For reasons that will soon become obvious, there will only be one photo with this posting. We’re writing about some subtle, and not so subtle, cultural differences between France and the United States, as seen through young eyes. Our grandsons Noah and Abram, and their parents Ben and Carolyn, are visiting for a couple of weeks. They took the TGV high speed train from Paris to Dijon. After a couple of days in the capital of Mustard (and Bourgogne), we spent two days completing the Canal de Bourgogne to Saint Jean de Losne (“the Barge Capital of France”). The big event in Saint Jean de Losne, besides the Saturday night rock concert on the quay by a mostly-Michael Jackson mostly-tribute band – “Billee Jean eez not moi lov-aa” – was that Blanquart Marine was able to get us a new hot water heater to replace our dead, antique one in just two days, in France, in August. Of course they could not install it – “but it is August, messieur, there is nobody to do the work” – but we managed to do it ourselves and we now have hot water again. So we set off onto a new canal, the Canal de Rhine au Rhone, which doesn’t really connect the Rhine with the Rhone River. We’ve moved into a different region of France, the Jura. The architecture is different. The food is different. The people are just as nice.
We’re in Dole, which, just as did Dijon, says it was the Capital of Burgundy.” Nobody disputes that it is the birthplace of Louis Pasteur. We checked out the “humble” house in which he was born and found it not so humble. After all, the Pasteurs had far more room to roam than we do on the barge. But the boys are more than pleased with Dole. We’re tied to the quay next to the Bateau Pizza a seemingly permanently moored – it has a mailbox – barge with a huge chimney for its wood-fired oven. Seven nights a week it turns out pizzas. The guys are working up their courage for a pizza bourguignone: tomato, escargots, parsley, cheese and olives.
This is their first trip to Europe, or much out of the United States, except for Canada and a week on the catamaran in the Abacos on our last nautical escape. They’re starting to adjust, slowly, sort of. As teen and pre-teen boys will do, their talk, and thoughts, are dominated by sports. Noah is missing the first week of football training. For him, culture clash means deciding whether to keep his lacrosse “flow” – the long curling locks that are supposed to flow from the back of the lacrosse helmet – or join the other guys on the football team in shaving his head. Lacrosse and football. Two opposing cultures. France doesn’t figure into that equation.
Who knew that lacrosse was far more than a sport, but a culture, and style, unto itself. Off-field lacrosse clothing includes lacrosse-themed shirts – “May the flow be with you” – and long, bright, baggy shorts. The guys’ mission for this trip was to “introduce” France to lacrosse. Any introduction of the actual sport itself was stymied by the Department of Homeland Security, which, in its so-far-successful campaign to block Ojibway and Huron terrorists from hijacking airliners, has a specific regulation banning lacrosse sticks from carry-on baggage. The government is to be applauded for this insightful position, although the mechanics of an actual lacrosse-assisted hijacking are difficult to picture. “Flight attendant, tell the captain to fly this plane to Baltimore before the Hopkins game starts or I’ll cross-check you, cradle my way to the cockpit, and drive a goal shot through the windshield.”
In any event, all that made it to France was the apre-game lacrosse wear, which certainly has succeeded at turning French heads. After all, it is not black but is long and baggy and exceedingly bright.
Today, France struck back. In a big, actually, in a small way. We gave Ben and Carolyn the day off to explore Dole and have a leisurely cafe lunch. We took the boys to the Aquapark ISIS, water slides, Olympic pool, the whole kit and kaboodle, the French simulacrum of the Water Country in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, near their home in Dover. Sort of. Lacrosse-wear met French-wear, aqua-style. The guys stepped out of the changing rooms in full regalia, ready to rock, roll, splash and slide. They weren’t quite sure what to expect from a French water park, not sure, due to a Schwartz family legend, one of those stories that gets better with the retelling (see the reference to our official Poetic License, and recall Nicole’s innocent question before we left home: “Harvey, are you excited to go to a continent where nobody has heard your stories yet?”)
Here’s the Legend, condensed version. Some time in the late 1980’s, a wild decade, sort of, maybe so if you weren’t there for it, Harvey’s parents rented a condo in Cannes, on the French Riviera, for the summer. Various permutations of the family flew over to spend time there. Ben was about 13 years old at the time. Now the French Riviera being what it is, or at least, what it was, the beaches were an interesting place for a young lad facing the full hormonal geyser young lads live through at that age. The Legend, part I, has it that Ben spent all of his beach time lying on a towel on his stomach, wearing sun glasses while surrounded by a parade of topless women, mostly older, at least to him, women. Interesting, and a story to take home, but wait, the story gets better. The elder Schwartzes, as with the present permutation, knew that a little France can go a long way for young guys. There was a water park in Cannes. There we all went. And there IT happened. We did the water slide thing and then perched in beach chairs to watch the happenings. Young Ben, a handsome lad, as he is now, but with far more hair, was sitting in a beach chair, a 13-year-old young man watching the passing scene when two French girls, just his age, just the age of all the girls in his school, girls who but for the happenstance of where they were born could have been in homeroom with him, looked him in the eye, stood in front of him, wiggled as 13-year-old girls are just learning to wiggle – they were 13-year-old French girls remember – reached behind their backs and unhooked their bikini tops, letting them drop to the ground as they ran into the water. Laughing. Only Ben can say whether he has ever fully recovered.
That’s the Legend of French Water Parks. The boys knew that legend. What they did not know was what would happen at the water park in Dole.
Well, THAT didn’t happen, not at all. The guys strutted out from the changing room in their full lacrosse-wear glory, shorts to their knees, tee shirts declaring something about their favorite sport, to be faced by a hoard of French flesh, no bare breasts, but lots of flesh, boys in Speedos, girls in what looked like Speedos with tops, older women, large older women, wearing just what the girls were wearing, men, older and far larger men, wearing Speedos, probably, if you could lift their bellies and look underneath. In short, in very short, lots of French flesh on display, all running and jumping and splashing and jiggling.
But no lacrosse-wear. No short, or long, pants of any kind. Nothing reaching the knee. Nothing reaching the thigh. Nothing reaching at all. Within seconds of the boys walking through the gate onto the poolside area they were met by lifeguards making the universal French sign of approbation: the pointer finger waving side to side to side to side while the finger-owner repeats slowly “no no no.” Only bathing suits allowed, they were told. And bathing suits, they were further told, were what every other guy was wearing, the barest, in the full meaning of the word, minimum.
Dejected, rejected and objected, we walked to the office to tell our tale and see if we could get our money back. But the folks in the office had a solution. They took us by the hand and led us to the locker room. There was the dispensing machine. Between rows of Mars bars, Snickers and chewing gum were tiny packages containing bathing suits, Speedos in sizes small, tiny and infinitesimal. The guys shivered for a moment, sucked up their courage and baggy lacrosse-wear was replaced with napkin-sized black bathing suits. It took a slide or two down the water slide before they forgot what they were wearing and spent the next few hours splashing away, looking decidedly French, long lacrosse locks flowing even in the absence of a thread of lacrosse wear.
France won that battle in the culture wars. And two young Americans learned that not all the world is like Dover, New Hampshire. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
They’re returning to Aquapark ISIS tomorrow, with their parents. Ben promises to visit the Speedo machine. And he’ll probably keep his sun glasses on, just in case.