Thursday, January 17, 2013

Encounters With My Own Kind

     Today, I went to the beach. It's the middle of January; most kids are back in school, everyone's gone back to work, and it's a little known fact that beaches are, in actuality, even nicer in the wintertime than the more prominently assumed summer. So, despite everyone here in Los Angeles complaining about the "big freeze" as some are calling the unusually low temperatures, I decided to go to the beach today.

     I had no problem finding parking; the place was empty. Parked the car, dragged the beach blanket that's twice bigger than I am out onto the sand rather close to the shoreline, and set up camp. I laid down, closed my eyes, and began absorbing vitamin D and proceeded to meditate/drift off to sleep as the sun warmed my face, the cries of the gulls and snowy plovers created my lullaby, and the rhythm of the waves crashing to the shore soon matched that of my heartbeat.

     I was like that for quite some time, without incident. As I said, there was no one really around too much. Maybe 100feet away, an old man was fishing in the surf, trying to catch the little surf perch. The lifeguard leaned against the old wooden rail with the blue paint chipping off, looking out on the horizon; perhaps wondering what the future held in store for him, maybe questioning his life choices, maybe searching, looking across the waves, thinking fondly of his long lost love in another country, far across the ocean. Or he could have been thinking "Should I get Taco Bell or El Pollo Loco after my shift...". It's nearly impossible to tell what kinds of things one ponders while one is wearing sunglasses.

     So there I was. Sleeping on the big blanket. Secure in the knowledge that the enigmatic lifeguard was near, and the old fisherman was off catching dinner for himself; otherwise, alone. I enjoyed that, being alone. It was nice. So it went like that for at least an hour.

     At this point, I had drifted to sleep. The wind playing with the tendrils of my hair, the warm glow of the sun on my face, it put me to sleep. So I was there, sleeping. I heard a faint sound behind me, the sound of a few people shuffling through the sand. I figured to myself  "Oh, a family has arrived. They're setting up camp behind me. That's fine." and went back to my sleepish state. I could hear snippets of whatever it was they were saying; sounded like they were speaking French. Interesting. I never looked back to see what they looked like; it really didn't occur to me to do that, for some reason. They were there, and it didn't bother me, so I went back to my meditational-sleep mode. Their voices were carried by the wind, carried far down the beach, away from my sun-warmed ears.

     A little while later, I was roused from my sleep when first, I heard many excited exclamations (in French) about something or other. Then, the tell-tale shuff-shuff-shuffling of people walking in sand. I just assumed they would be walking to the shoreline to dip their toes in the surf; I closed my eyes again. Well, the shuff-shuff-shuffling came to a halt, right at the edge of my blanket. What on earth could these people want... I very sleepily looked up to see what the matter was. What I saw was quite amusing to me.

seersucker boxers. picture this material, but in SPEEDO form.
     Three people. Apparently the people speaking French behind me were what appeared to be a mother and her two sons. Mother appeared to be maybe 50, but looked fabulous for her age, and was rocking a little black bikini. Two sons, one about 30, the other mid-twenties. Both sons were wearing seersucker speedos; one white and pale blue, the other white and some sort of reddish colour. The younger one, in the blue seersucker speedo, he was wearing some kind of straw hat fedora. I mused that this fashion must be big over in "The Motherland", because it was certainly odd garb to be wearing here. The younger one, the one in blue; he stepped forward a bit, and asked "parlez vous francais?"

     It took me a minute. I was still pretty much in sleep-mode, a bit groggy. And now I've got three French people asking me if I speak French. What on earth could they want... And why are they dressed like that...

     My well-thought out and supremely groggy response to his query? "Lo siento, solamente hablo español e inglés...." 

Blank stares all the way round. 

     Blue seersucker speedo boy seemed to be the spokesman for the group. He paused a moment, then said "English?" To which I only slightly more normally replied to with "Sure!".

     The three looked at each other and smiled, apparently greatly relieved to have established some form of communication. The mother rattled off something to the boys in French, which blue seersucker speedo son relayed to me, in very broken english. All three motioned emphatically toward the shoreline, indicating with pointed fingers a certain area of the ocean. Blue seersucker speedo said, with absolutely no confidence, "Ahhh... They are... whales?"

