage has wrestled itself free and the blood escapes from the confines of the wound. It is not a deep cut, nor is it particularly painful for him. But with the blood flowing freely, we both know that this will not do. While we do not fear attracting sharks to the area, we do fear staining anything and everything around us for the rest of the afternoon if we do not find another bandage soon. And as we just paddled extensively against the current, more exercise than I have had in weeks, we are both hungry and ready to be done with this situation. As we gather our supplies, finish tying up the kayaks, and climb up the steps leading to land, we spot a group of people picnicking in the sun just up ahead.
Red. The wine we share with our new friends and saviors. When we approach the group, we see a child, parents, and a few other adults enjoying a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, just as we are. I stand silently, afraid to use my broken French to explain our situation. My partner, a fluent Frenchman if there ever was one, eloquently addresses the group. He politely introduces us and asks if they happen to have a spare bandage on them. Before he is finished speaking, half the group has sprung into action. While one man scrounges up unused napkins and tape to wrap the wound immediately, another has taken off for their truck. When he returns, he has not one but an entire roll of bandages, which he offers freely to us. We thank them for their kindness and prepare to go on our way and search our own picnic spot. Before we can leave though, a bottle of Bordeaux red wine is uncorked and we are offered a glass. I can see my partner’s eyes glint; he is a wine connoisseur and lives for these moments of spontaneous conversation over a glass of wine. Of course we accept without thinking twice, and soon we are being served red wine in a coffee mug, for which we are offered profuse apologies. Disregarding the glass, we enjoy the wine and our newfound company. As we discuss, they learn that I am not French, but they soon understand why I am in France. At the same time, we learn that they are all retired teachers, and many of them are friends and former colleagues of our present colleagues. One man is even the neighbor of our school’s principal. Before we know it, the wine is finished but the conversation flows unabated. A feeling of mutual respect passes between the two groups of teachers, and the sun has shifted much further west before we take our leave.
Red. The color of the flag of Vannes. I have long since learned that the town where I live has a unique sense of pride about it. People live their whole lives here, and many have no desire to move elsewhere in France. The longer I spend here, the more I understand why. These people value hospitality, and my experience kayaking in the Gulf demonstrated that to its fullest extent. A simple request for a bandage turned into a full wine-tasting, cultural exchange, and recognition of mutual friendships. The kindness exhibited by these strangers is a local trait that I will not soon forget. When the residents here speak of Paris, they often describe the people there as too stressed or hurried. After my day off kayaking in the Gulf, I understand why they would prefer the slower, simpler, and more welcoming lifestyle found in Vannes and the Gulf of Morbihan.
- Photos: All photos by author.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
In America right now there’s a battle that needs to be fought and won in our political arena. It’s a battle over what kind of country, and what kind of planet, our children and grandchildren will live in. Although some people like waging battle — some even insist on it — most liberals I’ve known are capable of living richer, more balanced and fulfilling lives. Most of us liberals would rather lead those better lives than focus on political combat. But over the past decade or two, while we’ve been living our fuller, more rounded lives, we with the more humane set of values h Read on →
The mass killers came as stowaways aboard ships about the time the Wright brothers first took to flight along a North Carolina beach. Although these assassins were merciless, they probably did not even know themselves the great destruction they were to bring. Thus began the near complete killing of all the American Chestnuts in this country. The pathogens that had probably slipped into the country on infected nursery stock consumed relatively little time in destroying the forests of American Chestnuts ranging from Maine to the southern Appalachians. It took fewer than forty years. This past weekend I had the privilege of Read on →
I came across this blog written by Gina Crosley-Corcaran titled “Explaining White privilege to a Broke White People." Well, after hearing a few African Americans who have succeeded say that racism and “white privilege” does exist and did not block their ability to achieve, I thought I would review Peggy McIntosh’s “White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and share a few thoughts and questions about “white privilege.” These are paraphrased from what was asked by Gina Crosley-Carcaran in her article. Mr./Ms. African American who has succeed can you turn on your television or open the front page of your local and/or national newspa Read on →
When I met Ernest, we courted for five months, and after we married, on February 2, 1974, in Fort Valley, GA. That was 40 years ago. I wrote my parents in Anniston, AL. They replied with the hardest letter that I have ever received. They knew I was gay. That was not their problem. Ernest's being black was the hard part for them. In their letter they wished us all happiness but asked me not to bring Ernest home with me. They hoped that I would continue to visit, but they did not want to put their friends to t Read on →