No. 292: sur la plage à Deauville (1920s-1930s)
Mentor and student and life-long friends Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet captured holidaymakers and the extreme weather on the beaches of Trouville during the late 1800s. Monet honeymooned in the town with his beloved Camille and his snapshot paintings painted en plein air have grains of sand from the windswept beach mixed in.
We are wrapping up our quick getaway to the “Normandy Riviera”. It has been a lovely sojourn to celebrate Button turning 18 and the visit of a very dear friend and her 4-year-old fille. While the weather has been cool and grey, we have had a few hours of bright sun showers and sandy beach excursions followed by ominous, Armageddon skies, massive rain fall, and mad dashes across the notoriously wide strand in search of temporary shelter.
Still it has been well worth taking the quick (and inexpensive) hop to the fashionable seaside town of Deauville and the funky and family friendly beach town of Trouville. Separated by a tiny inlet that depending upon the hour and the tide, can be traversed by a wooden footpath or accessed exclusively by a water taxi, these sister cities are a perfect pair.
Deauville is the glamorous sister frequented by film stars, polo and horse-racing enthusiasts and high-stakes gamblers, while Trouville is the hip, but retro sister—a working fishing port, eulogized by artists and writers. Both towns offer the visitor a chance to lose themselves in the days of la Belle Époque. A Woody Allen movie in the making, the seaside towns are bursting with over 600 buildings protected as historical monuments. The lovely half-timbered houses so common in Normandy are complimented by the grand Art Nouveau casinos and Baroque-style buildings.
It is easy to imagine the Paris smart set roaring into town in the 1920s and strolling Deauville’s famous boardwalk, disrobing in the individual beach cabanas and sunbathing in their scandalous swim costumes under the expanse of multi-colored parasols. How I would love to go back in time and walk the wooden-planked promenade or sit among the deck-chairs and umbrellas and admire the spectacle.
Coco before she was Chanel (as you may remember from the movie) came to Deauville with her lover in 1913 and was so taken with the possibilities for dressing the beach, yachting, polo and racecourse crowd, that she was inspired to design a line of easygoing and wearable vêtements which she would eventually sell at her famous boutique in town. These days, Deauville is still considered a sophisticated shopping destination and continues to be a chic town packed with haute couture boutiques and stylish diversions.
Trouville, as I mentioned, is the more laid back sister, less expensive and super groovy, frequented by families and colorful bands of primary students exuberantly enjoying their first day ever on the long swaths of soft golden sand. The maritime town radiates the energy of the daily life of fishermen and sports one of the most interesting fish markets I have come across in France.
The connection to Trouville’s past can be seen in the many en plein air Impressionists painting inspired by sunbathers, dinghies, sailing boats and seascapes. Impressionist artist such as Boudin, Monet, Sisley and Pissarro flocked to Trouville (and Deauville) to capture the holidaymaking, harbor and stormy skies and Proust, Flaubert and Marguerite Duras all found inspiration in this fisherman’s village.
There are still plenty of artistic offerings in each town and I loved them both. If you are planning a trip to Paris and are the nostalgic sort fascinated by the Golden Age in France, I would highly recommend taking a detour to these sister cities.
We are enjoying a relaxing, albeit extremely foggy and cool sojourn in Deauville. The rooftops are magnificent in this old school beach resort and I am charmed by the ceramic felines creeping about the gables and tiles.
I am guessing they are there to keep the seagulls and pigeons at bay, but there has to be a more enchanting tale, nest ce pas? I have scoured the web but have yet to find a beguiling yarn. Does anyone know the legend of the cats (and squirrels) on the not-so-hot roofs of Deauville?
“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.”
— John Vinoc
The D-Day beaches in Normandie are a study in contrasts. They are flat-out gorgeous—expansive ginger seaside bound by sheer rocky cliffs, burnt-orange and dripping with green. And beyond the shore, a gem-like sapphire sea too blue to be real, dares us to dip our toes, splash about and maybe even go under. I wasn’t expecting real beaches with colorfully clad beachgoers, sand buckets, and picnics. I had anticipated a more museum-like feel or roped off memorial.
Yet among the vacationers, there is a quiet reverence and consciousness amid the many reminders of the thousands of men who stormed the beaches at the crack of dawn on June 6, 1944. In fact the entire coastline, while still a sunshine playground, pays tribute to the British, American, and Canadian armies who laid down their lives to liberate France and occupied Europe.
Never have I felt so close to a moment in history.
To walk the shoreline and climb the cliffs and watch the waves crash towards Winston Churchill’s brilliant artificial harbor, you can almost see the ghosts of Robert Capa’s black and white photographs slugging through the tempest tides, gunned down or drown in the first minutes of the longest day. You certainly can feel their presence.
Overcome with pride and immense sadness and sheer wonder at how the lucky ones physically and mentally survived. Time and again you are reminded of the doughboys and the thousands of wide-eyed journeys they made from the cities and small towns of America, Britain, and Canada to the violent beaches of Normandy, France, to help a country and people they had never seen and to whom they had little tangible connection.
Yet still they came, willingly and righteously, and offered up their lives.
It is nothing short of astounding.
One of my favorite things in Paris is les berges, the new boardwalk along the Seine, just a few minutes from our apartment.
My darling ex-Mayor was responsible for closing off a few ramps and a riverside road and dreaming this pedestrian friendly Paris into existence. I love this place so much that I’m sure I can squeeze two or three more posts out of it before my time is up. But for the moment, let me just tempt those of you not yet in the know with a few signs that les berges will soon be up and running again and in full summertime swing.
les berges: the riverbanks