Sunday, 10 October 2010


Somebody drowned on the beach the other day.  I didn't see it happen, thankfully, but it was very shocking, nevertheless.  Not the first such tragedy this year, nor, even worse, will it be the last.  The next day all I could discover from one line in Nice Matin was that he was a man in his thirties. 

You wouldn't think the Mediterranean was a dangerous sea, but it is. Last night my friend, a former competitive swimmer, told me about a near miss she'd had once when it became impossible for her to get her footing and climb out of the water.  She was only saved by a friend grabbing her arm and pulling her out with all his might.

The day the latest fatality occurred was an ordinary one for me.  I had written all morning, eaten some lunch, and gone for a walk to get some air.  When you live on the coast, the beach is a natural gravitational point.  I don't often sit on the beach, but above it, on the white benches along the Promenade, watching the people, the ferries enter and leave the port, and the planes taking off and landing on the man-made promentary around the bay that stretches out into the azur blue water. I took one of my favourite routes: down Jean Medecin to Place Massena, along to the Promenade des Anglais and across it to the beach, then turned left.  It is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest parts of the coastline, adjacent to the hill of the Chateau, with its interesting architecture, gorgeous planting and magnificent waterfall.

After a couple of minutes of idle strolling I noticed a group of people standing on the Promenade staring down at a particular section of the beach.  I took a look.  There were five or six policemen and women talking to each other around something which had plastic sheeting covering the length of it.  It took a few seconds for it to register: underneath the tarpaulin was a body.

I was a bit giddy.  This was the closest I'd come physically to a death. However, after the initial shock had worn off, there was something even more horrible to contemplate.  For just yards away from the covered corpse sat dozens of people, sunbathing, chatting, frolicking in the sea, as if nothing untoward or tragic had just taken place.  Carrying on as normal, their bikinied-bodies were angled to face the sun - which happened to point them in the direction of the man whose life had just been snatched so suddenly from him.

I felt sick and unsteady on my feet.  I had to get away from that dreadful scene; dreadful for the terror that young man must have felt before succumbing to the waves; dreadful for the realization he would have been alive at the time I left my apartment; dreadful for the way in which his awful plight had not reached any one of those people determined to have their day on the beach, no matter what.

I've thought about it a lot since. I'm still deeply shocked that the death of a young man had seemingly not upset 100 or so sunseekers; it was one of the last warm days of the summer, and nothing was going to ruin their enjoyment of it.

Nothing is cheap on the Riviera.  Apart from, it would appear, life.


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