Four Thousand Miles and a Beach in France


222402_10150394128199896_5538972_nI wake up on my first morning in Biarritz, France on a stiff double bed, my forehead sticky with sweat. In the first hazy minute between sleep and wake, I forget where I am. The eight hours I spent on a transatlantic flight bleed into my dreams. I sit upright and scan the room with my eyes as my memory catches up with me. I’m seventeen years old with four thousand miles and an ocean between me and any familiarity.

After a considerable struggle with the shower, I get dressed and make my way downstairs. I am greeted with a glass of grapefruit juice, toast, and an incomprehensible string of words. Smile and nod, I think. That’s how I’m going to get through this. Soon, the clock on the stove reads nine am and my roommates, three girls from Ireland, and I start to make our way to the school where we will be studying French. The slang terms they exchange as we walk are as foreign to me as the fast-paced French my host family speaks.

We make it to the school fifteen minutes late due to none us know how to read a map very well. A woman asks my name and directs me to where I should be. I walk into the classroom, immediately feeling twenty pairs of eyes on me. Once I take the open seat in the back of the room, the teacher asks where I am from. “Amerique,” I quietly reply in my embarrassing French accent. At once, every head in the room whips around. I feel my face flush. She passively remarks, “la seule Américaine.” I give a sheepish smile in reply, and wonder for a moment what I, “the only American,” am doing here.

That evening after an awkward and wordless dinner, my roommates and I take to the foreign streets. We head towards Biarritz’s most prominent beach, the Grande Plage. The first time I lay eyes on the Grande Plage, the sun is beginning to set over the Atlantic and the cool blue sky looks as if it has been splashed with warm watercolors. I am captivated; I pull out my camera hoping to take a piece of this ethereal scene home with me like a souvenir. The girls and I sit in a row on the platform overlooking the beach, chatting with our legs dangling over the edge. We watch women in wide-brimmed hats gathering their sandy belongings after a day of sun bathing, shaggy-haired boys with surfboards tucked under their arms, and children with one hand locked in their parents’ and one hand wrapped around ice cream cones.

Once darkness falls on Biarritz, the beach begins to come to life. It is a warm, cloudless night. The sweet sea air clings to my skin and occasionally sends my long, wavy hair into a whipping around. The energy on the beach is almost tangible: it is intoxicating and impossible to ignore. As more and more people flock to the beach, it seems as if every corner of the world is represented; from Singapore, to Abu Dhabi, to Sweden. We sit in a circle talking and laughing, bonding over cigarettes and cheap champagne. We toast to Biarritz. We toast to each other. It is a celebration of the colliding of our worlds; of our good fortune to end up in this paradisiacal place at this time.

After hours filled with conversation and laughter, my head spins with excitement and I feel the kind of contentedness that is so complete, it feels as if it has settled into my bones. With my sandals in hand, I wander towards the shoreline. I plant my feet in the wet sand and let the tide wash over them. My mind drifts to the other side of this ocean, where my friends and family are going about their days. They are staring at their bedroom walls, or television screens, or roads they have seen a hundred times before. The moon softly illuminates the crashing waves and for a moment I feel an urge to pinch myself. Eyes locked on the horizon, a smile forces its way onto my face. I think to myself, if this is a dream, I’d prefer to stay asleep.

Sometime later, our curfew forces me and my roommates to drag ourselves away from the revelry. I leave new friends with kisses on each cheek and promises of reunion tomorrow. There is a lingering euphoria that follows me home and into my bed, holding me in its hopeful embrace as I drift off to sleep.

I wake up on my second morning in Biarritz on a stiff double bed, my forehead sticky with sweat. I am seventeen years old with four thousand miles and an ocean between me and any familiarity, and the greatest experience of my life is beginning to unfold.

Abouth the Author:  Abby Cothran is a sophomore English major at Clemson University with a chronic case of wanderlust.

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