The Novice Tightrope Walker

Simone Tropea

In late August in the Bay of Angels the rows of perfect white sun loungers sat empty, pretending to be part of a ghost town set. Standing behind the bar were waiters with faces like a host who had forgotten to mail the party invitations. This private beach, Castel Plage, was barricaded from the public beach by a white picket fence. In total opposition, on the public side of the fence, there was a mass of color and party guests, striped umbrellas, and an elderly man wearing speedos with an Aboriginal design. The party guests made for a united front of tourists and locals who didn’t believe in paying to go to the beach. Say “non,” to the white picket fence!

I had chosen Nice as my holiday destination because I desired city and beach, and I had been to Barcelona the previous year. Having found myself a prime patch of pebbles from which to gaze out at la mer, I sat amongst the bronzed, like a game of Where’s Wally? for beginners, and grinned in all my paleness. It had been raining in London when I left.

My magnetic view of the horizon was then suddenly obscured as an elderly couple stepped into my line of vision. Then like a shopkeeper setting up for a day’s business, they began their polished routine.

The smooth choreography opened with the woman unfolding her beach chair. Fit for its function, it had short legs and an extra arm across the back that would allow it to fold out into a sun lounger. Madame, however, chose not to use this function and kept it upright. In a moment, we will understand why. Having meticulously leveled the pebbles with his foot, the man laid out his peppermint and white striped beach mat, placing a rock on each of the four corners. Monsieur then unbuttoned his shirt, and carefully hung it over the extra arm of the beach chair.

From under her denim colored dress, Madame wiggled out of her knickers and then replaced them with bikini bottoms. Having purchased a dress specifically for the beach, Madame then sat and undid all the buttons down the front of it. After taking her arms out, she put her bikini top on over her bra and accomplished an efficient, and most impressive, bra/bikini switcheroo.

It was at this point that their solos became a duet. For after having retrieved them from the bag, and in perfect unison, they pulled on their matching blue shoes and stood up. With joined hands, they confidently approached the frolicking surf.

It was the ding, ding of the tourist train that made me look round. As I turned back, I spied a giant sultana lying next to the picket fence. Upon further study, it turned out I was mistaken; it was a woman posing as a sultana. The sultana was, of course, a token ingredient of the Mediterranean beach landscape. This one was the common variety; Italian, clad in a white bikini, scraggly long hair, split ends, oversized black sunglasses, and a cigarette in hand.

All this contemplation of dried fruit began to make me feel rather peckish. It was then, with longing, that I looked over at the couple of Dutch tourists nibbling their way through a bag of nuts and downing their cheap Kronenbourgs. Always one to follow local etiquette; clocking the civilized, nay tame, environment, I kept my snacks packed. For the Dutch couple were alone in their snacking and boozing on the beach. A far cry from the party atmosphere of La Barceloneta, Barcelona’s city beach.

Monsieur and Madame then returned from their brief dip looking decidedly refreshed. With a layer of sweat forming, I decided it was my turn next. The sea looked so utterly inviting that I foolishly attempted to stride towards it. Not exactly an even surface, and a rather hot one, I failed spectacularly. For unlike the elderly couple, I was not in possession of pebble protective footwear. Clearly a wardrobe essential for the beachgoers of the Med, I, unfortunately, had forgotten to flick through the fashion mags before I arrived. And so, minus the required blue shoes, I wobbled towards the water like a novice tightrope walker. Despite my glorious swim, getting out was no easier. For it was a case of circus performer turned outdoor adventurer, as I practically had to rock-climb my way up the shallow slope to reach dry land. Hardly a flattering picture I can assure you.

Exhausted after my adventure I took a short nap. When I awoke, the elderly couple’s routine was reaching its finale. As Monsieur folded his beach mat, Madame folded her bikini top and bottoms and carefully packed them into a zip-lock bag. Everything stowed in its correct compartment; with bags placed over shoulders, the autopilots concluded their routine and made their departure. As they slowly toddled off home, I was left to imagine what the rest of their evening entailed. I mused that it included a simple but no doubt delicious meal of fish or perhaps a Nicoise salad, with some cheese and a baguette to round it off. Yes, I am as guilty of clichés as anyone.

So, as the afternoon said its goodbyes, I showed myself up as a tourist and gave up pretending to be a local by unpacking my snack. My cover firmly blown, I unleashed from a plastic shopping bag a large juicy slab of watermelon. Embracing my inner tourist, I shamelessly unveiled my Swiss army knife, took some deft swipes, stabbed some big chunks, and ate them straight off the end of my knife, knowing full well I was a pathetic pastiche of a character out of a Mark Twain novel.


About the Author

Simone Tropea has a degree in Creative Writing from London Metropolitan University and lives in London, UK. She currently works in the bar of a Victorian music hall and has traveled extensively. She has no previous publications.