Monday, 3 October 2011

Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

 This is hard to write because it features a conflict between my social and political principles and my sybaritic tendencies. For the past week, we’ve been the guests of very generous friends who have a place in the south of France near to St Tropez. They hired a car and a very fast and quite big boat – the sort that usually has women with long legs and bikinis lying on the foredeck. In this case, there were no women but, at the other end, there were 2 Honda 225 4-stroke engines.

It was moored at the bottom of the patio where, on evenings when we weren’t at a restaurant, we sat drinking wine and eating rillettes, pâtés, cheese and the like, with the sun setting over the Mediterranean beside us.

Every morning there was a gorgeous orange dawn then, after breakfast, we just stepped up onto the bow, untied a couple of lines and motored slowly out of the port. Once on the open water, we could ease the throttles forward and skim out to watch the hundreds of sailing boats taking part in the annual ‘Voiles de Saint Tropez’ regatta.

I love sailing boats and this was a gathering of some of the most beautiful examples of the various designs and rigs, from smaller cruisers to enormous racing yachts with crews in the twenties and vast sails. Time after time, I marvelled at the fact that we were cruising along surrounded by hundreds of sails, nearby and filling the horizon.

The sun shone all week and, altogether, it was like living a fantasy.

The quaysides in St Tropez were thronged with tanned and beautiful people who could obviously afford the £85 they were being charged for T-shirts. They strolled along beside the moored boats, admiring the masts and spars, the brass and copper fittings, the strange coexistence of the seemingly conflicting trappings of hard racing and unashamed luxury.

And there I was, amongst it all, not bothering to remark on the transitory nature of material things, such as the boats and the people, and me. I was just in the moment, enjoying it. There was a statue of good old Sisyphus there, too, but somehow it expressed the positive aspect of what he represented, the way he triumphed over things, despite their meaninglessness, the way he engaged with life. So my tedious philosophising was stilled. It had no place in such an intensely physical environment. Nothing needed to mean anything.

But… yes, there’s a but…

… there was a bitterness in the concentration of so much richness, so much luxury; of millions of pounds, dollars, euros being in the hands of a minority who indulge every whim with no awareness of or concern for those who have to live for months and months on a fraction of what they pay to moor their boat for the week. And I was as guilty as the rest, forcing myself to close my mind to that huge gap, unrecognised by those on the privileged side of it. Yes, the privileged ones, like me. I had a great time, but what a pity it’s not accessible to everyone.

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  1. Sigh, sometimes I'm willing to trade my principles for a moment like that.

  2. Yes, Diane, especially when the moment lasts nearly a week.

  3. Don't feel guilty, Bill. We ALL deserve moments like that. Enjoy!

  4. I did, Michael. Interesting, though, that pleasures belong in the instant but guilt endures. As does hypocrisy because I'd do it again without a second thought.

  5. A life lived, and not earned, is truly free. To be wealthy and thankful for it is a blessing.

  6. Sometimes, we have to accept such hedonistic moments gracefully. I'm glad you tried to ignore your philosophical voice for a while - and you recognised you were living in a fantasy. Nothing wrong with enjoying it while it lasts!

  7. As your social conscience, shame on you Bill Kirton. You were bedecked in a pair of speedos, sailing into a bejewelled horizon, watching the sun go down over a sparkling ocean, with a Pimms in one hand and a lobster claw in the other while I was bedecked in my Tesco work trousers, sitting at my desk watching the rain drench the Jakeys outside the window, with a mouse in one hand and a cup-a-soup in the other. Oh, how the other half live! Three quarters of the country shop in Primark so that the remaining third can wear Prada.

  8. Sara, as I've said to you many times before:
    'O, beware [...] of jealousy;
    It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
    The meat it feeds on'.

    Now, back to the checkouts with you, there's a good girl.

  9. I sent the paparazzi out to St Tropez to tail you and I am now the proud owner of a rather compromising picture (albeit super-fuzzy-telephoto) of you in your bathing costume - and it wasn't the usual crocheted polar-neck number - you did say everyone was tanned and "thonged" didn't you? I will send you the file for an extortionate ransom. Jealous? Me? Who wants to be a millionaire? I doooooooooooooo (n't).

  10. Sara, you've been pre-empted. I anticipated some such manoeuvre and arranged for my agent to get an official, authorised shot of the type you mention. It is a clear, focussed, close-up of my body-double, and she looks terrific.