No. 292: sur la plage à Deauville (1920s-1930s)
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.
One of the many happy surprises of our p’tit week-end down south was our encounter with stripes. I was thrilled to see that particular French cliché alive and well and wandering the streets of Marseille. En fait, les rues were bursting with stripes. Once we saw our first friend dressed in stripes, we started to see them everywhere. It was good fun stalking and photographing the best stripes, turning into un jeu du chat et de la souris. The cat holding the camera while the mice scurried through town.
The more blue-and-white stripes I saw, the more I wanted to learn the history behind the stripes. I always associated the stripes with the French sea and it turns out that the striped shirt was indeed part of the official uniform of the French Navy. The theory was that if there were a “man over board” he would be more easily spotted among the waves and brought to safety if he was wearing stripes. Originally the uniform had 21 stripes, each one symbolizing one of Napoleon’s victories. At the time the uniform was conceived, the majority of the French Navy was located in Brittany, so the shirt became known as the “Breton”.
The “Breton” became popular with the non-military crowd once Coco Chanel, enamored with the sailing shirt, made it part of her fashion line for the modern woman. By the early 1930s the blue-and-white stripes were considered haute couture, and in the decades that followed, the “Breton” featured prominently in French cinema and Hollywood’s motion pictures, until it reached a sort of iconic status.
Today in Marseille you see mostly blue-and-white stripes, with a healthy handful of red-and-white ones thrown in…such a playful break from the black-on-black of Par-ee!
If you haven’t already seen Audrey Tautou in Coco Before Chanel, take a look at this teaser. Moi, j’adore ce film! Maybe you will like it too.
En fait, les rues… in fact, the streets…
Moi, j’adore ce film! Me, I adore/love this film.
un jeu du chat et de la souris: a game of cat and mouse
un p’tit week-end: long weekend get-away (literally a small weekend)