     I looked out to where they were indicating. A pod of dolphins was feeding not 20feet off the shoreline. I looked back up at the boy "Whales? Um no, those are dolphins... There's a pod of dolphins that feeds right off this shoreline every day. They're dolphins." The boy nodded his head, indicating that he understood at least some of what I said, then translated back to his mom and brother. A chorus of enlightened "ahhhhhhhh"s arose from the group. I smiled at them. They were greatly intrigued by the dolphin pod. After a minute or so of us all looking at the dolphins, I asked them, "So are y'all from France?" Mom and older brother nodded, and said "oui". Younger brother in blue seersucker speedo looked at me and asked "you? You are ahhh... from where?" I replied simply "Los Angeles". Again, the chorus of ahhhhhhhhhhh's arose. "Los Angeles" needs no translating into any language; a fact I'm rather proud of. 

     The mother then began speaking to the younger brother, quite rapidly. The younger brother seemed reluctant to comply with whatever it was she wanted him to ask me. The lovely little mother seemed very insistent upon having her question answered, though. The younger brother in the blue seersucker speedo and straw fedora turned slowly back around to face me. He looked apologetically in my eyes, and said "We would want to know... ahhh... You are French?" 

     This took me a while to understand. I thought it was just some more butchered English; a question that made sense to them but probably not to me. I repeated what I last said, "Ummm... I'm from Los Angeles... LA? Born there.". Confused looks on the boys' faces. The mother became more insistent; the younger boy turned again and asked "No, she wants know if you are french... Mother? Father? French?"  Oh... I understood now, I thought. "Oh! You want to know if I'm French?" The chorus of "oui!" rose up emphatically. I paused for a second, pondering the strangeness of it all. I replied "...Yes, I am French. I'm French Portuguese. How did you guess?" Blue seersucker speedo boy turned around and translated all that to mom. A flurry of fluid French words, motions made around the eyes, then the "turn around" signal was made, indicating that he should turn around and tell me. "She say you have French eyes and..." here he motioned to his cheekbones, apparently not knowing the English term for it. I filled in for him "cheeks? cheekbones?" "OUI!" I smiled at them, they were so very happy to be having a conversation, it seemed. At this point, red seersucker speedo boy stepped forward and spoke for the first time to me. "You appear very French... The eyes, the how you said? cheekbones! very French. We thought it so when first we saw you." 
This was intriguing, although not the first time someone has correctly identified my nationality. I replied with "Oh yeah? Thank you!" (not sure if it was INTENDED as a compliment, but I'm not sure what else to say in these situations). More French from mom. Both boys' faces reddened, both denied her request for translation. She insisted on having what she wanted said translated, so red seersucker speedo boy turned around and very reluctantly, very shyly said "our mother wishes to tell you you are most beautiful, and very French.". At this point, the three of us youngsters all turned red. The mom had a good laugh; we apparently must have looked funny, acting so awkward as we did. I turned directly to the mom, smiled, and said "oh, merci beaucoup..." They all applauded my attempt at french. I just sort of laughed it off and took a mock-bow. 
Then I guess they had asked all of the questions they had for me, complimented me to their satisfaction, and they decided to go back to their towels. I bid them "Have a great day, take care, now!", smiled, and waved. They smiled and waved to me, and blue seersucker speedo boy said "you take care now...!" in an obvious copy of what I had just said. 

     After the shuff-shuff-shuffling faded off into the distance along with the French conversations transpiring between the three, I smiled, closed my eyes and went back into sleep-mode. "you are most beautiful... very French..." those phrases echoed through my mind. What a sweet and well-intending mom. The poor boys, though. They had a bit of a hard time of it. Not only did they have to speak in broken English to me (which they were very self-conscious of), but the things they were having to translate were very awkward, indeed. I laughed slightly, and went back to sleep. 

     In this weird experience, I had some kind of bizarre kindred connection with my fellow French people. They accepted me as French, even though I'm from LA. That was really very nice of them, I will treasure their words and willingness to accept an American as their own always.

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