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A Basque November

By Franck MAUBERT Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa

At the first hint of daylight, the beam of the lighthouse went out.
She appreciated the off-season, the beaches left empty by those fearing the salty chill of a capricious, rain-lashed autumn like the one she had experienced last year with Tosh. Yet a warm November wind was now coming in from the open sea, offering Biarritz the promise of late summer. She had spent the last hours of night watching the sea, as nocturnal shadows danced on the surface in the dark. Now, the sun was gently rising in the east.
Her puffy eyes betrayed her fatigue but her understated beauty remained in tact. If someone were to have seen Valentine today for the first time, they would simply have thought she was a bit pale. But this was her natural complexion, accentuated by an abundance of red hair. Upon closer examination, one might have observed what could perhaps be considered a slight defect in her eyes: a bleached, or faded, almost colorless pupil. Had she not been wearing plain jeans and a greenish, absinthe-colored turtleneck, she would have looked just like the women in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Had she been instead wearing a flowing blue dress, she could have stepped right out of an Edward Burne-Jones painting. But Valentine preferred tight jeans.

She waited, facing the ocean, and of course such a wait compromises one’s ability to imagine the slowness of the day etching itself across the sky. She had promised herself that she would not be submitted yet again to dates with Tosh Esox. Wait.
Wait for a final rendez-vous, and then Tosh didn’t even show up.
She had come to meet him one last time at the Miramar — she had promised herself, she had promised him. Valentine knew every detail of the hotel room, an ocean-view suite with white oak paneling, dried flowers in frames and an immense bed ready for sinking into. How many times had she leaned as now on the terrace’s glass railing, her thoughts lost at sea? Today, the color and movement of the sea were dark and sensuous.

Tosh Esox had been working for a year now on a biography of Paul-Jean Toulet, a French writer born in Pau who, after a tumultuous period of Parisian high-life, had retired to the Basque coast. She could have taken her phone from the pocket of her jeans and called him, or, more cowardly, sent him a terse text message. But she restrained herself. She no longer had the strength or the courage to beg. She knew that their story was coming to an end. Yet she was waiting all the same. She still harbored an absurd hope. From her perch, immobile, high up on
the balcony, she fixed the horizon, which seemed to grow closer with each crashing wall of water and shower of splattered foam. In front of her, the open sea, the ocean, the entire ocean. She never tired of it. The sea roared in the hollows of stones. A deeper tumult descended into shadow and disappeared in the foamy current. What exposed itself yet remained hidden was mysterious, she thought. Night was gone, day was here, finally, completely.
The clouds, chased by the wind, had no time to stretch.

Valentine remained silent, attentive, hands dangling at her sides, and, gazing downward, she could not take her eyes off the mass of water advancing straight toward her. The water leapt, flattened, rose up, whirled. A wave, then another, and still another. Sink into it, penetrate it, enter as if into a forest. Impossible: The ocean, an infernal machine, a grinder, is sharper than fire. Melt away in it.
She stared at the walls of water, watching as waves formed, then crashed against the cliffs. At the fragile, silty base of the cliffs, five words were written in red letters on a white sign: danger falling rock keep out. The danger here was what Basques call baïnes , strong currents that pull the careless out to sea and hold them there.

In the crescent formed by the Miramar beach, waves smashed and shattered, water advancing and spreading out gauze-like and mossy. Once the waves had subsided, a garland of organdie foam ringed the bay like a wreath. To the left there was a massive rock, a black lead-like chunk gleaming in the bright daylight so freshly arisen. It was the “round rock,” which the locals call la roche percée , the pierced rock, bristling with a flock of gulls planted atop it like a crest, on the lookout. Under the arch of the rock, the water surged furiously. And all around, as oblivious as dead wood, still more birds formed another crown. The shape of the huge, dark rock reminded Valentine of a shoe, with curved  heel and tapered toe, like those worn in the court of Louis XV. The image brought a smile to her face.

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