My Life as a Crab by Amy
After 30 years of living in the South of France, I would like to be able to say that I understand Mediterranean summers, but apparently, I haven’t learnt a thing!
In 2 BC (that’s two years before covid – or 2019 for those more traditional among you), the family and I decided to spend summer in Sardinia, having been told about its wonders by our Nick who spends many months there every year. And indeed, it is wonderful …. Crystalline waters, empty beaches, magical creeks, great food, lovely people … Our trip took us from Oristano on the west coast, to Orosei on the east coast, to Chia in the south – all extraordinary places.
During our stay in Orosei, we decided to visit the beautiful Cala Goloritzé, which can be reached either by boat, or by a 3-hour hike through the creeks. As we are a family that enjoys a challenge, we decided on the latter and set off at noon, the time at which mad dogs and English families start a marathon trek.
The hike took us through some beautiful settings. The views from the cliffs were breath-taking and the vegetation gave some welcome shade from the 42° temperatures and the punishing sun. From time to time, we came across a fellow hiker who was sitting on a rock, panting, or drinking furiously from a bottle of water, but on we went …. The temperatures continued to climb and so did we, through the rocks and the sand, sitting from time to time to catch our breath and drink and drink and drink …. And on we went, ignoring the scorched earth and the skeletons of the lizards until we could hear the sounds of the beach nearby.
And at this point something happened to my body. Something that I can only describe as a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde experience as pins and needles filled me from head to toe, all my limbs became rigid and unmovable, and I transformed into … The Crab.
Luckily for me, we had practically arrived and there was a bar nearby and my daughters were able to run to get me some sugar in the form of a Magnum ice-cream, after which the feeling generally returned to my hands and feet, and I was able to open my crab pincers … but it was a close shave, and we all learnt a valuable lesson about being Mad Dogs.
The family still speaks in hushed tones of The Crab and I have never been able to look a Magnum ice-cream in the face since!
To cream, or not to cream…that is the question.
I am rarely mistaken for a French person. I’m too pale skinned and freckled (taches de rousseur). After more than 10 years living in a hot country I think I’ve finally learnt how to handle the sun, but it’s been a long journey!
When I visited as a teenager, the objective was to absorb as much sun as possible. Even walking up the steps to the plane I would walk like a zombie just to make sure my arms and face were as tanned as possible. When I say tanned, I am either slightly less white with more freckles or burnt to a crisp (cramé). There is no in-between.
When my friends come to visit they are the same. I once took a friend to a hammam after a week of Marseille sun. The masseuse wanted to practise her English but the only phrase she could think of was « haha, red tomato » while pointing to our burnt skin.
Before we were old enough to go abroad we would go to Cornwall in the south of England for our holidays. For those of you who think it rains every day in England, you’re very wrong. We would spend all day on the beach, sunbathing, swimming, body boarding and of course flirting with the surfers. Suncream was for wimps (les poules mouillées), and it’s the English sun so there was no danger, right? Wrong! In the evening, when we got changed into our nightclubbing outfits we realised how burnt we were. We couldn’t sit down at the restaurant because of our burnt thighs and we danced like starfish in the clubs as our clothes felt like sandpaper (papier de verre). We covered ourselves in aftersun cream but it just evaporated off our hot skin. That night we basically slept against the wall of our hostel to cool off.
The next day though we were back on the beach, sizzling like bacon. We didn’t learn. Back home, we would compare our tan lines and delight in peeling our damaged skin off like dried glue.
This is why my daughter is always the whitest child on the beach. She always has at least 3 layers of sun cream 50+ which makes it very difficult to hug her as she slips right out of your arms like an oily fish. But at least she’s protected. I’m sure there will be a time when she rebels but when that moment comes, I have photo albums of horrifying pictures of her mother on the beach, just in case.
Mad dogs and Englishmen
They say only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. That’s not true, no way. English women do it too. I do have a story to support that, and it’s true. Once, long ago now, I was in the army and, like many soldiers at the time, I was deployed overseas. I won’t say the location, because it doesn’t matter–I believe that my story would have been true no matter which part of the world I was in.
During my time overseas there was a lot of fighting around us and of course, in these situations you need to be protected from bullets (balles), rockets and mortars as much as you can. Simple, right? Of course. Unless you’re British and the sun comes out…
At one stage during my deployment, I was sent to work with the British Army for a week. At that time this new location was said to be the most mortared place in the world (l’endroit le plus mortié du monde). All the buildings were covered in dirt and rocks to protect them, and there were big concrete walls between buildings to block them. We were under attack every day, but we were safe in our protected buildings. But then something happened that made me question the mentality of British people: Once the sun appeared from behind the clouds, the area was filled with British soldiers who began to lie on the ground with most of their clothes off, sunbathing (prendre un bain de soleil). Suddenly, the danger didn’t matter anymore. Rockets? Don’t care. Mortars? They’re nothing! The sun is so rare in England that the world stops for an English person when the sun comes out. Nothing else matters.
Only mad dogs and English people go out in the midday sun? Well, I don’t know about the dogs, but it’s certainly true for the English.
Mad wasps and an Englishman
My tale of summer madness goes back four years. It was mid-July and a pleasant thirty-five degrees in the shade. I was a widower, living with my wonderful ninety-year-old mother-in-law. My fiancé had just arrived from Sardinia and was sleeping because of missing the last train and spending the night on a hard bench at the station.
Mother-in-law noticed that the bottle-brush tree needed a bit of a trim so I got up and started hacking away at it. What I hadn’t noticed was the wasp’s nest. Wasps don’t like to be disturbed at midday and the entire colony decided to attack my shirtless body. I ran out screaming, but reassured myself that I was not allergic to wasp stings.
I went on to prepare lunch and, despite the pain from a hundred wasp stings, Tetta (my mother-in-law) and I had a relaxed lunch, serenaded by gentle snoring from the bedroom.
I got up to make coffee and felt a little wobbly. Before I knew it, I was lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. I woke up to the wailing lamentations that only an Italian mamma can make, calling on all the saints to save both her and me. I suggested she call my fiancé. Perhaps only an Italian fiancé can outdo an Italian mamma in lamentation! I suggested calling my doctor.
Within five minutes, three ambulances were outside my house and a gaggle of paramedics heaved me onto my bed, fixed up drips on both my arms and told me I was lucky to be alive. Fortunately, one of them had had the good sense to pick a few kilos of figs from the garden, which lightened the conversation from what Tetta had whispered to my fiancé – “What will we do if he dies? We haven’t got the money to pay for the funeral!”
I bit into a fig and laughed at the absurdity of it all.