Basking (this one’s got legs …)
Sunshine and leisure: a relaxing combination, mesmerising and equipped with a mental filter allowing only the most beguiling memories through the moments of intense concentration on – well, not very much (the random terracotta tesserae on the balcony floor, for example). In summer on the Côte it’s obligatory to grab any
opportunity to bask. So I was doing just that last Sunday, sitting on the balcony clipping my nails and baring my legs to the noonday sun, when I looked up to see the young man in the building opposite gazing at me. Ouf: discovered, nail-clippers in one hand as I peered closely at the other; hair scraped back; bare-faced. I observed local balcony-convention by pretending he wasn’t there. And couldn’t even be bothered to wonder what he might think of what he saw (which, for my money, is one of the great bonuses of age).
Immediately aware I’d clocked his scrutiny, however, the chap turned and returned inside. Which was good. Why? Because it afforded me a view of his splendid legs: long, limber and nicely, darkly fuzzed. Just like that classic print ad for Dior’s Eau Sauvage consisting of a stark sketch of a pair of lithe male legs seen from a slight distance, the head not shown and the rest of the body obscured by a bathrobe – clean masculinity in every sense. The economically and deftly sketched illustration was one of the most effective ads from the days where graphics were a matter of individual skill and talent, rather than based on merely manipulating computer programs.
Then I remembered standing at the French windows in the living room with my mother, watching Himself surveying his demesne in his old Desert Rat shorts, striding down the garden with my black cat and Mother’s dog gambolling at his heels, competing for his attention.
“Your father,” sighed Mother,“has the most beautiful legs – beautiful!”
I stared after the rapidly-disappearing figure. Well, yes; his legs were strikingly shapely, long and elegantly muscular.
And I’ve had an eye for a well-turned leg ever since (gosh, thanks, Ma). But what was really significant was that even after decades of marriage, the old girl was still capable of rapture on the subject. Now that was something. Something precious. Lucky Mother!
And lucky me, being able to bask on the balcony. Also I was able to relax fully this weekend for a breach between myself and a French friend had been repaired. Of course it had, being based on nothing more complicated or insoluble than a minor cultural misunderstanding. A mutual friend had intervened to explain to each so that we two, when reunited, raced to apologise before falling upon each other’s necks with relief. An insignificant incident that might have had far-reaching consequences: loss of a genuinely good person from one’s life leaves an unfillable void.
Ambling forward, my mind threw in my path two others I’d had ruptures with, the bright sunlight illuminating both.
Both were people I’d considered superior to me. Both – unlike my local pal – people whose misinterpretations of me weren’t accidental but wilful (I wasn’t sufficiently malleable or easily impressed for them). Both possessing a sense of entitlement far beyond my aspirations; both self-righteous, displaying levels of certainty I envied but which allowed them to blame me for anything going awry between us. Yet I’d assumed them right, placing myself if not entirely in the wrong then at least the more culpable of us. Now the sun revealed the dynamics of the relationships, the faultlines were visible.
Some things can only be seen clearly in leisurely retrospect. Although I married a man whose legs were very different from
my father’s – aha, so that’s where I went wrong! – I suppose it leaves the paternal pins in pole peerless position, as intimated by Mother on that long-ago summer day. While I can continue admiring from afar those on regular display on the opposite balcony embodying as they do that extraordinary ad, a reminder of glory days. Basking now and again can prove unexpectedly rewarding. I recommend the practice unreservedly – with or without nail-clippers. You do need sunshine, though.
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